Virtual life after death: What happens to your online accounts after you die?

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Ebay. Facebook. Instagram. Spotify. Youtube…

There is no denying that we use (read: are addicted to) our smart phones. Whether it’s a quick message to our friends, or an endless laughter over a sneezing panda video, we scroll through our phones so much that "text neck" has apparently become a valid term in the health profession. (Don't believe us? Google it. No, seriously google it.)

Whether we like it or not, smart phones are here to stay, and with that our online presence, which then begs the question - what happens to your online accounts when you’re suddenly gone?

Social Media News reports in December 2019 that Australians are one of the most active social media users with Facebook being the most popular platform used by 60% of the population.

Surely this should not come as a surprise when it is further reported that 50% of the active users log onto Facebook at least once a day.

Indeed, we share on Facebook our thoughts and opinions, upload our personal photos and videos, even declare relationship statuses. Facebook has become an online version of a person’s diary storing some of his or her most intimate moments. But with the rapid growth of smart phones, social media and online accounts, it is only inevitable when serious problems start to rise. Unless you take steps to protect it for when the inevitable happens, the privacy of not only your social media account, but also of your cloud storage or your email account can be seriously breached, your identity can be stolen or sensitive information exposed.

How can I protect the privacy of my virtual life?

We cannot stress enough the importance of having a properly drafted Will that specifies how you want your assets to be distributed after death. The reality of modern age however is that now you also have to make provisions about how you want your virtual life to be managed after death.

While there is no right or wrong answers to this, a good starting point is to simply list all of your online accounts and the user names on one piece of paper and then put down the passwords to each on a separate piece of paper. You can then give this information to someone you trust, for example the solicitor who drafted your Will so that this information can also be kept in safe custody together with your Will.

Remember, it is never a good idea to keep this information at a place where anyone can access it. It is also not recommended to have this information outlined in your actual Will.

When you make a list of your online accounts and passwords you should also write some directions about what should happen to your accounts.

Most online accounts these days already have policies for deceased account holders which can assist you with any directions you want to make. For example, for your Facebook account you can direct to have your profile taken down or kept as a memorial. For your cloud accounts you can direct to have them closed or its contents shared with your friends or family. For subscriptions services you can direct a request of refund.

Concluding Thoughts

No matter what our opinion is on the subject, social media and the virtual world are here to stay. Online presence has become so common in our life that we do not think about what happens to our virtual life after we’re gone.

But a lot can go wrong. Not only can seeing an active Facebook profile or Instagram where anyone can access your profile cause anguish to family and friends, it can make your identity exposed to security risks and breaches. This is why it is always advisable to make sure you talk to an experienced lawyer who will understand you and your circumstances. Ann Legal Lawyers have years of experience with wills and estate matters and are here to provide clients across Newcastle, the Hunter and the Central Coast with tailored personal advice and skilled representation. Call us today on (02) 8005 8025.

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