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Fighting over Facebook pictures: why you need a 'digital will'

Adam Williams
Digital assets are increasingly the subject of legal battles - PA

It is typically property or cash that causes the biggest arguments between the inheritors of an estate, but many legal battles are now being fought over digital assets as well.

Gorvins, a firm of solicitors, said it had seen a rise in the number of legal cases concerning the digital legacies of the deceased.

These assets included everything from family photographs to digital downloads of films, music and television programmes. Even posts made to Facebook and Instagram have been subject to disputes by children, family members and other beneficiaries.

Michael Smoult, of Gorvins, said: “It's a potentially combustible state of affairs since you could have a situation where, say, an ex-wife doesn't want the current wife to have digital custody of pictures of her children.”

A recent case involving a widow has demonstrated how costly and time consuming such battles can be. Rachel Thompson, 44, from Chiswick, London spent thousands of pounds on legal costs during a three-year battle with Apple over access her late husband's photos.

Last month a court ruled that the provider must allow her access to the pictures.

Mr Smoult added: “Many people don’t think about making a will until factors in their life change. Certainly and understandably, the last thing on someone's mind at a time of accident, injury or serious illness is who is going to be 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 bequests that many people – despite the social media age – still overlook.”

The Law Society, a trade body, has suggested that those writing a will should make a note of their digital assets and arrange for the executor of the estate to distribute these to the beneficiaries.

Some sites such as Facebook allow users to pass their account to another person after their death, but this function is often overlooked, Mr Smoult said.

He added: “Having access to photos and videos is likely to be incredibly important for family and close friends when a person dies. Making provision for a digital legacy could save a lot of heartache in the future.”

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Do you think it's important to have a 'digital will'? Would you use the function on Facebook to pass on your account to someone? Or do you have a friend or relative that has done this? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.