Who Has The Right To Access Digital Assets?

With 33% of the world’s adult population having a social media account of some description, it’s not hard to believe that few of them have considered the implications of what happens to their online data after they die.

Facebook is currently the only social media platform that allows users to make digital legacy decisions before they die. However, this ‘wish’ has had a devastating impact on one family, following the sudden death of their 17-year-old son.

When Sacha Guilbourg died in a road traffic collision in 2015, his Facebook profile brought great comfort to his family, who could see pictures and videos of their beloved son and brother. For some of the younger members of the family, it was their way of remembering what Sacha sounded like. His eldest sister Eloise enjoyed reading through the messages her and her brother sent to each other over the years.

Whilst the family were preparing for Sacha’s funeral, they were looking through his profile to find some pictures to use, when the unthinkable happened. Sacha’s account was deactivated and it seemingly disappeared.

Eloise Guilbourg, said: 

“Sacha ticked the box that meant his account would be deleted upon his death.

“He must have thought he’d die, aged 20 in his sleep. But he was 17, he was healthy, he had taken a pizza out of the freezer for when he’d get back home that afternoon, he was preparing for his exams.

“Nothing and no-one foresaw him dying.

“I think if someone holds a very strong view on what happens to their data when they die, then they should speak to their loved ones, like they would about organ donation or cremation vs burial.”

Thankfully the family were able to retrieve the password to Sacha’s account and reactivated it accordingly.

Eloise added: 

“I have very young siblings, who were three and four when Sacha died.

“They rember him, and they were deeply affected by his death, as we all were. But they had moments where they turned to us in panic saying: ‘I don’t remember what Sacha sounds like.’ Having access to videos of him wherever we were helped.”

Michael Smoult of Gorvins, said: 

“Many people don’t think about making a Will until factors in their life change.

“The last thing on someone’s mind at a time of accident, injury or serious illness is who is going to be the Keeper of the Facebook account.

“But those accounts often contain treasured pictures, which can be a source of immense comfort.

“It’s one area of bequest that many people still overlook and it’s a potentially combustible state of affairs.”

Users of social media also need to consider their Wills and the content they perceive as pertinent for inclusion in the future. Failing to consider communication data and who will inherit it after a death could mean that it is lost indefinitely.

Take a look at our article ‘The Internet Graveyard:Advising Client’s On Their Digital Assets‘ which details some helpful things to consider with regards to digital assets.

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