Digital assets on death and disability poses a problem

Digital assets on death and disability poses a problem

Most Australians are unprepared for death and disability when it comes to their digital assets, a study from the Adelaide University and the Charles Sturt University has found.


The study showed Australians have multiple digital assets, which includes anything that can be accessed and held online in digital form. Social media, iTune accounts, banking and other financial and medical records, domain names, online businesses, bitcoins and emails, are such examples.

Results from the national survey, Estate Planning in Australia, indicated only 18% of those surveyed did not own anything while over 71% of those that had digital assets indicated they were unaware of what would happen to them when they die or became disabled.

The lack of understanding presents serious potential problems for individuals and businesses, the report said. Online service providers implement different strategies in dealing with accounts belonging to deceased users. In most cases, closing the account requires close family to provide documentation to prove they have the right to request that the account is terminated. This does not usually allow the relatives to get access to the accounts, leaving families without access to digitally stored memories of their deceased family member.

Other issues include when service agreements are held by individuals rather than business. Death and disability could result in significant business disruption and loss, said project lead Professor of Finance Adam Steen from Charles Sturt University. “Aside from the obvious personal issues involved, the results should be a wakeup call for business owners,” he said. “Appropriate action and planning is needed to ensure businesses rather than individuals have licencing and other arrangements with service providers to ensure business continuity and minimise disruption in the event of death and disability of key people.”

Legislation, which allows executors of deceased estates to manage a decedent’s digital assets, has been enacted in most US states but not in Australia.

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