Digital Assets and Estate Planning
9 August, 2019Estate Planning, Estate Administration and Disputes, Trusts and SuperannuationIntellectual Property, Franchising & TechnologyNews & Updates
Because we’re living in a digital world:
What happens to your digital presence and assets when you die?
We are living in an increasingly digital and technological world – some people have had email and other, similar digital accounts for years. The last decade or so has also led to a boom in digital assets, which are essentially digital property and electronic communications including such things as online bank accounts, cryptocurrency, social media accounts and blogs.
So what actually happens to your digital presence and assets when you die?
The uncertain state of the law
In Australia, there are currently no laws that address the ability of family members or fiduciaries to access digital assets upon a person’s death.
Currently, access is determined by contract and private international law. This can lead to disputes concerning user agreements, which largely hinder family members and fiduciaries from accessing a deceased person’s digital assets.
How do the service providers react to the death of a user?
Services provided by Google and Microsoft, such as Gmail and Hotmail, will allow family members and executors to access your account upon provision of relevant documents. Facebook will allow a person’s account to be ‘memorialised’, but will not allow access.
However, both Yahoo and LinkedIn are notorious for terminating accounts upon users’ deaths and refusing to allow access unless it has been specified in the user’s Will.
Risk of lost Cryptocurrency value
On the other hand, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin can be nigh on impossible to access without prior planning on behalf of the deceased, as these currencies rely solely on a password being provided and have no alternate methods of access.
Provisions needed to safeguard digital assets
This leads on to the main problem surrounding digital assets. Often, people have just not recognised their digital assets as assets and have just not made any provision for them in their Wills. This can lead to even more difficulty in attempting to access and distribute these assets as necessary.
Against this background, it is important for people to be mindful of their digital assets and how they wish to distribute them on their passing. This is not to say that people should just provide a list of their digital assets and passwords in their Wills – quite the opposite, as a Will will be accessed by several people in the process of being admitted to probate. Instead, people should prepare a full inventory of all their digital assets and keep their access in a safe, non-digital way, before deciding how to divide it.
Help with your digital assets estate planning
If your digital assets are complicated or if you have questions on the division of digital assets, you can contact our experienced Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning team at Bell Legal Group on 07 5597 3366 or complete the ‘Contact Us‘ form below.
This publication is for information only and is not legal advice.