If you’re an organised adult with a fair amount of assets you’ll most likely have thought about, or even put into action, a plan for after your death. Whether that’s creating a will, putting yourself on the donor list or talking to your loved ones about your wishes post mortem. Not many people think about what should happen to their digital assets after they die.
PayPal, Betfred, Ebay and Etsy are all companies that deal in monetary transfers. Once an account holder dies the bereaved family members can often have a difficult time shutting down loved one’s online accounts and gaining access to their digital assets. Andrea Pierce who handles digital assets in estate administration for Kings Court Trust says that a lot of companies, such as Facebook, ‘won’t give executors access to accounts as it’s a breach of privacy and they’re very strict about personal data’.
So what are our options regarding death and digital assets? Some social media accounts such as LinkedIn and Twitter have procedures in place to shut down an account on behalf of someone else but they also have requirements needed beforehand such as a death certificate. Gmail have a relatively good service in place called ‘Inactive Account Manager’; if you don’t use your account for a certain amount of time your designated person will be notified and given access to delete the account and shut down subscriptions. However these are only a few of the many companies that people have online accounts with, and the majority are wholly unprepared when it comes to estate legislation.
As well as social media there are thousands of unused blogs and untouched domain names left abandoned in the dusty corners of the internet. People make arrangements for their businesses and liquid assets for after they die, so why leave a successful website to sputter into anonymity? There are cases where family or friends take over their loved one’s websites or blogs, such as Eva Markvoort, whose family continue to update her website 65 Red Roses and dedicate it to raising awareness of Cystic Fibrosis as she did. There is also the question of platform life expectancy; if a blogging platform gets shut down, what happens to blogs when their creators aren’t capable of moving their work over to a new platform?
Due to the lack of planning procedure with most social media companies, there are some sites and applications that have been created specifically for people who want to plan ahead. Dead Social is a service that allows you to set up messages, emails and statuses for after your death – think PS I Love You in the digital age. There’s also Planned Departure – a digital will website that holds all of your passwords and usernames that on notification of your death will pass all the information on to a designated benefactor.
Regardless of the few companies that help a well organised individual plan ahead, the difficulties that the bereaved face are still numerous. The problem is a lack of consistency in legal procedures and this can be solved with proper legislation and a wider awareness. If the government worked on breaking down the barriers between big companies and individuals, and started treating digital assets the same as physical ones the future of our digital lives after death would be a lot easier.