Who inherits your Facebook, emails, and online banking passwords when you die?

Do your relatives have access to all the passwords they need to access important documents or precious family photos ...

Do your relatives have access to all the passwords they need to access important documents or precious family photos after your death?

After you die, your digital soul ascends to the cloud, and no-one will ever hear a tweet out of you ever again, right?

Not really, say experts, as they warn Kiwis will increasingly find their heirs locked out of their digital estates once they die if they don't make a plan for access to email passwords or online bank account details.

Next of kin could find themselves locked out of important parts records of their dead relative's "digital legacy", the experts say.

Twitter, Facebook accounts and Instagram posts are all part of a person's online estate. But Wellington lawyer Bianca Mueller also urges clients to consider whether records stored behind passwords to their laptops, online bank accounts and emails might contain valuable information.

Then, says Mueller, there are the emotional considerations: people's photos stored only in computer files, or the prospect of Facebook sending out a reminder notifying friends to wish you a happy birthday after you're gone, which she said might be "quite disturbing" for mourners.

Last year Facebook introduced the option to assign a legacy contact to users' account, which means you can choose a friend or family member to access your account on your behalf.

Mueller, originally from Germany, said her overseas clients had often raised the question of how to make their digital estate inheritable, whereas New Zealanders were only slowly catching on.

"It's sort of uncharted territory, both from a practical perspective and a law point of view," she said.

The last thing you should do is put your passwords in your will, Matt Sale, from the Public Trust, warns.

"While your will is personal to you, it's still a public document, so this information could be accessed by a third party. It's also only a capture of a moment in time – your passwords can and are likely to change," Sale said.

Some internet giants can block access to the information families want if there are no records to show the deceased wanted to allow it.

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That could mean next of kin would have to challenge them in court, which had already happened overseas, Mueller said.

Some people might like to give the executor of their will permission to access specific files or accounts, rather than give it to a family member.

"That's why these companies are so strict. They do not like to give access, often, because of your privacy ... You don't want your mother to know you said something unflattering about her in an email to your sister."

One of the biggest challenges was keeping digital security records up to date, Mueller said.

"These passwords change all the time. Ideally you're changing your passwords every six months for all 40 accounts you're running. How do you keep that [record] best?"


* The Public Trust recommends recording details about your email, social media and banking accounts somewhere secure.

* List where to find important documents and photos, and including that in your will.

* Make a clear outline of what you want to happen with your digital assets after you die.

 - Stuff


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