A website domain name (URL) registered to you is a true asset that is transferable and passes with the residue of an estate, and your web content firmly belongs to you under copyright law.
On the other hand, an online account with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube is not a physical asset in a property sense; all you have is a license to use the site. If you’ve read their Terms of Service, which is a binding contract, you may have noticed that transferability upon death is prohibited.
While by law you own all of the photos and other content you’ve posted on your social sites, and the site has a non-exclusive license to use it, if your heirs can’t access your account they can’t access your property.
So why would care care what happens to your Facebook page, or your emails, after you die?
Whether you realize it or not, all of the content you post on your social media sites and/or blogs, and even your email, becomes a historical collection that reflects who you are, what you think, and what you’re going through during certain times in your life — all forever archived in cyberspace.
In a world of “Selfies” taken with our smartphones and videos of special events in our lives being posted online, we’re creating digital archives of precious memories that we want to be able to pass along to future generations — much in the same way you may have inherited the family bible, diaries or photo albums.
The downside to the Internet of Things is that some of your digital assets are being archived and preserved whether you want them to be or not. In addition, much of your online content may be interactive; Comments on your posts, and your comments on others.
Gone are the days when we only had physical assets to be divvied up, or thrown away. Digital assets can be bequeathed complete — to more than just one person and to anyone with access to the internet. Future generations will be able to see us as we saw ourselves and as others saw us. With that in mind, you may want to think more carefully of what you’re posting online so that your heirs don’t have to wade through tens of thousands of pictures of food and cat memes.
“In the past we had heirlooms that were physical objects, like photo albums, and these things could be found in your home after you passed away. However, in the digital world these things might be in a service like Flickr,” making them harder to discover and access. So, “planning for their afterlife” is a critical choice, says Evan Carroll, who together with co-author John Romano has penned “Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy?.”
“Some of the things that are most valuable to people are [those] they put on the Web without thinking about it,” such as photos of children shot candidly with a cellphone, Romano adds. “If you do have an attachment to these things and think that your children or spouse would, then you should go ahead and actively work to preserve them. To not make a choice, and to not do anything, is making a choice to let whatever happens happen.”
Related article (posted on techlicious.com): What Happens to Your Online Accounts When You Die?