Date Published: 1 May 2017
Planning for what happens after your death can be a morbid task. You may have thought about and planned for what will happen to your conventional assets such as cash, jewelry, real estate, shares and other assets. But have you considered what will happen to your digital assets such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or Dropbox accounts?
In our previous article, we explained how conventional estate planning is unsuitable for digital assets – such digital assets are in electronic form and protected by passwords, hence making it complicated and cumbersome for the executor of your will to call-in your entire estate (including the digital assets). In this instalment, we will explore the death planning tools that some of the major online spaces offer.
Facebook has a “legacy contact” function which allows a person (the “Legacy Contact”) to manage your Facebook account upon your demise. You have the option of specifying in advance whether you want your account to be memorialised or permanently deleted upon your demise.
Once your account is memorialised, the Legacy Contact may:
- Write a pinned post on your profile (for example, to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service);
- Respond to new friend requests (for example, old friends or family members who were not on Facebook yet);
- Update your profile picture and cover photo; and
- Download a copy of what you have shared on Facebook (if you had selected this option during your lifetime).
Your Legacy Contact cannot:
- Log into your account;
- Remove or change past posts, photos and other things shared on your Timeline;
- Read your messages; or
- Remove any of your friends on Facebook
Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” function allows you to choose up to 10 trusted contacts (each, a “Trusted Contact”) to be the executors of your Google account upon your death or if your account becomes inactive.
First, you set a timeout period for your account, which could be any period between 3 months and 18 months. If you do not sign in to your account during the timeout period, your account will be treated as “inactive” and the Trusted Contact will be notified by email of this fact. At the same time, the Trusted Contact will receive a pre-written response with your wishes and instructions on how your Google account should be managed.
Unlike the Legacy Contact function on Facebook, you can choose to share with your Trusted Contact, data such as your Google Drive, Gmail, and YouTube. In such a scenario, the Trusted Contact will then be able to download the data you have specified.
Alternatively, you may instruct Google to delete your account and all its data on your behalf
Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn
Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn do not have an equivalent to a Legacy Contact or a Trusted Contact or a way to plan for your digital data after your death.
However, Instagram allows for the account to be “memorialised” upon receipt of proof of death, such as a death certificate or a link to an obituary or news article.
Both Instagram and Twitter may, at the request of a “verified immediate family member”, remove your account if your family member can provide the requisite documents such as your death certificate, birth certificate and court documents showing that the family member is the lawful representative of your estate. In Singapore, such a court document would be either a Grant of Probate (where there is a will) or Grant of Letters of Administration (where there is no will, or if the executor of the will is unable or unwilling to act).
In addition, Twitter provides a similar feature in the event the user becomes incapacitated. In such a scenario, the family member would have to show proof of a power of attorney which authorises the family member to act on your behalf.
LinkedIn allows a next-of-kin to remove your profile if the next-of-kin provides LinkedIn information such as your name, the URL to your LinkedIn profile, their relationship to you, your email address, date of death, link to an obituary or news article, and the name of the company you most recently worked at.
As Dropbox does not have a specific policy relating to accounts of deceased persons, its general Terms of Service applies. Pursuant to Dropbox’s Terms of Service, Dropbox has the right to terminate your account if you have not accessed its services, client software and websites for a consecutive period of 12 months (unless you have added paid features to your account).
The advancements in technology in recent years and in particular, the technological advances in personal social media have also created new forms of personal assets which would merit some consideration in relation to estate planning. Whilst such changes are to be welcomed, proper estate planning is nonetheless important to complement certain shortcomings presented by such social media. For example, the powers of the Facebook Legacy Contact is confined to those set out in paragraphs (a) to (d) above and importantly, the Legacy Contact will not be able to log into your Facebook account and have access to your digital assets stored therein. For this reason, it may still be necessary to provide access to your digital accounts to the executor of your will. Thinking about and including your digital assets in your estate planning will result in a more holistic and neater estate planning.
Disclaimer: This update is provided to you for general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice.
CNPLaw’s Estate Planning, Technology and E-Commerce Lawyer
In addition to Li Fei’s experience in acting for banks on varied transactions and in general corporate law, he also helps individuals in estate planning, including the legal aspects of wealth management, advising on and setting up trusts and off-shore structures to secure their future and the future of their families. For 2020, Li Fei is recommended by The Legal 500 Asia Pacific for the Financial Services Regulatory practice.
At CNPLaw, we understand that the current rapid advances in technology are significantly disrupting the way businesses operate and forcing them to evolve to stay relevant. In this fast-changing world, our clients will need lawyers that they can rely on to help them navigate the challenges and stay ahead of the technology game.
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Estate and succession planning can be described as the art of planning and organising personal affairs to achieve maximum wealth protection, for one’s family.
An estate plan may be prepared at any time of one’s life but we usually recommend our clients to start early as this is more effective. Effective estate planning may include appropriately drafted wills and the use of trusts, among other things.
With proper estate planning, our clients are able to minimise the exposure of their accumulated wealth to unnecessary expenses and taxes. This helps them safeguard their wealth during their lifetime and ensures that their loved ones will be properly provided for when their time comes.
Having a will enables one to go further than just providing for one’s family at present. It ensures that upon one’s demise, the selected people will get the amount dictated, and the appointed person will be put in charge of the assets to distribute them according to one’s wishes.
Making a will need not be difficult nor time-consuming. Our fast track wills system eases the will-making process, making it focused on addressing the requirements of our clients in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Nonetheless, we are mindful that each will is unique and has to be tailored to the specific needs of the client. Clients are therefore invited to discuss their plans with us so that we can ensure their will covers the different classes of assets and beneficiaries in accordance with their wishes.
We also regularly advise and assist clients with the setting up of trusts for various purposes, ranging from protection of assets from creditors to ring-fencing the assets from probate proceedings.
Losing a loved one is never easy and as the legal process of obtaining the Court’s grant to administer the estate of your loved one differs depending whether the person left a will or not. Our team will assist you in obtaining a Grant of Probate (where there is a will) or Letters of Administration (where there is no will). We help to ensure that the entire process is as fuss-free and smooth sailing as possible.
A Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is required in order for the estate to be administered and distributed by the executor or administrator. The distribution will either be in accordance with the terms of the will or if there is no will, in compliance with Singapore law. If necessary, after the Grant is obtained, we can assist clients with calling in the assets. Such assets include real property, bank accounts and shares in private and public companies.
We also regularly assist foreign clients in resealing a foreign Grant which has been obtained in a commonwealth country (e.g. Malaysia and Hong Kong) in the Singapore courts. This authorises and enables foreign clients to deal with the deceased’s assets in Singapore.
In cases where a client domiciled in Singapore has assets elsewhere in the world, we can tap on our network of international partner firms to assist in dealing with such assets.