Digital graveyard complicates estate planning

From
Anna Hacker

Anna Hacker

With a myriad of statisticians now trying their hand at calculating when Facebook will have more dead “memorialised” members, than living ones, planning for the ownership of digital assets in your Will has never been more relevant, says Anna Hacker, national manager estate planning with Australian Unity Trustees.

“Possible years that have been mooted for when the Facebook accounts of the dead outnumber those of the living, range from the 2060s through to the 2130s, but with Facebook and other social media platforms skewing towards users in the younger demographic – chances are it will be an issue that becomes prevalent in the lifetimes of the current cohort of users.

“Essentially our Facebook pages, as well as our YouTube comments and other social media interactions, will live on after we die, a trend that will only increase as social media becomes more entrenched in our everyday lives.

“Ownership of digital assets is a difficult legal area, as legislation and the social media platforms themselves have struggled to keep up with developments, but it is nevertheless an area that should be considered in your estate planning.

“While the motivation of most is to ensure that their photos and precious memories are preserved on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, people shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that their digital estate is not valuable. Digital wallets such as PayPal can have amounts of money stored on them, internet domain names can have value and can sometimes be sold, and the musings of bloggers can even be a type of intellectual property.

“For investors in Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency such as Ethereum, Litecoin and Ripple, considering the value of their cryptocurrency – and what will happen to it if you die, can be an even bigger consideration.

“Cryptocurrency is not regulated in the way, that say, a bank account is. A bank will put a stop on your account when informed by an executor and account assets are considered in the probate process. This will not necessarily be the case with cryptocurrency accounts.

“Your estate plan needs to consider digital assets, and instructions left to the executor on locating and accessing these digital assets, to ensure they pass to your beneficiaries.”
“Earlier this year New South Wales became the first Australian jurisdiction to consider whether new laws are needed to specifically address what happens to social media assets after death, when NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman referred the matter to the Law Reform Commission.

“This is a welcome development, but the findings are not expected to be released for at least 12 months. That doesn’t mean people need to wait until then to consider the place of digital assets in their Wills,” Ms Hacker said.

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