What happens to our virtual assets when we die?

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I was born in 1993, and me, together with all others from my generation, we are considered digital natives. Digital Natives are people that grew up with the internet. So today it is common to be on the web. As a result, we produce huge amounts of data during our lifes – every time we post things on social networks, send e-mails, post blogs or upload pictures. But also we can possess things that are digital like music or eBooks. 

So I  was asking myself: What happens to all the data when we die?

With this blog post I want to present what I have found and give opinions from experts.

It is stated by law that heirs have legal access to belongings from the departed. He gets property and debts. Thinking of virtual goods, it is way more difficult to do it like this. Usually, these are connected with a private account. After death heirs normally do not have access to all passwords which makes it hard to handle digital leftovers.

Munich lawyer Peter Bräutigam says that this is the point where German law of inheritance and telecommunication is not as advanced as the technological development. So he truly sees a need for German law to adapt.

People should be able to have access to digital assets from beloved ones when they die. But there is a dispute about whether it is justified that companies make private e-mails accessible to other persons since law protects senders that mostly did not agree to release private conversations. This is different with normal letters that can easily be handed over to heirs. 

Talking about digital purchases like music in an iTunes store or an e-book library at Amazon, it is now not allowed to inherit these as assets. These are most often only considered as rented or you have only purchased a licens to use it. What such companies benefit from is that these goods always have to be paid again and again. Whereas your grandfather’s old CD collection can be handed over from generation to generation.

Google is right now one step ahead with their newly introduced Inactice Account Manager. It lets Google users decide what exactly should happen with their accounts and uploaded data when the user has not used the account for a longer time. Naomi R. Cahn, professor of law at George Washington University Law School in Washington, finds that “this new program truly is one step forward in digital estate planning”. 

Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle, suggests to make a private list of “all accounts in which you have a digital presence” and also to always upload the list. Thereby, it is easier for herits to have access to online accounts and digital assets. And no data can be lost in the world wide web. And the only solution to save digital music purchases is for Gerson to back it up on your computer. 

 

Read more on this topic here and here

 

 

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