With everything from online banking to entertainment subscriptions and social media accounts, we live a lot of our life online, but what happens to all that information after we're gone?
Reading this article is part of your life online – you arrived at Final Choices, maybe via a social post on Twitter or on Facebook - or maybe you just Googled us. But, you're a competent and digitally savvy person who more than likely has a webmail account, a Facebook account, it wouldn't be unusual if you had a PayPal account or a direct debit going out to the Netflix streaming service
So have you ever considered what happens to your social media profiles, internet accounts, digital photos, e-books and music files after you die?
Chances are, if you were asked to unpick or cancel all of your digital accounts and profiles, it would prove to be a difficult task. So clearly for a bereaved family member, this is a task you'd do well to save them from. When it comes to your digital legacy, you should carefully weigh up what you want to happen to your digital assets when you're gone – and consider making arrangements to cover them in your Will.
Writing and maintaining a Will is a lowly priority for most Brits. In fact, more than 60 percent of the UK adult population do not have a Will. We know that we should make arrangements for what happens to our money and physical assets when we die, but we are failing to fully think through the extent of how social media and online subscriptions such as music, videos and ebooks - and the ongoing costs.
Then you must consider online bank accounts, internet shopping accounts and even charity donations – all of which may have a monetary value.
It’s made more difficult because there is no standard procedure across the internet for what happens when an account user dies. Some assets, such as the contents of an iTunes account or ebooks held on a Kindle, cannot be legally passed on as the user only buys the rights to use the file during their lifetime.
Other accounts will contain money or assets that can be passed on if the right procedures are followed.
When it comes to closing accounts, some websites and online services will simply close a deceased person’s account on production of a death certificate but others are more difficult to manage, especially if family members don’t know the account and password information.
Giving it some thought and careful planning now can help spare family members the headache of trying to unravel your digital life after you have gone.
There are several options available to help your executors deal with your digital assets.
- Set up a trust of your assets – a solicitor can arrange this for you. Independent trustees would be appointed who could then administer your digital assets separately from the estate covered by your Will
- Do not include your online details in your formal Will as that becomes a public document upon your death. Keep a record of your online life – apps, email accounts, social networks, blogs, photo sharing sites, bank accounts and so on – and their login details. These should be made available to the people you wish to take care of your profiles. Warning - be careful not to breach the terms and conditions of any sites you have used when doing this.
- State in your will or in a document referred to in your will where the account information can be found – and what you would like to happen to each account
- Consider storing your account information online in a secure “digital inheritance” account such as Password Box, and refer to this in your will.
- Prepare a signed authorisation form for each online company disclosing and granting access to your representative – check each company’s terms and conditions first
- Consider appointing a separate “Digital Executor” just to manage your digital assets, particularly if they are extensive or complex or if your first named executor does not have technical knowledge
- Consider using an online service such as My Wonderful Life or ifidie.net which can pass on your wishes to your loved ones after you have gone
Our use of technology in a rapidly changing world is outpacing the current legal administration of Wills. While some of this seems too early to think about and a bit creepy, it is better to be prepared and to have someone you know in charge of your digital information.