By Sue Eskins, Clinical Lead Community Services at Dorothy House Hospice Care.
This article was published in the Western Daily Press on Friday 13 October during Hospice Care Week 9-15 Oct 2017.
A recent survey conducted on behalf of Saga by Opinium Research showed that 87 per cent of British people had no plans in place for their digital legacy when they died. Hospices like Dorothy House Hospice Care work hard to talk to patients and their families about sharing their digital legacy as too often bereaved families and carers are distressed by having restricted access to loved ones online and social media accounts.
While writing a Will is an essential way to plan for the future, in today’s technological era it’s just as vital to take care of our digital footprint or legacy. This was brought home to me on Saturday 14 May 2016 when I went to a Digital Legacy Conference at St Joseph’s Hospice in London. On my return home, I said to my husband Jon; “we must write down our online passwords next weekend in case anything should happen to us.” Sadly, before the next weekend came my wonderful husband died suddenly of a cardiac arrest on Friday 20th May, aged 54, and our family life was turned upside down. Jon was a loving husband and a terrific Father to our three children, Robert then aged 15 years, Kate aged 21 and Daniel aged 23.
After the initial shock and while still grieving, one of my biggest frustrations during the aftermath of Jon’s death was dealing with his digital legacy. Although we had discussed Jon’s wishes for his funeral which helped, it was difficult trying to identify and contact his many acquaintances. I had to let them know what had happened by Facebook or his mobile phone but initially Jon’s phone was locked and friend’s names were often listed without a surname or address. It was also hard to keep track of his ongoing payments and financial commitments as well as maintain access and control of the many mobile phone, utilities, mortgage and social media accounts which were in his name.
With security becoming ever tighter, being able to gain access to Jon’s accounts was difficult particularly with phone companies as even being his widow was insufficient to allow access. Also, when I changed the SIM card on my phone I lost personal voicemails from my husband so it is a good idea to record these messages and transfer them to your PC before you make any changes to your phone following a bereavement.
The main advice I have regarding planning your digital legacy is to start young, it is never too early to get organised. Keep a copy of your contacts in an address book, always keep your list of online and social media passwords and account log-in details up to date and store them safely and securely along with your Will or tell someone you trust how to access the computer file of your passwords.
I would also recommend to couples to have joint accounts where possible so that you both have access and control should one partner become incapacitated or die. In terms of social media always allocate administrators to your accounts who can monitor and manage your posts, pictures and videos on your behalf should it be needed.
Make your wishes known to friends and family early in terms of your online privacy preferences. Think about your digital assets, have you written a book, some poetry or saved precious photos online that you’d like to remain private if you died? Ask yourself if you’d prefer if people could continue to visit your Facebook page after your death or if you’d choose to delete your other online profiles such as email, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter? Facebook has an ‘In Memory of’ function which you can apply so that people visiting the site can see that it is being held open as a place to view photos, videos or old posts written by their deceased friend.
I wish you all a long and healthy life but it’s good to be prepared so don’t delay planning your digital legacy, whatever your age. To find out how to plan your digital legacy visit
Dorothy House provides palliative care to people with a life-limiting illness in Bath and North-East Somerset, Wiltshire and Somerset, for more information visit www.dorothyhouse.org.uk. This week is ‘Hospice Care Week’ (9th-15th October) an annual week of activity to raise awareness of hospice care and HospiceUK’s first ‘Go Yellow’ National fundraising day is on Wednesday 11th October. #WeAreHospiceCare.