YOUR DIGITAL LIFE AFTER DEATH: DIGITALLY AWARE WILLS

In the past, in the unfortunate event of death, your family could easily determine what assets you own and divide them among themselves. However, in this digital age, the consequences of death have become a complicated affair mainly because we now store valuable and sentimental information online.

What will happen to your online banking account, Facebook profile and YouTube channel, etc upon your death? By executing a digitally aware will, you ensure that what happens to your digital assets upon your death is up to you.

WHAT ARE DIGITAL ASSETS?

You may be thinking ‘I’m not tech savvy so I don’t have any digital assets’; but the truth is you probably do. A digital asset can be defined as any content, in any format, that is stored digitally and provides value for the user. It can be something as simple as a Twitter account, an email account or even your iTunes account. In your digitally aware will, you state what must happen to your digital assets when you die.

 In the case of digital assets of purely sentimental value, such as your Twitter profile, you can make it clear in your will that you wish for your partner or children to be able to access and download your pictures and delete the account afterwards.

Some digital assets may however have monetary value, for example, more and more YouTube celebrities earn huge revenues from their work which is all held online and classified as an asset. Sometimes they earn millions in ad reviews and these assets can continue to earn even after the owner’s death. In this case, you may want to bequeath the income generated from your YouTube channel in your will or include it in your family trust.

DIGITAL ESTATE PLANNING

The first step in drawing up a digitally aware will is making an inventory of what digital assets you have and how to access them. Then you will need to indicate in your will where the inventory of your digital assets can be found by your executor following your death. Be careful not to list your digital assets in your will as your will becomes accessible to the greater public upon registering it with the Master of the High Court after your death.  For this reason, you should rather store your username and passwords in a safety deposit box and state that it is to be made available to a nominated person following your death.

In your will, you may include a digital management clause which may, for example, state that your executor will decide who benefits from your digital assets or name the beneficiaries of your digital assets. It is important however; that you check the Terms and Conditions of the licensing as some digital assets may ‘die’ with you (the license may not be transferable to your heirs after your death). For example, the Terms and Conditions of iCloud state that you agree that your account  is ‘non-transferable’, meaning Apple terminates the rights to your Apple ID and the content in your account after death.

All digital assets that you own and that have monetary value will be included in your estate when you die. If however, the asset is not worth money or you don’t own it, you have no right to transfer it therefore you cannot pass it through your will. These include, for example, email accounts and online subscriptions such as Netflix and Spotify.

A will provides certainty upon your death as to how you wish your assets to be divided and simplifies things for your grieving family. However, in absence of South African legislation expressly stating how and when to deal with your digital assets in your will, it may be important to consult with an expert who will assist you to properly address these assets in your will until the time comes when legislative regulation of digital assets becomes available.

For more information contact: estates@randles.co.za

BY: NOSIPHO Q. SHANGE – CANDIDATE ATTORNEY|LITIGATION (RANDLES ATTORNEYS)

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