What happens to your online life after you die?

Posted by Alison Craggs on
We are increasingly living our lives online – but what happens to our social media profiles, internet accounts, digital photos, e-books and music files after we die?

Louise Lewis, a wills and probate expert at the law firm Blake Morgan, says people should carefully weigh up what they want to happen to their digital assets when they are gone – and consider making arrangements to cover them in their will.

Louise says: “We all know that we should make arrangements for what happens to our money and physical assets when we die, but we are now living our lives online through social media and spending ever-increasing amounts of money on digital assets such as music and video files and ebooks.

“Not only that but there are online bank accounts, internet shopping accounts and many more to consider – all of which may have a monetary value.

“It’s made more difficult because there is no standard procedure across the internet for what happens when an account user dies. Some assets, such as the contents of an iTunes account or ebooks held on a Kindle, cannot be legally passed on as the user only buys the rights to use the file during their lifetime.

“Other accounts will contain money or assets that can be passed on if the right procedures are followed.

“When it comes to closing accounts, some websites and online services will simply close a deceased person’s account on production of a death certificate but others are more difficult to manage, especially if family members don’t know the account and password information.

“Giving it some thought and careful planning now can help spare family members the headache of trying to unravel your digital life after you have gone.”

Louise says there are several options available to help your executors deal with your digital assets.

Her tips are:

  • Set up a trust of your assets – a solicitor can arrange this for you. Independent trustees would be appointed who could then administer your digital assets separately from the estate covered by your Will
  • Keep a record of your online life – apps, email accounts, social networks, blogs, photo sharing sites, bank accounts and so on – and their login details. This should not be part of your will as that becomes a public document upon your death, but should be left available to your executors. Warning - be careful not to breach the terms and conditions of any sites you have used when doing this.
  • State in your will or in a document referred to in your will where the account information can be found – and what you would like to happen to each account
  • Consider storing your account information online in a secure “digital inheritance” account such as Password Box, and refer to this in your will.
  • Prepare a signed authorisation form for each online company disclosing and granting access to your representative – check each company’s terms and conditions first
  • Consider appointing a separate “Digital Executor” just to manage your digital assets, particularly if they are extensive or complex or if your first named executor does not have technical knowledge
  • Consider using an online service such as My Wonderful Life or ifidie.net which can pass on your wishes to your loved ones after you have gone

Louise adds: “Some of these measures may seem extreme or complex but the idea of leaving your digital information with a solicitor is not so different from the traditional box of documents and deeds kept in the solicitor’s strong room.

“In a rapidly-changing world, the role of solicitor as the trusted and confidential adviser may never have been so important.”

About the Author

Alison advises clients on the best structure for their Wills and prepares powers of attorney and administers estates. 

Alison Craggs
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