What happens to my online accounts when I die?

Date: Sep 19, 2011

There can be a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of asset transferral in the event of a loved one passing away, which is why many people choose to ensure a valid will is in place.

But one area that is increasingly shown to be a cause for contention amongst family members and companies is that of digital properties.

Many people choose to keep certain assets online - such as music, photos and journals - making use of services such as Facebook and Twitter to share them with others.

Sometimes problems may arise when a loved one dies and friends and family are left unaware of the existence of these digital assets.

The deceased may have stored valuable family photos using an online service but failed to share the knowledge with others.

They might have left important documents in online storage boxes, or paid for collections of music which they kept in digital formats.

With the increasing popularity of computer-based sharing services and deposit sites, it's easy to see how these situations will become more and more common as time goes by.

One large question that many fail to address is the license that exists between the account holder and the company that provides the internet-based service.

In some cases the organisation may stipulate that the agreement that exists with the user is non-transferable - that is to say that no one else is allowed to take over the use of the service for any reason.

While some companies do make provisions for immediate family to access these assets in the event of a death, many users are still left unsure as to exactly what measures are available to them.

Therefore it makes sense to include information about site addresses, usernames and passwords as part of an estate so that loved ones are still able to access these digital assets.

In some cases online companies may refuse to allow family members to access the accounts of the deceased. This is usually due to the exclusive nature of the agreements that existed between the firm and the end user.

While many of the assets held by the organisation may be considered to be the copyrighted property of their creator - the account holder - a business may still be obligated by the original contract, potentially blocking further access.

In this evolving area of online property settlement agreements, it can help to gain trusted advice from an experienced source, such as a property wills and estates lawyer, before deciding on the next step.