Digital Assets - the Wild West

Digital assets after death: The Wild West

Unlike in other countries, Australia does not currently have any laws relating to digital estate planning.  This means that what happens to your digital accounts and assets after you die is very much up in the air unless you take specific steps to deal with it.  The digital realm is truly the ‘Wild West’ when it comes to management and realisation after death.

In this article, we provide an overview of the current rules around management and realisation of digital accounts and assets after the account holder or cardholder’s death.  The terms referred to are current as at 2015/16.

Facebook

Verified family members may remove a Facebook account or memorialise the account after the death of the account holder.  A ‘verified family member’ must provide documentation of deceased’s birth or death certificate or proof that they are lawful representative of deceased person or their estate.  If an account is memorialised, it can only be accessed by confirmed friends, and it has restricted features.

LinkedIn

A LinkedIn account will remain active after the account holder’s death unless a ‘Verification of Death Form’ is submitted to remove the profile.  The person submitting the form must provide details about the account (such as the URL and associated email address), and information about their relationship with the deceased.  They must also provide evidence of the death such as a link to an obituary or a copy of a death certificate.

Twitter

A Twitter account may be deactivated by the deceased account holder’s executor or verified family member after death.  Documentation must be provided to process the deactivation, including a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the applicant’s Government-issued photo ID and a covering letter (which must note the deceased’s Twitter username).  While the deactivation process is underway, immediate family members and authorised individuals (such as executors) may request images/videos of deceased to be removed from the deceased’s account by emailing privacy@twitter.com.

Instagram

Instagram’s Privacy Policy requires an interested person to contact Instagram in the event of an account holder’s death.  Instagram will then email the applicant to request any further information or documentation required to close the account.

iTunes

iTunes Store terms do not specify what happens on an account holder’s death, and the general terms do not permit the transfer of an account in ordinary circumstances.  However, there appears to be an option for an executor or immediate family member to contact Apple support staff by email (iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com) requesting help in managing an account after death.  The applicant will need to provide documentation to verify the account holder’s death and their connection with the deceased.

PayPal

The PayPal account process is quite formal on the death of an account holder.  The executor will need to fax verification documents to PayPal, including a cover letter requesting the account be closed, a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the deceased’s will, and a copy of the executor’s photo ID.  The request for account closure will be reviewed and if there are outstanding funds in the PayPal account a cheque will be issued in the account holder’s name, which can then be cashed by the estate.

Flyer rewards programs

The Qantas Frequent Flyer program terms provides that membership will automatically terminate on the death of a member.  Qantas Points that have been earned but not yet redeemed or transferred by the member will be cancelled.  The account will be closed on notification of the member’s death.   As such, if a member had failed to transfer points before death, the points accrued will be invalidated.

The Virgin Velocity program terms enable an executor or administrator to either transfer or redeem the deceased member’s points within 12 months of the member’s death.  The points can only be transferred to another Velocity membership account.  If the points are not dealt with within 12 months, they are automatically forfeited.  The points are not redeemable for cash value.

Credit card rewards programs

AMEX rewards points accumulated by a deceased cardholder can either be reinstated to a new account or redeemed by an executor of the deceased’s estate.  The timeframe for redeeming points varies depending on the type of card the deceased held.  Accrued points will be forfeited immediately if the card is cancelled.  As such, the executor should ensure they either transfer or redeem the points prior to cancellation.

ANZ reward points terms enable ANZ to cancel reward points on the death of a deceased cardholder.  The terms also require that only the account holder is entitled to claim rewards.

The CommBank Awards Program terms allow award points to be dealt with flexibly, but they must be dealt with within 6 months of the date of death of the card holder.  Any beneficiary, additional cardholder, spouse or immediate family member may apply to claim or use the points.

Email accounts

Gmail email accounts provide account holders with a number of options regarding a deceased user’s account.  The account holder can set up ‘Inactive Account Manager’ during their lifetime, which instructs Google on who should have access to your account after death or whether you wish for your account to be deleted.  If an account has no Inactive Account Manager appointed, immediate family members or estate representatives may contact Google to obtain content from a deceased user’s account.  However, Google will not provide access to the deceased’s account.

Yahoo email account terms stipulate that accounts are non-transferrable and rights in an account (and its contents) terminate on death.  As such, there is no right of access to any account content after death by the family or representative of the deceased, although some limited access has been granted in the past by court order.

Next step

For more information on  preparing your digital after-life, read our article Preparing for your ‘digital afterlife’: our 5-step approach

For assistance in preparing your digital after-life, call us on 1300 654 590. If our lawyers are busy and cannot answer your call immediately, we promise to return your call within 24 hours. Alternatively, drop us an email at andrew@andreyev.com.au


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