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Digital Wills

India Haus
19th October 2018

When you die, your tangible assets are dealt with according to your official will. But have you ever considered what happens to your digital assets? Nowadays, we own more than just physical possessions. We have a whole variety of digital assets online, such as photos, email accounts and social media accounts. Digital accounts are protected by online privacy laws and terms of service and these have been interpreted differently in various legal cases and jurisdictions.


The question remains how do we bequeath and divide our digital assets? What happens to our digital assets and services once we die? Who will deal with this? A digital will is the solution to dealing with digital assets and services once we die.


A digital will is a document that instructs loved ones on how to manage your digital presence and assets once you have passed away. It is not a legal document, like an official will, but it is a list of all of your digital assets. This includes where they are stored, the username or email address you signed up with and how to access them. This information assists your estate to retrieve any assets and deactivate your accounts. We do not recommend including passwords in your digital will, as it increases the risk of your accounts being hacked, and sharing passwords is prohibited by most organisations. However, you could store digital accounts and passwords in an encrypted password management software, which is accessible by a nominated person in your will only after your death, which is known as a digital executor.  A digital executor should have the technical skills to locate and access accounts, to identify the files associated with these accounts, and to carry out instructions in respect of these files. While the executor of your official will deals with your physical assets, a digital executor handles your digital assets and services. This usually involves contacting services to let them know you have died, retrieving your data online and requesting closure of accounts.


In terms of digital assets, it is important to understand what you own, what you license and whether your digital rights outlive you.


Examples of digital assets include:


  • email accounts;
  • social media accounts;
  • online storage of photos and videos;
  • online shopping accounts, such as TradeMe or Amazon;
  • computer system and mobile device backups; and
  • artwork on websites.

The online services that your digital executor will need to cancel include:


  • music and video accounts, such as Spotify;
  • subscriptions such as e-books;
  • on-demand streaming video services, such as Netflix;
  • gaming accounts, such as Steam.


It is important to regularly update your digital will. We recommend noting instruction on how to access your digital will with your official will. You need to provide details on where to find your digital assets and services, and you need to give clear instructions on how to access these files and what to do with them upon death. It is important that your information about locations, usernames and passwords are up-to-date and stored securely.


Each social media platform and online service provider has its own policy for account closures in the event of death. Preparing a digital will and planning your digital legacy can protect your privacy and remove the burden from your loved ones.


Making a digital will is not as complicated as it may appear. If you have engaged us to help you make a will, we are happy to guide you through how to make your digital will as an attachment for your official will. Call us today or send us an email to discuss your options for your digital will. If you have not made a will yet, we at Trollope & Co understand that making a will seems overwhelming. Read our article here on the importance of having a will as a young adult.