The main focus of a will is to outline who will inherit your tangible assets, for example money, property, vehicles and possessions. And there is now a new kind of asset that you need to take into account – and that’s your digital assets.
A digital legacy refers to your online presence or online footprint. This is information about you that is stored in the ‘cloud’. Digital assets include online photo albums and music libraries, and anything that requires a password to gain access, such as social media accounts, email services and online banking. Connected devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops also count as part of a person’s digital legacy.
You don’t need to be a computer whizz to have a digital legacy. If you have done your supermarket shopping, bought theatre tickets or sponsored someone online, you will have contributed personal information to your digital legacy, and it’s therefore important to ensure that this information is protected when you – or someone close to you – have passed away.
What are the key considerations?
The main things to think about can be split into security – ensuring no one can access the deceased’s online information and use that data for fraudulent means – and memories – ensuring that photos and personal documents stored in the cloud aren’t lost.
Security: Passwords and access
It’s a good idea to keep a list of your digital assets, along with passwords and access information related to each online account, somewhere safe. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean an executor can sign into your accounts as they might be committing a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act, which was passed in 1990. In some cases, it is against the terms and conditions of an account to share your password with someone else and many popular online services – like Google and Amazon – have adopted privacy policies that prevent loved ones from accessing the deceased’s information. If in doubt, check with your solicitor before proceeding.
Memories: Photographs and music
Photographs might be stored in the cloud via a whole range of applications – like Google Drive, iPhoto or Dropbox – while music streaming services where you can store albums and create playlists include Google Music, Spotify and iTunes. Granting access to these files to friends and family can be one way to ensure they can still access these treasured memories after you are gone. In addition, you might want to store important and personal documents and files on a hard drive as well as in the cloud.
How to close online accounts
Just as you would inform banks, building societies and other organisations who hold money in the name of the deceased so they can freeze the accounts, it’s also important to protect online accounts from any risk of fraud.
Some websites have very clear instructions outlining the procedure for notifying the company of the death of their customer, while others are a little trickier to find – it’s always worth carefully reading the terms and conditions of each relevant site.
An immediate family member or personal representative can request Twitter deactivate an account after the account holder dies, however the social media platform will not grant access to the content of that account. Facebook has a form on its site to notify them of the death of an account holder – and, if you are an immediate next of kin or an executor, you can ask for the page of the person who has died to be removed completely or for it to be memorialised, but again, you will not be given access to the account itself.
While the legalities of what happens to a person’s digital legacy after they die are still being worked out by many organisations who operate online, you can be prepared by identifying the places your personal information is stored and naming a digital executor or guardian in your will.