All About Estates

My Digital Afterlife

If I was to drop dead after writing this blog, what would happen to it and all my other detritus in hyperspace? My photos? My Facebook account? My YouTube channel filled with my oddball movies? Is it part of my estate? What are the responsibilities of my executor?

Recently the topic of our digital afterlife has begun to creep into the public consciousness. Witness the recent New York Times Magazine cover article by Rob Walker, the publication of the book “Your Digital Afterlife” and the advent of “digital legacy firms”.   We scatter all kinds of personal information into the digital cloud thinking it is ephemeral – a moment in time.  But that moment can linger and linger. 

Digital estate law and wills that address our online footprints are in their infancy, to put it mildly. Ownership is unclear. Access is password protected.  Information can be lost due to failure to pay subscriptions.  The executor – pity the executor – will have a heck of a job identifying and claiming these “assets”.

Just think.  The deceased may have an avatar running around in Second Life, or winnings stashed on an online poker site.  Embarrassing or even libellous statements will drift on digital winds.  And what’s the liability related to dubious or illegal online activities.  This is far beyond the contents of a hard-drive.  

Just wait. It’s coming. This will be a whole new sub-genre of estate law. So, for the record, I relinquish all legal claim over this digital trifle, but I want my YouTube account saved until my children find it too mortifying.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with over 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.