Estates & Wills & Trusts

Can you bequeath Twitter followers and other digital assets?

Facebook anticipates that by 2098 there will be more profiles for deceased users than for the living, and that highlights the importance of getting digital assets in order, says Toronto estates and trusts lawyer Suzana Popovic-Montag.

People who want their Twitter and other social media accounts to live on after they’re gone need to create a digital estate plan, Popovic-Montag tells AdvocateDaily.com.

A digital estate plan includes the login and passwords for all devices and accounts that will enable survivors to access the information online, says Popovic-Montag, managing partner of Hull & Hull LLP.

“User accounts are typically restrictive and the law has not yet reached a point — in most jurisdictions — where someone authorized under a Last Will and Testament to administer digital assets will necessarily be permitted to do so without the need for the intervention of the courts,” she explains.

Popovic-Montag told TVO that Twitter will work with a designated family member to deactivate an account, but it doesn’t provide access to a deceased user’s account to anyone, regardless of their relationship.

“If someone wants to shut down their loved one’s account following their death, Twitter will do that once verification has been provided.”

What about a situation where a father wants to bequeath his 500,000 Twitter followers to his daughter upon his death?

That’s not going to happen, says Popovic-Montag, noting that digital assets typically refer to data that is stored online — rather than the rights to the account itself, which may be restricted by the policies of the social media company.

“While the number of followers of a certain account may be something that someone would like to pass on, this is not typically an option when it comes to personal accounts, due to the user policies that we all agree to when registering for a service,” Popovic-Montag told TVO.

Theoretically, she says, it’s possible for social media accounts to continue if a predeceasing spouse leaves the login details to a surviving spouse, but even that doesn’t guarantee the account will continue.

“Another family member may nevertheless contact Twitter and be successful in having the page shut down.”

The law is evolving to address digital estate issues, which are coming up with greater frequency. Earlier this year, a bill was passed in Iowa to outline a process for fiduciaries to access digital information on behalf of the deceased or incapable, says Popovic-Montag.

“But with the rapid pace of new technology and slow pace of legal reform there will always be a lag between the types of issues that arise and the laws intended to address them.”

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