Your digital afterlife and how to deal with it
If you’ve made your Will, the chances are that you thought about your precious personal possessions, and set out what should happen to them on your death. But what about your virtual life such as your photos, emails, music downloads and the content stored in your social media accounts? With more and more people regularly using services like online banking, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and YouTube, it’s becoming increasingly important to consider what happens to these too.
Your digital assets
In legal terms, these accounts and services comprise what’s referred to as your digital assets. Some of these you own, others are services you use under licence. For instance, with online music files what you buy is the right to download, store and use the song, but as you don’t own it, you wouldn’t be able to leave your digital music collection to your heirs.
However, when it comes to digital assets with financial value, you have the legal right to pass them on to your chosen beneficiaries so these should be included in the terms of your Will. With PayPal and other online accounts, these can be closed on the presentation of a death certificate and grant of probate. A cheque will be issued to executors for any leftover funds.
You also have the legal right to manage the deactivation or removal of your digital social life, but again you need to stipulate this in your Will. Service providers like Facebook have an option to memorialise your account. If you’d like this to happen, you should ensure that your executors know, and inform them of any particular message you’d like to leave for friends or followers.
Taking practical steps
You should leave instructions as to what you want done with each of your digital assets. Research carried out by YouGov found that 52 per cent of respondents said that no one would be able to access their digital accounts if they died, as they hadn’t made arrangements that would allow these to be dealt with.
To protect any digital assets such as photographs, files or emails that are stored solely in the ‘cloud’, it makes sense to back them up onto an external hard drive.
It’s a good idea to compile a digital directory that contains details of all the digital assets you hold including financial, subscription and social media accounts, and keep it regularly updated. For security reasons, you shouldn’t include your passwords – however there are digital inheritance accounts which could be used to pass on logins and passwords to your executors on your death.
As a Will becomes a public document on death, we wouldn’t recommend including any of these details in your Will, but in a separate hard copy document that’s kept with it. You should also compile a list of all your computers, laptops, smartphones and external storage drives. This information should be kept in a safe place which cannot be accessed until it’s needed by your executors and beneficiaries.
Now that social networking and the use of the internet form a major part of our everyday lives, it’s becoming increasingly important for everyone to have a plan in place for their digital legacy.
Here to help
Our Wills, Trusts & Probate team are on hand to answer any questions you may have. Please call us on 0330 221 8855, or contact us online.