Who gets your Twitter account when you die?

iStock_000001705174XSmall Death is inevitable but the law decides what happens to our goods when we go. The new question is: what happens to our virtual identity and our online assets? The law says nothing about our ‘digital legacy’.

  • What happens to our photos on Facebook?
  • Can a literary executor get control over a writer’s Tweets?
  • Is our stash of Warcraft gold subject to inheritance tax?
  • Can a relative inherit your digital music collection?
  • Should service providers automatically shut down social media identities when their owner dies?
  • What do online services do when you die? Popular services like Facebook, MySpace, Hotmail, Flickr and Gmail have very different policies (or no public policies at all).

Lawyer Nicola Plant discusses all these issues in a recent report called Digital Legacy (PDF). There’s a summary in this press release. It’s well worth reading and a little bit shocking.

I spent a few hours last month putting together a list of passwords together with my will so that if I died, anyone who was trying to sort out my affairs afterwards could deal with all this (and also access my server and PC).

After all this maudlin talk, can I recommend Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman? It’s witty, entertaining and very thought-provoking. You can listen to Jeffrey Tambor read one of the tales on the wonderful RadioLab programme from New York.

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11 Responses to Who gets your Twitter account when you die?

  1. Vijay October 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Scary halloween comes early this year? :)

  2. Shane Ryans October 4, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    That is very interesting. I have never even thought of that. I am surprised this is the first I have heard of it as well. I used to work in a law firm but I guess it has everything to do with what ever the terms of the site are. I for sure have never really looked into them all that much. I guess I have some research to do.

  3. Zachary Overline October 8, 2010 at 2:18 am #

    Warcraft gold probably won’t be subject to inheritance tax, because Blizzard has gone to great lengths to detach Warcraft gold from real-world currency (whether or not they’ve been successful, however, is another matter). Chinese MMORPG’s, however, which actively encourage users to spend hard cash on characters, equipment, and currency within the game… well, that’s another matter. You can make quite a living playing games over here :)

    Thanks for the interesting entry, man. I’ve never sat down to think about this stuff either.

  4. Lyndsey McKendry October 11, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    What an interesting post, didn’t think of this when trying to compile details to go into my Will, will have to amend that now….. the ever increasing to-do list has grown again.

  5. Ajay October 16, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    It is very intresting to note such developments in social media.I wonder if a whole new field of internet laws will emerge adressing the concerns of information of a user after death.

    “I spent a few hours last month putting together a list of passwords together with my will so that if I died, anyone who was trying to sort out my affairs afterwards could deal with all this (and also access my server and PC).”

    Hilarious :)

  6. bride dresses November 19, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Aha, Is it our invisible capital?

  7. Charlotte Beckett November 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Fear not, help is at hand:

    http://mashable.com/2010/10/11/social-media-after-death/

  8. Criminal Attorneys in Tampa November 30, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    In my 25 years of existence in this world I’ve never thought of that, is it really possible? Our relatives can inherit our online assets? I think I should read that Digital Legacy outputs so that I can answer my own questions. By the way thank you for posting this kind of article , it’s really informative and a shocking revelation to all online users.

  9. Wake County DUI Lawyer November 30, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    This is actually interesting. I have thought of that also. What will happen to my accounts if I die. Then, I started to think something like, maybe my relatives will use it as a remembrance from me or the possibility that my accounts will be banned. I never thought that this kind of terms exists. I’ll do some research about this. Thanks for the info.

  10. Judith Dudley December 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Thanks Matthew for this information. I read the press release. I’m shocked that our FB, etc.. would be “classified as forming part of the estate of a deceased individual.”

    I’d NEVER even thought of this subject before. Time to write passwords down… :/

  11. PK Munroe December 29, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    Using our free Facebook app ‘When I Croak’ you can write suggestions for your relatives and friends on how to conduct ‘your big day’ ie. what kind of music, readings etc. you would like at your funeral – and give them passworded access to this information. I’m not suggesting you use this as a way to store account passwords, but you could at least point people in the right physical direction (‘my password list can be found in the top right drawer…’)

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