The majority of adults are aware of the importance of having an up to date Will. The same cannot necessarily be said when it comes to the digital legacy we leave – the accounts in our names, our social media profiles and anything we may store digitally, including documents and photos.
Important aspects of our lives are increasingly being led online – and this is only likely to have increased even more over the course of the last 18 months as the pandemic has forced more of us to use online services that we could no longer access in person.
In the event that you were to pass away, what would happen to this digital information isn’t necessarily straightforward. With digital usage becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives, the web of passwords and accounts to access in the event of a death can be a minefield for those left behind.
So what are the rules and how can digital information be accounted for?
The most important digital assets to carefully consider when you pass are those that may have a financial value, such as bank accounts. However, many other accounts hold valuable assets; whether personal or financial, so making a list of these, along with the passwords needed to access them, is a sensible precaution. Without a record of an account, your family may never even know about it and any value that is held may be lost or inaccessible.
Some of the most common areas of a digital legacy to consider are:
- Social media accounts
- Email accounts
- Media storage (photos, videos, music)
- Online payment/bank accounts
- Online reward points
- Crypto-currencies (e.g. bitcoin)
Due to the digital nature of some of the organisations behind such accounts, eg. Email and social media accounts, it isn’t always to get in touch with someone to close an account or access the information they contain. Social media companies will usually require proof of death and the authority of the person making the request in order to close down an account. Some social accounts give the option for accounts to be memorialised – but this is usually something you will have to select in your settings.
It is possible to prepare a separate document – a digital will or letter of wishes – that can be stored safely alongside your Will.
This should include details of all your online accounts, and wishes regarding how these should be dealt with upon your death.
It may also be a good idea to appoint a digital executor – someone who is technically savvy that you can trust to close your accounts and follow your wishes regarding your digital legacy.
It’s worth bearing in mind that different companies will each have their own policy on how the digital assets of their users will be dealt with on death. Sometimes, assets are ‘non-transferrable’ which means that data/information is lost when an account closes. It isn’t uncommon for account access by anyone else when you die to be classed as breaking the terms of service. It is rarely therefore as simple as leaving a list of passwords.
Our Private Client Solicitors are able to help clients navigate digital asset planning – either alongside making/updating a will or as a separate process.
Jill Waddington is a solicitor specialising in private client law at O’Donnell Solicitors. Please contact Jill Waddington on 01457 761320 to arrange a convenient appointment to discuss any aspect of your will or planning for your future.