When a loved one dies, it’s terrible. In addition to coping with the pain and grief, surviving dependents must also take care of the so-called digital estate. This means, for example, data on social media channels, email accounts, cloud access or subscriptions to streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify . But what happens to a person’s digital estate and who has a right to it?
For surviving dependents, insight into the digital estate is of particular importance. Young people in particular usually spend a large part of their lives in the digital world, which is why there are also many digital mementos: Photos in the cloud or videos on social media platforms can give parents insights into their child’s life that they didn’t have before. This also means subsequently violating the privacy of the child and also pictured friends. At the same time, these glimpses in the mourning situation awaken painful memories in the relatives and can influence the image on the deceased person. Grieving loved ones should think about both before possibly looking into social media accounts.
Accounts on social media or messenger services can also be a platform to express or share grief with others. It happens that friends and family still write to the Facebook wall of the deceased person months later or tell him on WhatsApp continue to send messages. This can help in grief and be a way to say goodbye.
According to the law, the legal heirs have access to the digital heritage in most cases. If the deceased are children, they are usually the parents. However, depending on the provider and service, different regulations apply as to the extent to which insight into the accounts and data of the dead person is granted. Heirs do not always have the right of use, but often only the right to access the accounts left behind. You are allowed to view content, photos, messages and delete the account. However, the account may not continue to be used, nor may existing content such as postings or blog entries be modified. Heirs to the digital estate should therefore look into the terms and conditions of the various providers.
Facebook grants survivors access to the profile and allows the account to be set to “memorial state”. The appointment of a so-called estate contact on Facebook is already possible during one’s lifetime. Relatives and friends can still view the profile and leave messages.
Google also facilitates the organization of the digital estate by asking users to appoint so-called account inactivity managers during their lifetime. These people get access to the person’s data as soon as the person has been inactive for a period of time determined by the person in advance.
Other providers such as Instagram or Yahoo , only allow existing accounts to be deleted. In this case, certain documents such as the death certificate are necessary and must be presented to the provider. This is to prevent accounts from being deleted by third parties for fun or as a threat, for example.
Besides data and precious memories, there is another reason to take care of your digital estate. In addition to the rights, the obligations of the deceased person also pass to the heirs. Contracts concluded must still be honored or cancelled, bills paid and trips cancelled. Since it is often not clear which contracts are running and which bills still need to be paid, a look into the mailbox of the deceased person can help. In most cases, messages about online purchases, concluded contracts or booked trips can be found there.
An exception with regard to the digital estate is frequently purchased digital goods such as e-books, movies or music. These cannot always be passed on to third parties or bequeathed.
It’s hard to deal with your own death or that of a loved one while you’re alive – especially when it’s your own children. But such precautions are useful and save a lot of trouble and hassle during the difficult time. The will can state which data may be viewed and managed by whom. In addition, passwords and access data can be kept in a safe place so that heirs can access them in case of emergency. Some online services also allow you to specify an authorized contact while you are still alive. It makes sense to talk about which platforms and channels are actively used and what should happen to the accounts and data after a possible death. Various offers, such as Stiftung Warentest’s estate set, can help to regulate the digital estate.