The information provided below is general in nature and should not be relied upon legal advice. You should call 03 5445 1000 and speak to a lawyer at OFRM about your particular circumstances.

Death and the Internet

Death and the Internet

If you die then your Will leaves your assets to your beneficiaries. But what happens to all of your online and digital accounts such as Facebook, iTunes, Twitter, Amazon...?

First, you must look at the terms and conditions in relation to each account. As a lawyer, I should tell everyone to read the Terms and Conditions before they tick the agreement box, but I don't read them myself. Life is too short to waste reading jargon that is impossible to understand and takes an endless amount of time to do so.

However there is a common theme running through most online accounts. The organisation gives you the right to use the account during your lifetime, but upon your death there are no ownership rights that pass to your next of kin or beneficiaries in a Will. In other words, it is a right to use and not a right to own.

If you have an Apple iTunes account, then you are given a licence to listen to the songs that you have purchased. Unlike the purchase of a CD at a shop, there is nothing physical for you to own. You merely have the right to listen to the music held on your account. While you are alive, you cannot transfer control of your iTunes account to another person to use. The right to listen to the music is personal to yourself1. Upon your death, there is no legal entitlement to listen to the iTunes music that can be passed on to anyone else.

Similarly, Facebook allows you permission to operate your account, but Facebook owns and controls the site. Upon death, Facebook have the ability to memorialise an account which prevents anyone from logging into the account and, obviously, no new friends can be accepted. Depending upon the settings of the account, friends can share the memories on the memorialised timeline. Facebook have indicated that they will delete the account of a deceased person if requested by family members.

The storage of passwords and other sensitive information on the internet is very important. Keeping in mind that your Executor may not have the right or ability to access accounts after your death without the password, perhaps it is a good idea to keep copies of any information on a separate storage device and kept in a safe location.

The internet has evolved at a very rapid pace. But the issues around the internet and death have evolved much more slowly and I am sure that there will be a lot more on this over the next few years.

  1. Apple's Family Sharing does allow for limited sharing amongst family members.