Legacy Tips #5-9: 5 ways to make sure your digital life is not locked up online (podcast)

facebook_digital_afterlife_what_happens_when_someone_diesAway For A Bit spoke with Damien Carrick on ABC Radio National on legal and practical considerations for managing a digital afterlife and legacy.

Gaining access to an individual’s online accounts (social networking, email) after they die is often impossible, although in some cases, next of kin have fought for access via the courts. As the podcast demonstrates, they do not always win.

Here are five recommendations from the podcast to avoid your digital life from being locked up online.

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Legacy Tip #4: Plan if & how you will share important information such as passwords with next of kin

You may be thinking about what happens to your digital estate after you die and you’ve read that it’s wise to provide details for your online accounts – including usernames, passwords as well as an overview of important information locked behind these accounts — to your nominated friend, family member or next of kin.

What options are available to you to transition this information securely and reliably? The chances are you won’t want to share sensitive log in and account details to your next of kin while you are alive for many reasons including security.


Copyright: Asif Akbar

Consider a Digital Afterlife Service

Online services concerned with passwords and passing on digital legacies are varied in what they offer but generally speaking, they aim to centrally manage multiple sources of data in one place as well as allow users to nominate who receives this data when they die. After the user’s death, information is often transferred to nominated contacts without sharing usernames and/or passwords.

Many include a decent amount of storage for the account holder to organise photos, memories, notes and documents with friendly user interfaces for viewing and downloading. On the whole, they encourage account holders to think in a structured way about doing an inventory of their online life and the digital legacy that they’d like to share.

Digital Services: How to keep passwords confidential while bequeathing them to your next of kin

Digital services for managing passwords and other important information

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If a will is drafted on a mobile phone, is it valid? Not likely say US estate advisers…

digital afterlife or legacy on phone

“Michal Zacharzewski, SXC”

A recent court ruling in Queensland, Australia determined that a will that had been drafted on an iPhone was valid. This prompted IT Law Firm IdeaLaw to ask, could wills drafted on social media and in other informal scenarios be deemed as legally valid in the future?*

While it has been suggested as a possibility in Australia, this feature attracted some interesting feedback from legal and estate planning representatives in the US who indicated that this would depend on the state. However, in mentioned cases it was considered unlikely – at least, for the foreseeable future.

“For the US, that will depend on each state’s laws,” replied Jeff Dundon, Director, Gift Planning at UC Foundation. “It would not be considered a holographic will in Ohio and does not meet the requirements of written signed by testator and at least two independent witnesses. A statutory change could make it possible but I can foresee a lot of issues and contests for a ‘smart phone’ will.”

Reeve Chudd, Partner, Ervin, Cohen & Jessup added, “Not in California. We only have two types of Wills — (a) signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two independent witnesses, and (b) entirely in the testator’s handwriting which is signed and dated (holographic Will). Video Wills don’t work either.”

Dave Towers, a Gift Planning Officer at Victoria Hospital Foundation in Canada had the final say however, referring to a recent anniversary of a will drafted in extraordinary circumstances over 60 years ago. He pointed to a farmer’s last wishes that he etched onto the fender of a tractor after it fell on him during an accident. These were later accepted by a court in Saskatchewan.

A judge at the time ordered the fender portion of the tractor to be cut off and it has been displayed under a piece of glass in the Saskatchewan Law College Library ever since.

*IdeaLaw’s full analysis: “Can a document on a smartphone be a valid will?”

Away For A Bit on ABC7.30 – What happens to your online accounts after you die?

Watch this ABC report which explores the digital afterlife, offering an initial look at emotional, practical and legal aspects to consider when managing an online estate.

abc_730_online_accounts_when_you_die“…it’s very important to be considering things like digital wills, which might be an extension of what you’re doing already if you’re managing your estate and speaking to a legal advisor. It also means that the next of kin and your friends and family, who might be in a state of shock, have some sense of what you might want done with that information.” Emily Baxter from Away For A Bit

5 minute guide: What to think about when planning afterlife messages



Messages from the beyond: how planned messages can be a comfort for those grieving

Planning messages from the beyond: using digital services

How to limit emotional fall out when planning digital afterlife messages

How to avoid legal issues for beneficiaries when planning digital afterlife messages


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