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A will, often called a "Last Will and Testament", is a legal document that allows a person to give instructions on what to do with their possessions once they die. It is also used so that people can declare a legal guardian for their children in the event of their death. In the digital age, people have been wondering what happens to their digital presence once they die. Digital wills are wills that determine the fate of a person’s digital presence once they die. These archives encompass any online account that a person may have such as social media, shopping sites, and gaming sites. Many websites now have a set of guidelines and procedures that can be followed to remove a deceased person’s account from their servers. These procedures may vary from site to site. However, a digital will is a way to determine the fate of your online presence in one location instead of having to make arrangements with each site individually.
- Appoint someone as online executor
- State in a formal document how profiles and accounts are handled
- Understand privacy policies
- Provide online executor list of websites and logins
- State in the will that the online executor must have a copy of the death certificate (DesMarais, 2014).
Obstacles and Problems
Although digital wills are necessary and helpful, some problems and obstacles may be encountered. As identified in the Buffalo Law Review; obstacles include 1) passwords, which online accounts cannot be accessed without, so if a loved one passes away, but does not pass along their account information, there is little hope of getting access to the accounts. 2) Encryption, which is changing information to hide something, 3) Federal and state criminal laws that penalize what is thought of as unauthorized access to computers and data, and 4) Federal and state privacy laws.
Terms and conditions of service must always be taken into account, which can cause problems if there are fine details, or clauses that refer to what to do in the event of the death of the account user. In some cases, the web service may have the ability to terminate the account and delete all data, and if other people besides the user gains access, there may be criminal charges placed against them, even if the one who died has passed on the password to them (Watkins, 2014, p. 194).
An article by Magder in the newspaper The Gazette provides a reminder that identity theft can potentially continue to be a problem even after death if their information is released to the wrong people. This is why online networks and digital executors require proof of a death certificate from a family member of the deceased person in order to acquire access to accounts. There are instances when access may still be denied, because of the prevalence of false death certificates.
In Delaware, the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act” was signed into law. That Act states that a beneficiary that has control over digital accounts or digital assets will have the same rights as the initial account holder. This law trumps conflicting terms of services agreements from online service providers or custodians, such as Yahoo.
- PickledAssets. (2016) PickledAssets. https://www.pickledassets.com
- Afternote. (2014) Afternote. www.afternote.com.
- BoxTomorrow. (2015) BoxTomorrow. www.boxtomorrow.com.
- Connelly, Claire. (2012). "Your Digital Will: How to Share Your Data after Death." Fox News. FOX News Network. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/08/30/your-digital-will-how-to-share-your-data-after-death/
- DesMarais, C. (2014). Manage What Happens to Your Online Accounts After You Die. Techlicious. Retrieved from http://www.techlicious.com/how-to-manage-your-online-accounts-after-you-die/.
- Magder, Jason. (2010, March 10). Who gets your passwords when you die?; Digital wills tie up loose ends on Internet. The Gazette. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/434920870
- Miners, Zach. (2014). “Yahoo slams 'digital will' law, says users have privacy when they die.” IDG News Service. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/2683472/yahoo-slams-new-digital-will-law-says-users-have-privacy-when-they-die.html
- Watkins, A. F. (2014). Digital Properties and Death: What Will Your Heirs Have Access to After You Die?. Buffalo Law Review, 62, 193-236.