How to protect your digital legacy before you die

how to protect your digital legacy

How to protect your digital legacy before you die

CDs, hardcover books and family photo albums have turned into iTunes, e-books and Google drive albums. With tangible mementoes of the past now floating in an intangible cyberspace, it is more important than ever to consider how to protect your digital legacy.

For example, what happens to your digital legacy when you pass away? How do you ensure that your wishes about what happens to your digital data and assets are carried out? Who will erase your digital footprint when you die and how?

A recent study suggests that Facebook’s living will, in the not-too-distant future, be outnumbered by Facebook’s dead. Do you want your Facebook account to turn into a digital grave when you pass away?

In this article, I touch on some of the most widely used digital platforms and how you can protect your digital legacy when you die.

How to protect your digital legacy: social media accounts

How a user’s account is dealt with after death is covered in the specific platform’s user agreement or policy section. They aren’t all dealt with in the same way, although a common denominator is that data privacy is taken seriously, and a user’s password will never be shared.

Facebook, for example, allows your account to be converted to a memorial page by your family members after you pass away. They will need to complete the Special Request for Medically Incapacitated or Deceased Person’s Account form. A memorial page allows minimal interaction, but the account remains open on Facebook. Another option is to specify that the account be deleted on death by signing a social media will or a note to a family member.

Google’s Inactive Account Manager can be set up to notify someone when the account becomes inactive. Also, there is the option to choose what should happen with each Google product (e.g. Gmail or blogger account). Without making these arrangements prior to death, listed heirs will have difficulty gaining access to the data.

YouTube is used by some people to generate an income from their uploaded content. In this instance, the account cannot be bequeathed and consequently the income stream will disappear. It may, therefore, be worth running the account through a company, which means that the company will enjoy perpetual succession.

How to protect your digital legacy: e-books and music

Amazon and Apple make it clear in their terms and conditions that you do not own this data and, as a result, it cannot be transferred to anyone else. When they realise that you have passed away these accounts will be deactivated and your content erased.

How to protect your digital legacy: digital currency

According to SARS, digital currency (cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) owned by South African tax residents is taxed according to South African tax law. As such, digital currency falls under the definition of property and is included as part of the estate.

The difficulty here may be that the heirs are not aware that the deceased holds cryptocurrency. It is important to make sure that all digital currency is recorded in a will.

Making preferences known

Various methods have emerged to allow people to manage how their digital assets should be treated on death. One is to draw up a social media will. Templates are available online that allow you to specify your wishes regarding digital data – this document should accompany a will.

Unfortunately, not all of the social media platforms will necessarily act on the instructions in a social media will, but it will make your wishes clear and your executor can then take it from there.

For further, in-depth information, consult your wealth manager or estate planner.


Michael Maré CFP® FPSA® is a wealth manager at Netto Invest.

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