digital legacy

Your Digital Legacy After Death

July 6, 2021

Thousands of us across the UK plan our funerals to incorporate our wishes well in advance and name any beneficiaries in a will. But have you considered what to do about your digital legacy?

Firstly, what is a digital legacy? DyingMatters explains it is “the digital information that is available about someone following their death. Someone’s digital legacy is often formed by information that they leave online”. 

Anything you have and/or own online is a digital asset and this could include:

  • Email address
  • Bank accounts
  • Photos and videos
  • Any music you have bought and stored, Amazon or Spotify for example
  • Films you have purchased to stream
  • Social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc
  • Any files you have uploaded, no matter the contents
  • Other online accounts such as utilities, mobile phone contracts or streaming services
  • Your devices, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone
  • Subscriptions
  • PayPal account
  • Online shares and investments
  • Reward points or air miles

It is estimated that there is over £70 billion of assets tied up in inaccessible or unknown accounts. OnceI’veGone also estimates that most individuals have over 80 online accounts.

If you have decided to plan your funeral, you probably already know what you’d like to leave to whom in the physical world, such as jewellery or money, but have you wondered what happens to your online accounts in the digital world after you die? Your online presence (aka social footprint) can continue online for years. 

Each website has differing terms and conditions about how, or if, the account can be maintained after death. The majority will outright close an account but some may allow an account to continue as a memorial, such as Facebook. 

It is vital that you familiarise yourself with the terms & conditions of each account you hold, to establish what you own or if any services are loaned to you, and decide what you would like done with each. They will also tell you who can legally access your information, if at all.

To Consider

For instance, would you prefer your Facebook account to run as a memorial for your loved ones? Or would you rather each of your social media profiles is fully closed down? Consider that friends and family can often find comfort during grief knowing that they can still post to a social media profile.

Is anyone likely to require some access to your accounts in order to finalise any continuation or closure of profiles online, or to access banking etc?

Consider what you own in terms of music, films or e-books you have purchased over the years Maybe you also have online shares? Now add up the costs – you probably own more than you initially imagine! Ensure that you back up any files you have so that you can pass them on – it would be a shame to lose what you have paid for all because no one knows you have it. Digital assets with monetary value should be included in your will.

Does anyone close to you know your passwords for your devices? Maybe someone will need to access one or more in order to continue any requests you have made or to finalise accounts. Leaving a password with a trusted source will ensure that things run more smoothly at a very stressful time. 

Nonetheless, if you need to answer yes to any of the above questions, then it is advisable to designate a digital legacy contact or digital executor. If you already have an executor and they are tech-savvy, they would be ideal to fulfil this role too.

Incidentally, it is not a given that your next of kin will automatically receive access to your cloud storage after you pass. Many online accounts are non-transferable, meaning you will need to back up anything you wish to pass on, for example, photographs or Tweets, etc. Numerous families over recent years have found themselves forever ‘locked out’ of being able to view loved ones’ personal and sentimental pictures and videos. 

The thought of listing every online account can seem quite daunting at first, but there are plenty of resources available to help you plan, some of which are free and some you will need to pay for or subscribe to; it all depends on your requirements.

  • Sunlife has a comprehensive template that you can view here. The guide contains a request to your executor, with options for instructructions regarding social media sites, email addresses, streaming services, banking, subscriptions and more.
  • Dying Matters has produced a Funeral Wishes leaflet that you can download and print. 
  • The Digital Legacy Association has a wealth of information, templates and guidance. You can find here information relating to social media, devices, and additional important information.
  • OnceI’veGone has both a free and subscribe option which you can view here and the page gives information regarding what you’ll get for either option.

It is important to remember that any information in a will may become publicly available to view. Therefore, any sensitive information such as usernames etc, that you wish to keep private should be kept isolated from the contents of your will. Despite this, your written digital wishes can be kept alongside your will in a separately sealed envelope. 

The Digital Death Report 2018 contains some interesting and quite startling facts regarding our knowledge around our digital lives, options available to us and what we have already put into place. Summarily, it shows we could all learn more about our digital assets and legacy. Having every aspect of your information and assets in order, whether physical or digital, will be of tremendous help to your family at an extremely stressful time.