Beware of your life continuing in the cloud after you die
Recently a court had to rule on whether a will written as an unsent 54-word text message could be accepted as a valid legal will. In it the deceased left his house and money to his brother and nephew, rather than his widow.
Can an unsent text message be a valid legal will?
In the end, after considering 14 other cases for a possible legal precedent, Justice Susan Brown of the Queensland Supreme Court accepted the unsent text message as a will. This decision was reached even though the text message didn’t meet the traditional legal requirements for setting out the distribution of property after death. (See Re Nichol; Nichol v Nichol  QSC 220.)
The text was on the phone of the man next to where his body was found after he had committed suicide. The judge decided that he didn’t send the text as he thought the recipient would try to stop him.
Widow fails in claim to inherit estate of deceased
The widow, with whom the deceased had had a rocky relationship and who had left him days earlier, lost her claim that her husband had died without leaving a will. That would have meant that he died intestate and she would have inherited his modest estate.
The highly unusual case demonstrates how the law continues to adapt to keep up with technological developments.
Prevalence of electronic communications prompts changes in law
I certainly wouldn’t recommend a text message as a way to leave a will, and it is certainly open to legal challenge, but it shows that we are in an age where many people use computers and phones rather than paper as part of normal communications.
More and more we are storing all of our records online or in the cloud. Bank statements, receipts, financial records, personal mail, business correspondence and even professional work such as research, plans, writings and created material are being kept on a computer.
But are you aware that everything you put on Facebook is owned by the US-based website? The cloud isn’t made up of fluffy white stuff floating in the sky. The cloud is actually a giant computer memory held on massive mainframes in warehouses that stretch for kilometres in various parts of the world.
Importance of considering your online presence when drawing up your will
That is why it is important for people to consider their digital lives when they are drawing up their will and leaving instructions on who gets what from the estate.
While it’s easy to distribute paintings, a car or a watch, it’s not so easy to pass on something that is stored in the cloud, such as research, an unpublished novel, music or photographs.
Leave your passwords to someone you trust
It’s important to tell someone where your online documents are stored and give that person the passwords to open them when you are gone.
It’s best to consult a specialist wills lawyer to ensure that your possessions – including those in the cloud – go to the right people.