The Ethical and Legal Considerations of Digital Inheritance

Have you ever wondered what will happen to your online accounts and digital assets after you’re gone or incapacitated? It’s not a pleasant thought, but in today’s world of online lives and social media use, digital inheritance is becoming an increasingly important issue.

The Ethical and Legal Considerations of Digital Inheritance Have you ever wondered what will happen to your online accounts and digital assets after you’re gone or incapacitated? It’s not a pleasant thought, but in today’s world of online lives and social media use, digital inheritance is becoming an increasingly important issue.

As you scroll through social media or shop online, you’re probably not thinking about what will happen to your digital footprint once you pass away. But you should be. Unclaimed digital assets can cause legal issues for families and loss of precious memories. At the same time, bequeathing access to online accounts raises several legal and ethical issues.

It’s a complex topic with many open questions but one that deserves attention and discussion to shape policy and social norms on digital rights and responsibilities. After all, you have spent years building your online presence and fortune- shouldn’t you have a say in what happens to it?

What is Digital Inheritance?

Digital inheritance involves passing down digital assets and accounts to a designated beneficiary after a person’s death. Possessions such as videos, photos, email accounts, cryptocurrency, and social media profiles often hold sentimental and financial value, so planning what happens to them after you’re gone is critical.

Some key things to think about include:

  • Online financial accounts: Grant account access to a person (fiduciary) who can ensure all accounts are identified, bills paid, and funds distributed according to your wishes.
  • Digital assets: Ensure valuables like videos, photos, cryptocurrency, or domain names are accounted for and instructions provided for their care or transfer.
  • Social media profiles: Do you want your profiles deleted, memorialized, or passed to a legacy contact? Most social media platforms have a death policy governing profile inheritance.
  • Email and cloud storage: Provide account info and passwords to a trusted contact in case anything important needs accessing. They can decide to keep or delete the accounts.

Planning your digital inheritance takes time and effort but can give you peace of mind knowing your online life and fortune will be taken care of according to your priorities and values after you are gone. Discussing your preferences with your loved ones will help make the process easier for all involved during the difficult period.

Legal Considerations for Digital Assets After Death

When someone passes away, their digital life doesn’t end. Email accounts, social media profiles, blogs, and more remain online indefinitely. As an account owner, you are legally obliged to decide what will happen to these possessions after you’re gone. 

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Appoint a Digital Executor

Designate a trusted friend, family member, or professional as your digital executor to handle your online accounts after you are gone. Provide them with instructions for how you want your digital life managed and any login information they may need. Ensure the person understands your wishes fully. For example, you may want some accounts deactivated and others memorialized.

2. Review Terms of Service

Navigating the digital inheritance process for commonly used services like Gmail or Facebook can be a complex undertaking. These platforms typically have distinct and intricate policies regarding account access and management after the account holder's demise.

For instance, Facebook might offer options for appointing a legacy contact who can manage parts of your account or even memorialize it, preserving the content you've shared. On the other hand, Gmail may provide a feature for specifying an account beneficiary who can gain access to your emails in the event of your passing.

Understanding these platform-specific nuances is crucial, as default actions can vary significantly. Some platforms might opt for preserving the account in a memorialized state, allowing friends and family to view and commemorate the content without altering it.

Others may provide options to deactivate or delete the account entirely. It is essential to review and comprehend the terms of service for each platform individually to make informed decisions about the fate of your digital presence.

Clearly outlining whether you prefer your accounts to be maintained, deleted, or managed by a specific individual ensures that your wishes are respected and implemented.

Consider a Digital Will

For a comprehensive plan, you may want to create a digital will to accompany your traditional will. A digital will provides direction for all your online accounts and assets. You can specify account login details, beneficiaries, and your wishes for how each account should be handled after death. Store this sensitive document securely with your other estate planning files.

Ethical Debates Around Accessing Someone’s Online Accounts

One of the biggest debates around digital inheritance centers on whether online platforms should allow access to someone’s online accounts after they pass away. Some people argue that individuals should have autonomy over their digital assets, even in death, and that allowing access could violate their privacy.

Others believe that the next of kin should have access to online accounts to handle outstanding financial or practical matters or simply for sentimental reasons.

1. Privacy Concerns

Giving access to online accounts like email, cloud storage, and social media profiles raises significant privacy issues. Most platforms that wish to protect users’ data and comply with privacy laws don’t allow account access after someone passes.

 However, some people prepare by leaving account login details with trusted contacts in case of an emergency. The question remains whether online platforms or companies should make special allowances for next of kin to access accounts, even if it goes against the deceased’s wishes.

