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Handling The Digital Legacy

30 June, 2018

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We have seen and read a lot about making wills. Wills are mostly made to ensure that all your assets, in whatever form is attended to, when you are no longer there. However, there is one aspect that is usually missing in the wills, where we are concerned. In the Western countries, people have started incorporating this into their will as well. So, what is this missing aspect, that we do not think about? Spare a thought and wonder what happens to your emails and social media accounts, once you are no longer there. Does anyone else in your family have to access to these things? Can it be handled ably by someone or can someone misuse it in your absence? This is why the digital aspect of your life also needs to be brought into the picture while making your will.

What is a digital legacy?

Digital legacy includes all your digital assets; it could be emails, social media accounts, blogs, any digital music, videos or subscriptions that you have purchased, or even cloud storage and digital lockers that you may have. Considering that we are now living in a highly digitised society, it’s highly unlikely, that you may not have any of these. Hence, it is important to consider these and make a note of all these in your will.

What can be done?

If you have social media accounts, then you may choose to delete the account, or your loved ones can keep it for memory’s sake. Facebook, for example, provides the authorised relatives with these options. So, you may, in your will choose to say what you want to be done with your account. Mention that you either want it deleted or appoint someone from the family to monitor it. Memorializing the account could be one way for the legal heirs to keep your memories alive.

Instagram too provides users with the same options as deleting the account or memorialising it, with necessary proof of death. In fact, in many western countries, the laws demand that you mention these in your will. Similarly, note down all your email as well as any other online accounts that you may have and spell out what needs to be done with it.

If you have online games, music or video subscriptions, then that too needs to be accounted for in your will. This may take some time, as we may not realise what all we have stored away digitally. Hence, it’s best to take time out and sit down and make a note. Understand the options that the platform provides for after death and make suitable choices in your will. Email providers like Google and Yahoo too, have policies for this that need to be explored and understood.

What is the situation in India?

In India, as per a Supreme Court lawyer who has helped a few people make digital wills, this topic is not very popular, and there is very little awareness. Also, the Indian Succession Act does not cover these as part of it. The one place where the matter is clear is the Income Tax Department, which authorises the legal heir to file returns for the deceased with necessary proof. 

According to another lawyer who handles Intellectual Property, the digital stuff too gets passed on to the legal heir, though not covered as such in any law. However, if there are lots of stuff and important, priceless or costly, and multiple contenders as legal heirs, then issues may crop up. Hence, it is always better to get the digital legacy will done, so that there are no complications or surprises for your legal heirs, after your death.

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