People 'n' Issues

Will social media accounts survive your will?

October 6th, 2017
We spend so much energy on sites; posting photos, writing about experiences and writing blogs, that it makes sense to leave instructions on how you would like these digital assets to be handled in your will, write KEZIA TALBOT and REMAY DE KOCK at BDO Wealth Advisers. 
Last Will and testament document. sepia toned and vignette effect

We are living in a time where technology is at the heart of our existence- social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram dictate and capture our lives on a daily basis.  We spend so much energy on these sites; posting photos, writing about experiences and writing blogs, that it makes sense to leave instructions on the manner in which you would like these digital assets to be handled after your death.

Everplans describes digital assets as follows: “Digital property (or digital assets) can be understood as any information about you or created by you that exists in digital form, either online or on an electronic storage device, including the information necessary to access the digital asset. All of your digital property comprises what is known as your digital estate.” (A Helpful Overview Of All Your Digital Property And Digital Assets.” Everplans. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.)

The questions are: how do you want your legacy to live on in the social media world and what would you like to happen to your digital assets?

Regardless of your answers to these questions, the solution to ensuring that your wishes are carried out, is a Social Media and Digital Assets Will. There are two parts to the Social Media and Digital Assets Will. The first deals with what you would like to happen to your social media legacy and content, and the second deals with your data stored on cloud servers and your own hardware.

In South African Law at present there is no inherent right to privacy after your death, as this particular right ceases upon your death. It may, however, be of some comfort that it is the strict policy of most social media sites and other online service providers, to not, barring compelling and unusual circumstances as well as a court order, grant another person access to your account or profile, or to provide them with the content contained in the account or profile, after your demise.

Whilst in the case of those persons who’s answers to the above questions may be that “my legacy is not to live on and my content is not to be shared with anyone”, it may tempting to not record these wishes in the form of a Social Media and Digital Assets Will, but it is nonetheless advisable to execute a Social Media and Digital Assets Will, so as to ensure that your wishes are not deviated from and that your personal data is not disclosed.

Depending on the type of social media platforms and online services which you use, there are different options at the disposal of your executor or family member in the event of your death, a few of which are listed below:

·         Facebook allows your account to be “memorialized”. This, in essence, allows your Facebook page to remain active for friends and family to post on and visit. The word “Remembering” will then appear before your name. The person who manages this page is your Legacy Contact. This is a person who you nominate, via a setting on Facebook. The Legacy Contact cannot change any posts, but can write a new post on your profile and change your profile picture etc.

·         The alternative option on Facebook, is for your account to be closed and deleted. This can be done by request by a family member, after certain proof has been provided to Facebook.

·         Instagram, being owned by Facebook, also allows either the memorialization or closure of your account.

·         Twitter does not allow the memorialization of your page, but will instead suspend the account after a period of 6 months of inactivity, or will close your account when requested to do so by a family member, after the provision of certain documents.

·         If you own a Yahoo! Mail account, then the only option is for a termination request to be sent to Yahoo!

·         If you own a Gmail (or other Google-based accounts), then there are two options available to you:

o   The Inactive Account Manager may be used, whereby after a set period of inactivity, your account is deleted, and the data can be downloaded by a pre-selected trusted contact; or

o   Your account is closed upon request by a family member.

·         LinkedIn will only allow for your account to be closed and your profile removed. Your death can be reported by your family, or alternatively, by a colleague who identifies your profile to LinkedIn.

As you will note from the above, the options available to you and your family as to your continuing legacy are limited, and the possibility of your family accessing your data is very unlikely, but you should, in any event, exercise your rights in this regard, and stipulate what is to happen to your accounts and data.

If, on the other hand, you do wish for your legacy to continue and for your designated digital executor to access and download your data, it would be necessary for you to nominate your digital executor as your legacy contact/trusted contact and to provide your digital executor with your login details for those sites or locations where your data is stored. This can be done in a Social Media and Digital Assets Will, so that your data may be downloaded and preserved for your loved ones to treasure for generations to come.

Some factors to take into account when drafting your Social Media Will:

1)     Identify a someone who you can trust to be your “Digital Executor”;

2)    Stipulate in your Will / Letter of Wishes that your Digital Executor be given a copy of your death certificate, as this will be required for most actions;

3)    Leave your Digital Executor with a summary of all the websites, and your usernames and passwords, where you wish for your Digital Executor to be able to access the content of the accounts. Bearing in mind that these details are highly confidential, this document should be stored in your safe or in a reputable digital vault with high security standards and requirements.

Remember, your online legacy and digital assets will continue to exist long after you die.  Set aside some time and give this issue the necessary thought it deserves.  You will end up saving the ones you leave behind a lot of time and effort by dealing with these issues now.

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