Do you know what happens to your Facebook account when you die?

Posted on March 18, 2021 in Wills & Estate Planning by Amanda S.A. Doucette, TEP

The car.  The tractor.  The shares in our farming corporation.  The investments.

These are the assets we usually think about when preparing our Will.

However, there are another group of assets that have become increasingly more relevant in the last few years – digital assets.

I know what you might be thinking – “But Amanda, I do not have any digital assets!”  

Often, when people hear the phrase “digital assets” they think of something complicated, like bitcoin.   However, “digital assets” covers a much broader group of assets than you may initially think. 

Here are some examples of digital assets:

  • A cell phone
  • An icloud account
  • A facebook account
  • A digital photoframe
  • An e-reader
  • An iTunes account
  • A Twitter Account
  • A laptop
  • An iPad/Tablet
  • A hard drive
  • Online gambling account
  • Online gaming account

Do you have any of these items?  If so, then you might want to consider what happens to these items when you die.

There are two different categories of digital assets:

  • Assets you have control over: for example, your laptop, your tablet, your phone; and
  • Assets you have access to, but not control over: for example, your Twitter account or your Facebook account.

The assets in the first category are easier to provide for on your death because you have control over them.  You can tell your executor where the asset is, who it should be given to, and provide the passwords for access.

However, the assets in the second category are a little harder to deal with – this is because these assets are typically owned and controlled by a service provider.  The initial contract you signed with the service provider will state in the terms of use what restrictions there are to access or transfer accounts (on death or otherwise).  Here are a few examples:

  • Facebook/Instagram/Twitter:  These contracts state that the account cannot be transferred to an executor.  The account can be deleted (on written request from “next of kin”) and a person can be designated to manage the account if it is memorialized.
  • Apple:  The “iCloud Terms and Conditions” clearly state that there is no right of survivorship on an iCloud account.  Any rights to your Apple ID or content within your account terminates on death.  Apple will require a death certificate and a “court document” (i.e., a probate certificate) before they will cancel an account.

Unfortunately, the law in Canada is not clear regarding digital assets.  Prior to 2016, there was no legislation or proposed legislation in any Canadian province on how to deal with digital assets on death.  In the last couple of years, certain provinces have started to consider the issue.  For example, in Alberta, one of the “core tasks” of an executor now includes the requirement to compile a list of “online accounts”.  In addition, Saskatchewan is in the process of enacting legislation dealing with digital assets.

In the meantime, what can you do?  Here are some suggestions:Identify the potential digital assets. 

1. Identify the potential digital assets. Make a list – include it with your Will.

2. For each asset, identify:
a) Where the asset is located (i.e., in the basement, in the spare room)?
b) Whether there is a password (and whether there are security questions)?
c) What should happen to the asset (i.e., do you want a memorial page created?  Do you want certain photos
taken off of the page before it is deleted)?

3. Consider how to track passwords.  There is certainly no need to provide passwords to executors, or to your advisor while you are still alive.  However, consider where you are storing your password information, and whether you can leave some information for your executor about where to find the passwords when you are no longer here.

4. In addition, it is helpful to include some clauses in your Will and Power of Attorney specifically naming an executor/trustee/attorney who can handle the digital assets and providing instruction/authorization to this person to deal with the digital accounts

Amanda S. A. Doucette
500 – 123 2nd Avenue South, Saskatoon, SK S7K 7E6
Telephone: 306-244-0132

The information in this article is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal advisor for advice specific to you.