Is it important to protect your digital legacy?

suneeti@khaleejtimes.com Filed on June 24, 2021

More than 60 per cent of the world population has access to the internet, according to the Digital 2021 April Global Statshot Report. So, we are talking about 4.7 billion people. A majority of these people have a digital aspect to their life, either through social media platforms, photographs and documents stored in the cloud, with web-based services provided by the Big Tech, online shopping, or financial services and more. Come to think of it, we are living in a world, where a lot of things we value and cherish, often find space on the cloud or are protected with some digital secure code. And yet, not many of us are consciously thinking about what will happen to our digital assets once we pass away.

Who will gain access to our email account, our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram accounts, or other platforms we have chosen to document our memories, opinion, communications or even financial details. It is a tough question, especially for content creators and influencers, who have built their worklives in the virtual space.

Would we want our online presence to remain our legacy or do we want it to simply vanish and become inactive after we die?

We often do not think about such questions seriously or even discuss or ponder over it.

The ability to remember deceased friends and families through the photos and stories, can be an important part of the grieving process, but at the same time, it should also reflect and honour the wish of the person whom they belonged to in the first place. “The pace of development in digital assets has been much faster than the laws designed around them. It is also much more than NFTs and crypto currencies. Most people have a lot of memories stored in the cloud (Facebook, iCloud etc.). Some of these services enable members to select what should happen after their death (Facebook for example has an in-memoriam option),” says Stuart Porter, a UAE-based chartered financial planner.

There is a lot of variation in the rules laid down on digital assets by Big Tech and other technology firms. Apple, for instance, is very strict with its privacy policy and will allow access only if someone has left a will or there is a court order. Popular social media platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram, allow the page of a deceased person to be memorialised so that it can still be viewed. The two platforms allow users to nominate a legacy contact, who can manage the page. Google, on the other hand, allows users to select an executor if their account has been inactive for 90 days or more.

If you value your digital assets, which can include purchased subscriptions of games and characters in online games, it is advisable to use a password manager (PM) to store all passwords in one place and give the passcode of this PM to the executor of the will or a member of your family. But the first step arguably is to think through and note down your digital assets and plan your legacy.

Once you have made a list of passwords and accounts, it is worthwhile to check the legality of passing on the details of more complex things like bank accounts. “When preparing a Will, there are two issues: first, making sure the Will covers the digital assets and second, making sure the executors and/or beneficiaries are aware of their existence,” says Porter. “On the first point, a Will is a long-term document. Therefore, when it is prepared, we need to take account of new technologies. If a client is in any doubt whether their digital assets are covered in their Will, they should speak to the person who drafted their Will. Whether the beneficiaries can claim the assets and how quickly, will depend on the nationality of the owner, what the assets are, where they are located, and the legal process involved,” adds Porter.

It’s as important to appoint digital heirs, as it is, appointing heirs to your physical assets. We are living in a truly digital world, after all.

suneeti@khaleejtimes.com

author

Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Suneeti Ahuja-Kohli has been in Dubai long enough to call it her spiritual home. She loves to travel but plans to settle down in Koi Samui, Thailand eventually to spend her sunset years by the sea. For now, she writes frequently on personal finance, retirement planning, business news and features, health and almost anything assigned by her editor. Her sojourns can be followed on instagram (suneetiahujakohli), news and views on Twitter @suneetiahuja, and for the rest, there’s a Facebook account.