Whether on Facebook, Instagram, Xing or another social media portal - in the event of death or a very serious illness, these can no longer be managed by the owner. A power of attorney is required so that the profiles can be deleted or converted into memorial pages. Here you can find out how best to manage your digital estate.
Texts, postings, videos and photos as well as all profile data, comments and chat conversations continue to exist after death. Everything that takes place online leaves behind traces, which are also referred to as "digital estate" on the web.
Even if someone has not been active online for a long time - be it due to an unexpected serious illness or death - content is often preserved for eternity thanks to the internet archive. Relatives then ask themselves what should happen to all the data.
Do you just let them continue to exist or should they be deleted? Are there perhaps still important data, documents, pictures or videos online that may not be lost for posterity under any circumstances? All of this is part of the digital estate and, if possible, should be dealt with during one's lifetime.
If there is no direct access, messages and comments can still arrive years later. There is no longer a chance to react to them. In some cases, relatives therefore have the profiles deleted with the death certificate or converted into a memorial page. Many families are overwhelmed by this or do not even know about the social media accounts of their deceased relative.
The digital estate can be settled before death, just like the physical estate. But how does this actually work? It is often helpful to specify in writing whether the data and profiles are to be deleted or used otherwise. A list describing the entire "digital legacy" can help the relatives. The surviving relatives can then go through the digital estate step by step and discuss and initiate the further procedure.
A kind of will for the digital legacy is also important. The last will and testament can specify what should happen to the data. Some people wish to remain alive on the web, others want to disappear completely and delete all online profiles. Here it is important to act in the best interests of the deceased or seriously ill person. The will is an important basis for these decisions.
However, the digital estate does not only include profile data, photos and videos or postings that were published on social media. Many people are also active on job portals and have often created several profiles there.
There is also locally stored digital data, for example on the home computer, tablet or smartphone. These also count as part of the digital estate and must be managed.
Examples of the digital estate:
Every online access requires a password to log in. But how do relatives get hold of it when it is necessary? Instead of writing down all the passwords, it can be useful to save them digitally. For example, on a USB stick that can be given to the next of kin in case of an emergency. For security, sticks or external hard drives can be encrypted. The password should only be accessible to the closest family members.
For online access to which you do not have access, the password manager can be helpful. This is integrated in many operating systems or in the browser. Passwords are stored centrally in it. Often there is a master password for all accesses or passwords can be easily restored.
Alternatively, a list of passwords can be securely deposited in a safe deposit box. Only the heirs have access to it or the executor of the estate, if there are no heirs.
Unfortunately, it is still the case today that there are no precise legal requirements for dealing with the digital inheritance. The survivors are therefore dependent on the handling of the digital estate being formulated as precisely as possible beforehand. This is because several areas of law apply on the internet, such as copyright, telemedia law or private personal rights. Although the digital estate is legally part of the inheritance, how to deal with it is not precisely defined.
The topic becomes particularly interesting if the deceased created regular publications in the form of texts, graphics, e-books, music or videos for which income continues to flow after death. The author's rights are inherited here, and the income then goes to the heirs.
In case of detailed questions or difficulties regarding the administration of the digital heritage, legal advice that is familiar with this specialist area is recommended.
A power of attorney can be recorded informally, a will is notarised. A will is kept particularly safe if it is deposited with a lawyer. With a birth certificate and for a fee, it can also be placed in the official custody of the probate court.
To ensure that you are prepared in the event of an emergency, we have put together some regulations for you that are important for the digital estate:
The person responsible for the digital estate should not only be absolutely trustworthy, but also well versed in dealing with digital and online media. It is also important that the person is informed about this at an early stage and asked for consent.
Everyone should take care of their digital estate in good time. After all, you don't know when death or a serious illness will strike you. The more precise the wording on how to deal with the digital estate, the easier it is for the relatives to arrange everything in your best interest.