Whether we like it or not, our lives are becoming more and more digitalised. Yet, how many of us stop and give thought to the jumble of digital wealth we leave behind after our death?
Not many, it seems.

A survey for the NSW Trustee and Guardian found 83 per cent of Australians have not discussed what will happen to their social media accounts when they die. While, only 3 per cent of Australians with a Will have given directions regarding their social media accounts after their deaths.

With digital wealth expanding in both size and platform, it is more important than ever to have an estate plan regarding your digital wealth.

What is Digital Wealth?

Given its fast-paced nature, digital wealth can be difficult to define. However, it includes:

  • Online and virtual businesses
  • Social media (such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn)
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Email accounts
  • Domain names
  • Escrow accounts (such as PayPal)
  • Online buying and selling platforms (such as eBay and Amazon)
  • Photos and files stored online (such as iCloud, Dropbox and Google Photos)
  • Online music (such as Google Play and Spotify)

Why is Digital Wealth Such a Grey Area When it Comes to Death?

There are several reasons digital wealth is considered a grey area following a person’s death.

  1. You don’t technically own the information – Depending on the platform, you don’t necessarily own the information that you store online. Different services have different terms and conditions for dealing with the death of account holders. For example, Facebook accounts can be memorialised or permanently deleted but content cannot be changed unless the deceased added a legacy contact. Instagram accounts can only be removed by family members who prove whom they are and iCloud accounts are non-transferable with rights to your Apple ID terminated upon death.
  2. You are not always covered under Australian jurisdiction – Due to the global nature of the online world, users are not always confined to one jurisdiction. For example, Australian Facebook users are under the jurisdiction of Irish law and Spotify users are bound by the laws of Sweden.
  3. Lack of legislation – Adding to the difficulty of what will happen to our digital wealth following our death is the lack of legislation in Australia that governs this area. This means that families have no clear rights in relation to access of someone’s online life.

What You Can Do To Help Ensure Your Digital Wealth Is Passed On

For those with information stored on a physical device (such as a mobile or iPad), the simple solution may be to gift the device to someone. You may also consider leaving a list of updated accounts and login details for your loved ones, so they can recover photos and other information after you are gone. (Though, it is important to note, doing so may put them in breach of the service terms of the provider).

As digital wealth will form part of your estate, the number one thing you should do is talk to your legal adviser about adding digital wealth to your estate strategy. Your legal adviser will be aware of what can and cannot be done regarding digital wealth in wills and can include provisions following your death or incapacity.

If your digital wealth can produce income or be sold (such as advertising on YouTube channels and those with cryptocurrency) your legal adviser can advise the best way to pass income on and will consider any tax implications.
Due to the pace at which the digital area changes, you and your lawyer should review your digital wealth wishes every 2-3 years.

It is likely your digital wealth forms a far greater proportion of your estate than you realise. If you’ve not figured out a succession plan for it, it might be time. For more information, contact Ranu or Andrew at Edney Ryan Legal on (02) 9908 9888 or email legal@edneyryan.com.au.