If you were to die tomorrow, your family would likely go through your possessions in an effort to organize and distribute them to various family members or friends. Collecting your physical assets would be a relatively straightforward, albeit daunting, task; they would probably start in one room and work their way through to other areas of the house. But what would they—or could they—do about your digital assets?
So much of what we do now takes place online. Between e-books, iTunes music libraries, Bitcoin accounts, and Dropbox folders containing decades’ worth of photos, videos, and documents (not to mention social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), many of us have probably accumulated a sizeable online presence or “digital estate”.
In fact, a 2011 global survey conducted by computer security software company McAfee revealed that Canadian users place an average value of $47,000 (USD) on the “digital assets” they own across multiple digital devices. With the exponential proliferation of technology and social media in the last few years, I suspect this number would be significantly higher today.
Now imagine that your family could not legally access any of those digital assets.
The Law of the Land
Unfortunately, there is no legislation in Canada that allows family members or even the executor of an estate to gain access to digital assets on behalf of a deceased person. The law in this area simply has not caught up to the state of modern technology and the blurred lines between our physical and online worlds.
So What Can You Do?