UAE residents must include their online assets such as social media accounts and valuable resources including holdings in cryptocurrencies in their wills to ensure their accounts are managed as they wish after their death.
Lawyers and lawmakers around the globe have been grappling with the legal way of distributing online assets, not just personal data on sites such as Facebook or YouTube, but also valuable resources such as holdings in cryptocurrencies.
A landmark ruling in Germany last week confirmed that social media accounts can be inherited by a person’s beneficiaries. Analysts believe many jurisdictions are likely to follow the ruling.
The ruling has immediate and direct relevance to the wills of Europeans registered with the DIFC Courts and that used German law to govern their will.
As for other nationalities, Sean Hird, Director of the DIFC Wills Service Centre, said it is better to specify these valuable items in the will as early as now. Hird urged residents to include clear instructions in their registered wills to ensure that their virtual estates are disposed of in the same way as their tangible assets, such as houses and bank accounts.
“The law on the disposal of online assets is changing fast with the latest ruling out of Germany showing the direction that lawmakers are now taking,” Hird said.
“Rather than leaving a will silent on such matters, and hope the law will evolve in a way consistent with your wishes, it makes sense to leave clear instructions in your will on who should and shouldn’t have access and ownership to your accounts when you pass away.”
Hird said in a survey they carried out last year that an overwhelming majority or 89 per cent said they would want their social media accounts to be deactivated. Hird said the surest way of achieving this is through express provisions in a registered will.
In this recent German case, the Federal Court ruled that heirs have the right to access the Facebook accounts of deceased relatives, saying a social media account can be inherited in the same way as letters. A principle that commentators feel would apply to other social media accounts.
The Karlsruhe court decided that the mother of a 15-year-old girl who died after being hit by a train could access her Facebook account to discover if she had been contemplating suicide. The social media giant had opposed the case on privacy grounds.
Hird added: “Although the law is evolving in a clear direction, there nevertheless remains this underlying tension between respecting the privacy of an account holder and the rights of relatives and legatees.”
The ability to register a will at the DIFC Courts is available to both UAE residents and non-residents allowing them to apply their chosen home country law to govern how their personal assets will be distributed after their death.
In the UAE, the absence of a registered will makes the distribution of assets according to a predetermined formula, following Sharia principles.
Source: Gulf News