Digital Legacy checklist and information on web service policies
Many New Zealanders now have a growing collection of “digital assets” – personal information they have created and stored online as text and photos on social media websites, emails, blog posts and even avatars in online games.
Many wills note what should happen to a person’s “tangible” personal papers, letters and photographs. If they are not mentioned in the will, or if a person dies without a will, the executor makes this decision. A problem could arise if someone dies leaving a collection of digital assets which are password protected or unknown to friends and relatives.
The New Zealand Law Society’s Property Law Section suggests that if you are making a will, or reviewing your current will, you should consider what will happen to your digital assets. The following simple checklist is intended to identify key considerations and can be used for a discussion with your lawyer.
- Identify your “digital assets”. What online accounts and information do you have stored online. Which ones are important to you or your family and friends?
- What do you want to happen to each of these assets after your death?
- Email: Should anyone have access to your email after your death? Do you want your email contacts notified of your death?
- Social media sites: Do you want someone to notify your online friends of your death? Do you want your profile removed?
- Other online sites: Do you have photos or other personal information stored online that are not accessible anywhere else? What do you want to happen to these?
- If you want your accounts to be accessible after your death, you might consider recording your details (passwords, login, location) in a safe place. Note that providers of some services such as internet banking do not permit you to record some details. Check the wording of the agreements you have.
Popular web services policies on death of users
This information is provided as a guideline only and all users should check the exact nature of the access agreement they have with each web service provider.
Facebook offers to remove or “memorialize” an account upon proof of death. Friends or family can contact Facebook via a “Report a Deceased Person's Profile” form which requires them to state their relationship to the deceased and provide a link to an obituary or news item as proof of death. A “memorialized” profile remains online but is removed from public search results. The wall is open for existing Facebook friends to pay their respects on, but others cannot add the profile to their list of friends. The account is barred from any login attempts.
Google requires hardcopy information to be posted or faxed to them before they will provide access to the content of a deceased person’s account. The required information includes:
- Your full name, physical mailing address, and email address;
- A photocopy of your government issued ID or driver’s license;
- The gmail address of the individual who passed away;
- A copy of an email between you and the deceased;
- Proof of death; and
- A probate or other court order stating that you are the lawful representative of the deceased's estate; or
- if the deceased was under the age of 18 and you are the parent of the individual, a copy of the deceased’s birth certificate.
LinkedIn requires a completed death verification form emailed or faxed to them to remove a profile.
MySpace won’t allow anyone to access, edit, or delete any of the content or settings on a deceased user’s profile, but will review and remove any content a upon a relative’s request. They require the following information via email:
- The relationship to the deceased;
- The deceased user’s MySpace friend ID;
- Proof of death; and
- any specific requests to either delete or preserve the profile, or to remove content.
Twitter states that “if we are notified that a Twitter user has passed away, we can remove their account or assist family members in saving a backup of their public Tweets.”
They request the following information:
- Your full name, contact information (including email address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
- The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
- A link to a public obituary or news article.
Windows Live Hotmail
Windows Live Hotmail has a policy of deleting email accounts if they are not logged into for 270 days. If a deceased’s next of kin provides Microsoft with the required (hardcopy) information, Microsoft will send a CD containing the contents of the account. The required information includes:
- Certain details of the account holder;
- A photocopy of the death certificate for the user;
- Paperwork stating that you are the benefactor or executor to the deceased's estate and/or that you have Power of Attorney and are next-of-kin; and
- A photocopy of your driver's license or a government issued identification.
Yahoo, which also owns Flickr and Delicious, will only share account information if required by court order. Its terms of service #27 entitled “No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability” reads:
“You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.”
To access a deceased person’s account, Youtube requires the following information to be posted or faxed to them:
- Your full name and contact information, including a verifiable email address;
- The YouTube account name of the individual who passed away;
- A copy of the death certificate of the deceased; and
- A copy of the document that gives you Power of Attorney over the YouTube account; or
- If you are the parent of the individual and the account owner was under 18, a copy of the Birth Certificate.
Last updated on the 3rd June 2015