Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: UAE residents can now arrange a Will to have their social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, inherited by their loved ones or beneficiaries when they pass away.

The Wills Service Centre at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) on Sunday confirmed that people who have Wills registered in Dubai can elect a person who can access their online or social media accounts, as these, too, can be passed on just as assets, fortunes or properties are.

If they don't wish to grant access to anyone, registrants can include a provision in their Will stating that they want their accounts deactivated in the event of death.

The clarification was issued following a ruling in Germany recently that confirmed that heirs have the right to access social media accounts of their deceased loved ones.

What are Wills?

Wills are traditionally executed by people who wish to ensure the wealth they have accumulated, including bank accounts, investments and houses, are properly distributed or passed on to the ones they love.

However, with the proliferation of social media, the disposition of a person’s digital footprints is increasingly becoming more important. Lawyers and lawmakers around the globe have been grappling with the legal status of online assets, not just personal data on sites such as Facebook or YouTube, but also valuable resources such as holdings in cryptocurrencies.

What UAE residents want

In a survey conducted last year, about nine out of ten people (89 per cent) in UAE said they would want their social media accounts to be deactivated. According to  Sean Hird, director of the DIFC Wills Service Centre,  the surest way of achieving this is through express provisions in a registered Will.

He said registrants in UAE should include clear instructions in their registered Wills to ensure that their virtual estates are disposed of according to their wishes or in the same way as their tangible assets.

“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,” said Hird.

“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 instruction in your Will on who should and shouldn’t have access and ownership to your accounts when you pass away.

“For those who do wish to pass on their accounts, they should consider the practical steps that t hey can do while still alive to ensure that their chosen beneficiary can access the accounts."

However, with the recent ruling in Germany, European expatriates who have their Wills registered with the DIFC courts and who have chosen German law to govern their Will, can expect to have their social media accounts automatically inherited if they haven't elected a beneficiary in their Will.

“For Europeans who have Wills registered with the DIFC Courts and who have elected German law to govern their Will, the ruling has immediate and direct relevance,” the DIFC Wills Service Centre said in a statement.

Legacy contact

Facebook had earlier introduced a feature called “legacy contact” that allows users to elect a family member or friend who can oversee their account in the event of death.

The social media giant said it will memorialise the account and the appointed person will be able to write a post at the top of the memorialised Timeline, respond to new friend requests and update the profile picture and cover photo.

The legacy contact, however, does not provide the appointed person full access to and control over a person's account, such as responding to private messages.