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What happens to your digital accounts and assets once you pass away?

Written by Sanjana Malewar, Trainee Solicitor on 28 June 2023

There are clear laws in Australia which govern what happens with our physical possessions once we pass away. Given we are increasingly living more of our lives online, it is surprising there are no such laws which cover what happens to our digital accounts, assets, and data. This means it is up to each online service provider and their individual policies, to decide the fate our online data after our passing.

Nowadays, most of our photos and videos are stored online in the cloud or uploaded to our social media accounts. People often store their important documents in online file storage systems or in their emails, so they are accessible anywhere they go. Also, some individuals may also have digital assets including NFTs or cryptocurrency, which must be dealt with after their passing.

On the other hand, you may not be worried about the fate of your online data after you pass away. However, with increasing identity theft and online data breaches which may affect your family even after you pass, it may be important to manage or close your digital accounts.

We understand death can be a difficult topic to speak about with your loved ones. But it is important to consider, what can you do to ensure that your family can easily access your online assets, documents, and cherished memories once you pass away?

Whilst the solicitors handling your probate deal with your financial and government institutions, and your physical property, your family may prefer to deal with your digital accounts. It is a good idea to inform your executor or family members of the passcode to your phone as a lot of your important information is stored on there. Additionally, it is important to make either a hard-copy or electronic list of your digital assets and online accounts, including your login details and passwords. This list can also include instructions on how you would like your loved ones to deal with the specified digital assets or contents of these accounts. Keep this updated list on your computer’s desktop or someplace secure and ensure to inform only your executor or trusted person of the location. After your passing, your family can use this list to access your accounts and retrieve any important information, or close the accounts as necessary.

If you do not wish to give your password or login information to anyone, we still recommend making a list of online assets and digital accounts. Your executor or immediate family members can notify companies of your passing, usually using a death certificate and valid ID, who will then close your accounts. Additionally, please see our guide below on how you can best prepare these common digital accounts, whilst you are alive.

Social media accounts

As per their “digital legacy policies,” most social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow individuals to nominate a person who will manage their social media accounts after they pass away or elect to have their account deleted. See each social media platform’s digital legacy policy for detailed information.

Email accounts

Some email providers also have “legacy” tools which allow individuals to determine what will happen to their accounts after their passing. You may be able to choose to either delete your account, or pass on certain information to a nominated contact, for example using Google’s (or Gmail’s) “Inactive Account Manager.” If you do nothing, your email will likely be deleted after a period of inactivity, as per the provider’s inactive policy.

Photos and data stored in iCloud

If you use Apple’s iCloud, adding a “legacy contact” is the easiest way to ensure your trusted contact has access to all your photos and data after your passing. Alternatively, consider creating shared family albums which your family will always have access to.

Cryptocurrency/ other digital assets (e.g. NFTs)

Currently, it is estimated there is billions of dollars of unclaimed cryptocurrency in the world. Cryptocurrency is usually held in a “digital wallet” which forms part of your estate. However, a 64-digit key is needed to access the funds. It is important you include details of the location and key of your digital wallet in your list of digital assets. If your digital wallet is not connected to the internet and you don’t inform anyone of the key, the funds may be lost forever.

Online gambling accounts

The funds in your online gambling accounts form part of your estate. It is important to include the details of these accounts in your digital asset list, so the solicitor handling your probate can contact the relevant companies to obtain the funds.

Loyalty program benefits (e.g. frequent flyer points)

Depending on the points program, your points may be cancelled after your passing, or they may be able to be transferred out of your account once the executor or administrator of the estate notifies the company of your passing. Consider family memberships if they are available. It is important to note, points do not form part of your estate and cannot be bequeathed in your will.

Direct debits/ subscriptions

Once you pass away, the solicitor handling your probate notifies your financial institution of your passing, after which your bank accounts and bank cards are frozen until probate is granted. This will end all subscriptions and direct debits associated with your accounts. Your executor or administrator, or solicitor on their behalf, can contact your utility providers who will either disconnect or leave your utility connections as they are.

Speak with Kingston Lawyers to discuss how to best deal with your digital accounts and assets, as part of your estate planning.

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