Solicitor Elizabeth Short, in our leading Probate, tax & Trusts team, explains the importance of considering your digital legacy when making a will.
An increasing number of people, of all ages, have an online presence be it by way of email, Facebook, Twitter or online banking but how much consideration have you given to your ‘digital legacy’? How will your Executors access your online bank accounts? Do you want your Facebook account to remain active and would you want your loved ones to be able to access your emails after you have died?
A recent study by Co-Operative Funeralcare has highlighted the difficulties which can be experienced in respect of matters such as this. The BBC reported that “The poll of more than 2,000 adults also discovered that almost 80% of those who attempted to manage online bank, utility, shopping and social media accounts following a death said they had experienced problems” and that “Only 16% of people, however, said they wanted their next of kin to have access to their social media accounts, with around the same number saying they would like them to stay in touch with their online contacts.”
So, what can be done to make life easier for your loved ones after you have died?
In February this year, Facebook announced new ‘legacy settings’ which are currently being trialled in the USA. These will allow a nominated person to access a Facebook account and set up a ‘memorial page’. Other internet providers are also addressing this issue; for example Google’s ‘Inactive Account Manager’ operates in a similar way. However, every service provider is different and although progress has been made in recent years, there is no one size fits all solution at present.
However, this is not to say that action should not be taken and in general terms you should at least give consideration to the following (please note that this list is by no means exhaustive):
- Who do you want to be able to access online accounts?
- How will they obtain your passwords? Note that it is never a good idea to refer to passwords in your Will and nor is it usually advisable to hand over passwords during your lifetime.
- What do you want that person to do once they have accessed your account? Do you want it closed? Would you want it to remain active?
- Bearing the above in mind, does the relevant service provider already have provision in place and crucially, would someone accessing your account after your death be a breach of their rules (it is necessary to carefully check the relevant service user agreement in respect of this).
- If you have downloaded music or other media to your computer it is often a good idea to burn this onto a disc before you die as some service providers (iTunes is a good example) only permit you to listen to music downloaded by way of a licence which terminates on your death.
- If you have photographs stored on your computer, likewise, it is a good idea to print off hard-copies to ensure that they are not lost after you die. This is also particularly so for social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, some of whom have a policy of deleting photographs of a deceased user unless, it is in the public interest for it to remain in place.
- It is a good idea to write all this information down – preferably in hard copy - and to then ensure that your Executors know where to find the relevant information when the time comes.
As with your Will it is also important to review any such letter of wishes from time to time to ensure that it is still accurate. If your digital presence has more than pure sentimental value then further, professional, advice should always be sought. This is also the case if you operate businesses online or if there are likely to be copyright issues.
For further information or legal advice, please contact email@example.com or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.