What assets will you leave behind? Have you written down what you want done with your online accounts? Who will inherit your photos? Music? Documents?
A digital legacy is about more than your email inbox – it’s the culmination of all your accounts, information and files that will be left after your death. It’s important to consider these and share your desires with trusted family/friends so that your wishes can be honoured at the time of your death. For instance, who should have your photos in the cloud? How long do you want your Facebook profile to be kept public? What about the manuscript you’ve been writing; who do you want to leave it to – after all it might be published next month and make a fortune!
Two years ago, we ran an informal survey in Wiltshire to find out how many people had considered their Digital Legacy. Of those surveyed, a shocking 90% said they hadn’t given it a thought.
Today, we estimate that the number of people who have thought about their digital legacy would be significantly higher, but we reckon that the number of those who have written their legacy is still an incredibly small percentage. Why is that? What keeps us from getting our digital affairs in order?
One issue is indifference: you might not think your digital assets are valuable. When you think about making a Will, you think about money in the bank and a few odd heirlooms. Although you like to post the odd photo on Facebook or Instagram, the idea of making a Will for these seems laughable!
Another issue might be the complexity of the task: it can feel like an incredibly complicated process of getting our digital selves organised. While your online accounts on social media, email, banking and entertainment might pop into your head quite effortlessly, there are also private assets you need to consider like your photos, music/movie downloads, files and documents too. But where do you start and what’s the law about these assets?
Part of the difficulty today is just how far behind law and policy are in the area of digital media, particularly as technology continues to develop every day. Unlike physical assets, digital assets are tricky to quantify, often undervalued and difficult to track.
So, what will happen if I die without a Digital Will?
By in large, your assets will be lost forever. Your photos, documents and information will cease to exist. As for social media, your profiles may live on for years and years, haunting your friends and family, until your account eventually expires or breaches policy (i.e.: by not accepting new terms or privacy agreement).
How can I get my digital affairs in order?
We recommend starting by making a social media will. The Law Society recommends keeping, what they call, a Personal Asset Log which should include a list of all your digital assets.
The Log is a catalogue of all your account details, including the email address or phone number to which the account is linked. For instance, does your computer need a password to log on? And what websites do you use that need a password to access? Start your list by writing these down and here’s some other common online accounts: email, internet banking (e.g.: Lloyds, PayPal), utility websites, entertainment (i.e.: Netflix), social media, online shopping (e.g.: food, clothing, books, homewares, etc), auction sites (i.e.: eBay)
NOTE: Beware – the Law Society warns that an executor using a password or PIN to access an account after a death may be guilty of a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act. (This Act also prevents an executor from being able to access a bank account of the deceased, even if they have knowledge of the password).
Are there any websites that can help me?
Yes! Fortunately, there are several extremely helpful sites to guide this process. We recommend these:
Here you will find a Social Media Will template and a host of guides to help you. Definitely start here to get going: https://digitallegacyassociation.org/for-the-public/
Next, this site lists a number of digital services (i.e.: Gmail, Outlook, Facebook, etc), what their terms and conditions are and how to contact them if you have questions: https://www.bereavementadvice.org/topics/registering-a-death-and-informing-others/how-to-contact-different-services-digital-legacy/
Lastly, this is a fantastic article on the importance of accounting for your digital legacy: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/jun/02/digital-legacy-control-online-identities-when-we-die