Who Inherits your Digital Assets

Interestingly whilst we all die – our online presence can exist indefinitely. Importantly legal verification and storage of access to our online persona continue to evolve.

Google allows you to use a setting called Inactive Account Manager which allows you to decide what happens to your data and at what time your account is to be treated as inactive – no one ever really dies they just stop using their Google account.

Facebook gives you options for what you want to happen to your account when you die — you can select an ‘inheritor’(a sort of digital executor) for your Facebook profile, to accept new friend requests, update the profile and cover photo, and write memorial messages.

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) recently said online data should be treated the same as private diaries or letters, and pass to heirs.

The case involved parents of a 15-year-old girl killed by a train in 2012. The parents were trying to establish if she had committed suicide. As a corollary if it was suicide the train driver was entitled to compensation.

The parents had sought access to her chat messages and posts in order to find out whether she had been bullied. Facebook argued that it would compromise the privacy of the teenager’s contacts.

A court in Berlin had ruled in favour of the family, saying that the contents of the girl’s account could be seen as similar to letters and diaries, which “can be inherited regardless of their content”.

In 2017 an appeals court agreed with Facebook that any contract between the girl and the company ended with her death and could not pass on to the parents.

The BGH, agreed with the lower court expressing the view that it was common to hand over private diaries and correspondence to legal heirs after death, and there was no reason to treat digital data any differently.

As the child was a minor the court believed the parents had a right to know who their child had spoken to online. The parents have reportedly taken over the account.

We have posted before about the need to protect your online or digital assets; not just your social media accounts, but your email address(es), cloud, and online financial details; and any hardware (laptop, desktop, hard drives) protected by passwords.

Just as it is prudent (and I would suggest necessary) to have a valid and up to date Will – you should have a digital inventory setting out which details all of your relevant usernames, passwords and secret questions, to enable simple access to your personal and financial information.

In the event that you are incapacitated (this is why a power of attorney is important) your appointed Attorney can control and deal with your digital assets.

This should be stored securely – but needs to be accessible to your Attorney or Executor should they need it – and remember your executor will need it. Importantly make sure that you update this information when you change your passwords.

The advent of blockchain technologies may provide an ability to securely store and verify documents. Importantly disputes regarding digital inheritance, particularly in relation to crypto currencies can be eliminated with blockchain secured documents.







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