Practical Necessities

Access to online platforms is necessary to handle critical matters like closing accounts, accessing photos or documents, or resolving financial issues. Not having access could prevent the next of kin from properly settling the deceased’s estate or handling unfinished business.

Some argue that companies should allow limited, time-bound access in such scenarios, with proper verification of the requester’s identity and relationship to the account holder.

Sentimental Reasons

For most people, online accounts contain a lifetime of memories In the form of messages, photos, shared interests, and more. Not having access to these accounts can leave loved ones feeling part of the person they lost is now inaccessible. However, it’s difficult for online platforms to determine if an access request is genuinely for sentimental reasons or could be an attempt to access the accounts for other purposes. 

These are good arguments on both sides, and people can disagree on these ethical aspects. Ultimately, individuals should make their digital end-of-life wishes known to avoid confusion and ensure their online legacy is handled as they intend. But when wishes aren’t known, companies and next of kin face difficult judgment calls without easy answers.

Respecting the Deceased’s Privacy and Wishes

When someone passes away, their digital property can be challenging to navigate. Digital executors have a responsibility to handle the deceased’s inheritance legally, ethically, and respectfully.

Respecting Privacy

It’s crucial to respect the deceased privacy. Just because you have access to their accounts doesn’t mean you should snoop through personal messages or share private details with others. 

You should only access what is necessary to close accounts or save important information. If the deceased left specific instructions about which accounts to access, follow their wishes closely.

Honoring Their Values

Consider what the deceased valued and how they would want their digital legacy handled. For example, if they were private or concerned with security, they may prefer accounts to be deleted. 

If they were active in online communities, they may want certain profiles memorialized. If you are a digital executor, you should handle each account according to their values and preferences.

Informing Friends and Family

Let close friends and family know in a timely yet sensitive manner that the person has passed away. Post a memorial message on major social media profiles, then delete or memorialize the account according to the person’s wishes.

Be cautious about publicly posting too many details, especially on large platforms. Inform any online community where the person was active directly.

Saving Memories 

Download photos, messages, and posts that capture memories or are meaningful to friends and family. Share these privately instead of publicly posting them unless you have direct permission. 

Check devices like phones and computers for any photos, messages, or files worth saving. These types of digital memories can be cherished for years to come.

Getting Help if Overwhelmed

Handling someone’s digital inheritance as an executor can be an immense task, especially if they are active online. Don’t be afraid to ask other family members or friends for help closing accounts and saving important information.

You can also seek help from a digital executor to handle technical details during this difficult time. The most important thing is that the deceased’s digital legacy is handled with care and respect.

How to Have the Digital Inheritance Conversation with Loved Ones 

Having an open conversation with your loved ones about what will happen to your digital assets and accounts after you are gone or incapacitated is an essential step in estate planning today. As more and more of our lives move online, you need to share your digital inheritance intentions to avoid confusion, privacy issues, or important accounts.

Sit down with close family, friends, or a professional who offers digital legacy services and let them know your wishes for things like social media profiles and accounts, online accounts for services like email, and online financial accounts.

Having an open, honest conversation about your digital afterlife may feel uncomfortable, but it provides critical guidance to help loved ones navigate an increasingly digital world after you’re gone. Put together a comprehensive list of accounts and share your digital inheritance wishes so they can honor them when the time comes. Though not an easy topic, it will give everyone peace of mind knowing all loose ends are tied up.

Are you looking forward to ensuring your digital inheritance wishes are fulfilled? WillBox.me has got you covered! With this platform, you can centralize information about your online accounts and create a detailed digital inventory.

It also allows you to specify access permissions, provide management instructions, and securely store this sensitive information. With a focus on simplicity, WillBox.me will ensure your loved ones understand and honor your digital legacy wishes seamlessly.

Final Words

So there you have it. All good things must end, but in the digital age, your online life can live on eternally if you plan for it. As you build your digital legacy through social media profiles, blogs, photos, and more, think about what you want to leave behind and who you want to inherit.

Your digital inheritance has value, and it’s up to you to decide if you want it preserved or erased when you’re gone. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to make that choice consciously and responsibly while you still can. 

Start that conversation now and make your preference known so you can rest assured your digital legacy, or lack thereof, will be handled according to your wishes. The future is unwritten but your digital past can live on for future generations if you take to craft your digital estate plan today thoughtfully. 

Our service

At WillBox.me, we provide a complete digital estate planning service that helps you organize and manage your digital assets, so they can be accessed and transferred by your loved ones after you pass away or become incapacitated. Our service includes creating a digital inventory, determining who will have access, providing instructions on how to manage your assets, and securely storing your digital estate plan.


Subscribe to our service today, and gain peace of mind that your legacy will be protected.