The internet may have made life easier for us in so many ways, but it has its drawbacks too. Everything we do online leaves a footprint – a digital legacy, and that includes social media profiles, e-mail and online shopping accounts and libraries of digital music or photos, and unfortunately this digital legacy will need to be administered in the event of our death. Most of us make Wills and leave express instructions about what physical possessions we want to leave to whom when we die, but few of us make similar arrangements for our digital legacy. Unfortunately the failure to leave clear instructions about what you want to happen to your digital legacy after you die could lead to a great deal of heartache and sadness for loved ones and the loss of valuable data and intellectual property.
But what can you do to make the administration of your digital legacy easier for your loved ones? Well, the most important thing you can do is plan ahead. It doesn’t require an inordinate amount of effort, but it can make life immeasurably easier for those left behind:
- Carefully list all your online accounts, including website addresses and user names, and store these alongside your Will. This will provide a clear map of your online presence and make it easier for your family or executors o deal with your estate.
- Leave clear instructions about what you want to happen to each of these online accounts after your death.
- Online bank accounts – although these should automatically shut down after the death of the account holder, it is worth specifying in writing that you also want your online account deactivating after your death.
- E-mail accounts – leave clear instructions that these are to be closed after your passing unless they are shared with a spouse/partner. In that case it is preferable to leave it to their discretion.
- Social media pages – many social media sites will happily close down an account after a death: some even offer to leave the account open as a memorial page. However, many social media sites require a link to a website to serve as proof of death: this could be a small online obituary, something requested in a letter of wishes, or a non-legally binding document stored alongside your Will.
- Professional directories – if you are register on professional directories like LinkedIn, you should leave a written request for these profiles to be deleted.
- Online shops – although these may not seem to be so important, it is imperative that these accounts are closed immediately after death as they often retain sensitive banking information and personal details. Ask for these accounts to be deactivated.
- Regular online payments –most online services which require a monthly subscription by direct debit will automatically be frozen as soon as the death certificate is registered and provided to the bank. However, some payments may still slip through. So it is best to shut down these accounts to prevent that happening.
- Music and films –although you may have paid to use the internet to download films, music and TV shows, you do not own the content. All you have paid for is a licence to view or listen to it in your lifetime. It may be possible to bequeath your licence to another member of your family, but you will need to check with each individual company to establish the legal position.
- Air miles – some airlines will allow air miles to be transferred, others will not. To establish the legal position, speak to the company involved.
- Betting websites – failing to notify the betting company in question could result in any remaining funds never returning to the estate. If there is the chance of this being a large amount, make sure you specify who the beneficiary is.