With just over half the UK population now using Facebook on a regular basis (according to eMarketer), the social networking site has truly become part of our everyday lives. But in contrast, do you know anyone who’s made plans around what would happen to their Facebook account should they die? Most likely not.
This just illustrates the gaping hole in planning around digital inheritance. It can be a complex area as its fair to say that our online lives have grown faster than the legislation around the matter, or our understanding of it.
Just this month for example, Germany had a very high profile court case around digital inheritance. The parents of a teenager who died in 2012 after falling in front of a train wanted to access her Facebook account to see if she had been bullied – the account had been memorialized meaning that it was locked and could only be used as a message board from friends.
After a regional court in Berlin initially ruled that the mother could access the account as it passed to her parents in line with German laws on inheritance, the ruling was overturned in the appeals court who decided that the right to private telecommunications outweighed the right to inheritance. You can read more about this case here.
However despite the complexities of this case, the majority of issues around digital inheritance can be solved fairly simply. First and foremost, we’d recommend individuals create a password dossier to go alongside their will, with details of all their online passwords. Alongside this they should appoint a ‘digital heir’ who can manager their online accounts in accordance with the rules of each account.
Having this in place could make the world of difference. From a financial viewpoint, payments which are handled online such as electricity, could be dealt with much more quickly.
And just as crucially, it would also enable people to ensure that their social networking sites could be dealt with by somebody that they trusted, with family and friends being able to access pictures of their loved one.