In our connected digital world, it is not unusual for people of varying age groups to have a social media presence on one or multiple platforms, the most popular being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube (Google). The security around these accounts is a concern and nobody wants to have their accounts ‘hacked’ and their personal data and photographs used by strangers. Furthermore, people are moving towards digitising their sentimental assets such as photographs, videos and music and uploading them on these platforms or storing them on cloud-based software. If they were to pass away, these important memories could be lost in the digital space.
But what happens to these online accounts when you pass away? Can your loved ones still access them? Can your executor instruct their closure? There is no legislation dealing with this issue in South Afirca, however each online platform has their own policy in place.
Facebook & Instagram
On both Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, your account can be converted to an ‘in memorium’ account or deleted entirely after your death. Facebook allows you to select your preference during your lifetime, however Instagram does not. Your family or executor will need to notify Facebook/Instagram of your death and provide proof.
Twitter will deactivate your account after a valid and verifiable request is sent to them. The person instructing deactivation will need to provide their identification, authority and proof of death.
Many YouTube accounts are linked to a person’s Google account, which could also include ‘Google Drive’, a cloud storage facility. Google has an ‘inactive account manger’ tool that you can set up during your lifetime. After a period of inactivity on your account, this tool either deactivates the account or it will contact a person nominated by you to deal with the inactive account. In the latter scenario, certain data you have stored on the Google Cloud can be sent to your nominated person. This tool does not preclude your family and executor from contacting Google directly to deal with the accounts.
There are no hard and fast rules, but it is always best to provide the appropriate direction to your loved ones. This can be through an express clause in your Last Will and Testament, provision in a Letter of Wishes or a private document or file you share with your executor/loved one containing the necessary passwords for access. In any scenario, your executor or trusted family member should be ‘tech-savvy’ and know your expectations for the accounts and, especially, the sentimental digital assets. It is also important that the sharing of any passwords is done in a secure manner whether through an encrypted document or on a password management app.
It is important to be proactive in ensuring your online social accounts can be efficiently dealt with on your passing. This will in turn ensure that your online presence is treated according to your wishes and protected from misuse on your death and that your personal memories are not lost forever.