Protect your digital legacy – what it’s really worth and what you need to do to pass it on to your loved ones
We live so much of our lives online, our presence spirals out across the web.
Think about all the accounts you have, from banking, email and social media to digital photos, music, websites and blogs.
Your digital legacy is all the information and assets you leave behind online – some of which could be very valuable to your loved ones, whether financially or sentimentally.
Those left to sort out your affairs could find it hard to even find your accounts if there isn’t any paperwork, let alone access the contents.
One widow spent three years and thousands of pounds taking Apple to court, to get access to treasured family photos and videos. Her husband had taken them with his iPhone, but then died without making a will.
Apple has since announced it'll be introducing a ‘Digital Legacy’ feature in autumn 2021, so that you'll be able to nominate people allowed access to your Apple account after your death.
Google, Twitter and Facebook already offer similar features, but all require you to do something before dying.
Yet only 8% of us have made any plans for our social media accounts to remain once we die, according to The Digital Legacy Association.
In addition to dealing with social media profiles, it’s important to pass on your wishes about whether to delete or preserve private messages, emails, pictures and files.
Even Apple’s new Digital Legacy feature won’t be able to pass on the passcode to get into your devices.
If you don’t share that info, your loved ones could still be locked out. Yet nearly a third of us haven’t shared the password for our mobile phone with anyone else, according to research by the Digital Legacy Association.
What is your digital legacy worth?
Some online accounts have obvious value, such as the contents of internet bank accounts.
Many of these digital assets will pass according to an ordinary will, doling out who gets what in terms of your money, property and possessions.
However, if you don’t leave a list of accounts, your family may never know you owned them.
Obvious candidates include current accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, loans, store cards, pensions, Premium Bonds and PayPal.
If you invest, you may have accounts with investment platforms, share dealing apps and peer-to-peer lenders. Bought a bit of Bitcoin? Add your cryptocurrency wallets.
Let your family know if you have valuable balances and credits in less obvious places, such as airmiles, loyalty cards, cashback websites, holiday currency cards, and shopping, gambling and bingo accounts.
Remember that your loved ones aren’t mind readers.
If something unusual might be worth money if sold - such as a domain name, professional website or computer game character - make a note.
Whether online assets such as airmiles and loyalty points can be passed on will depend on the small print for that specific company.
For example, even if you spent a small fortune on music from the iTunes store or Kindle books, your right to access them dies with you.
Yet if you bought music from Amazon and downloaded it onto a hard drive or memory stick, you could leave those tracks to your heirs.
Nearly a third of us haven’t shared the password for our mobile phone with anyone else, according to research by the Digital Legacy Association
How to pass on your digital legacy to your loved ones
Make a list…
Brace yourself to make a list of your online accounts, including ones you don’t use very often.
So not just email accounts, online banking and social media, but also storage and sharing sites (think iCloud, Flickr, Dropbox, Spotify, YouTube).
You might also have a professional website, personal blog and accounts for online interests, from gaming and ancestry websites to online dating and film streaming.
The more information you can give the person left to sort it out, the easier it'll be for them.
Useful details include:
- the name of the service
- web link
- user or account name
- email address or phone number associated with the account
…but beware of passwords
Don’t add passwords to your list.
With many accounts and services, just writing down your passwords breaches their terms and conditions.
Plus, using someone else’s password to access their accounts may be a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, even if they’ve died.
The exception is log on details for your own devices, such as phones, computers and tablets.
Sharing this info with someone you trust means they could, for example, find the contact details for invitations to your funeral, download stuff stored on your hard drive, and clean your devices for sale.
Note down your digital wishes
For each account, write down what you’d like to happen.
For example, some social media accounts can be memorialised, whereas you might want other accounts deleted.
If you’d like anything given to your loved ones, such as photos and videos, add instructions.
You can find checklists and digital legacy planning tools from sites such as Sun Life and My Wishes.
Appoint a digital executor
Find someone willing to do all the hard work taking care of your digital assets when you die.
Choose someone computer savvy, check if they’re up for the task, and remember they don’t have to be the same person as the main executor of your will.
Importantly, you need to name them in your will. Just handing over login details to your mate won’t cut it, as they won’t have legal authority to act on your behalf.
Share a copy of your digital wishes
Don’t include all your account details in your actual will, as it becomes a public document.
You might also need to update your digital wishes more frequently, as you change or add accounts.
It’s up to you whether you make a paper copy, put it on a memory stick or keep it on a hard drive.
You could give your solicitor a copy to store with your will or keep it securely with other important paperwork at home.
Just make sure someone, ideally your digital executor, knows where to find it.
3 things to do right now...
Make a list of all your online accounts and store it securely where it can be found after your death.
Set up legacy contacts and fill in inactive account details for your social media and email accounts.
Choose a digital executor, check if they’re up for the task, and include their name in your will.
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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.