Living & Dying In The Digital Age

We’ve all seen those memes on social media that say something to the effect of “If I die, don’t worry about my doctor, someone please delete my internet history”.

While hilarious (and making you wonder what exactly your friends are in to) there is a valid point to all of this, and that is making a “digital will”.

Its only a fairly recent phenomenon but as we become more reliant on online communication, we have an absolute labyrinth of online accounts that we use to manage our daily lives. We use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, sometimes numerous email accounts. So how to we safeguard against the protection and management of this information?

I think we can all agree that we will need a digital will. Even those of us who have parents in the “baby boom” generation that may not be so online savvy, will have online accounts that we will need to manage and close down on the event of their passing. My 70 year old aunts who keep friend requesting me on Facebook has crystallised this to me very clearly. Although something tells me they just want to gossip to my mother about what her son is up to.

Something else to consider is that many of us, regardless of our generation, manage our financial activities online. Banking, PayPal accounts and share trading portfolios are far more important when it will come to dealing with the wishes of our loved ones beyond what their last tweet was.

Leaving instructions that deal with our online presence are becoming increasingly essential. Legal practitioners that deal with the area of wills and estates have no doubt been made aware that part of the checklist you now should be taking in to client meetings with you has a section that deals with this specific area.

As we are usually asked to keep changing our passwords, it is a good idea to continuously update your will to include the details of your log-ins, passwords and answers to security questions. A way to approach this that will not involve you having to keep making trips to your solicitor every few months to draw up a new will is to leave a personal letter to your executors with your will to make their role easier when it comes to dealing with your wishes.

Unlike a will which may need to be updated only a few times, a letter of your wishes is a fluid living document that can be continually updated as required when password details change. Details of your assets, bank accounts, insurance and superannuation as well as any contact details for professional advisers are all crucial information to be given to an executor to deal with your estate and final wishes.

It would make sense to leave any lists of these details and passwords separate to a list of assets and account names, and be wary of just who you leave these lists with.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that PIN’s can be loaded with serious legal issues. The financial institutions that issue these have detailed agreements specifying that you not reveal your PIN to anyone. There are also some privacy and fraud issues surrounding this. Your executor will need to take the account details to the bank or other provider along with a death certificate and you should be able to have the accounts distributed according to the wishes of the deceased.

However, please be aware of what the arrangements with superannuation funds may be. You wouldn’t have to look very far to find what someone has specified for the distribution of their superannuation and what the trustee of the super fund does as per the policy of the deceased is in conflict. There are administrative legal review options to pursue should this happen to you and please seek the assistance of the lawyer who drew up the will of the deceased for further advice regarding this.

So in closing, prepare a list of these digital assets to take to your lawyer so that it can be put in to a letter to accompany your will. Think about passwords to your computers, banking and super fund PINs, your WiFi name and Password, any online subscription services you use, your medical and insurance funds.

There is likely a lot more to your online life than you realise and I cannot emphasise just how important it is that you equip your executor and your loved ones to be able to properly deal with this upon your passing.

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