Our lives are increasingly conducted online with many of us managing bank accounts, utility bills and much of our correspondence online these days. Many people now consider their social media portfolio to be among their most personal assets. With this trend only increasing across all age groups, the difficult question of what happens to our digital presence after we die has become more and more important.
The BBC recently reported that, Co-operative Funeralcare, one of the UK’s largest funeral providers, had recently conducted research into the question of a “digital legacy”, and its conclusions suggest that most of us do not make any provision for management of our online accounts after we die. For example, while almost all bank customers now have the facilities to manage their accounts online, only one in four make suitable arrangements to pass on the details to those left to wind up their estate. 80% of those who attempt to manage online bank, utility, shopping or social media accounts following a death reported problems in doing so, leading to unnecessary stress and complications at a difficult time.
It is never easy to discuss arrangements for end of life, but as with any estate planning, the most important thing is providing peace of mind and the knowledge that your estate will be managed in line with your wishes. Online assets should be viewed just like any other asset in this regard. Whether this means leaving the necessary details to manage accounts in a sealed letter alongside your Will, or in some other secure way, making suitable arrangements now ensures that you can be confident that your loved ones will be able to manage your estate without unnecessary difficulty.
Meanwhile, social media websites continue to adapt their offering to provide options for their users to control their online presence after their death. Last month Facebook® unveiled legacy settings, giving users the option to delete their account permanently upon their death, or to pass control of selected aspects of their account to nominated friends or relatives. Memorial pages, where friends can post comments and tributes about a deceased, are a popular alternative. Some technology companies even allow users to prepare messages to be rolled out following their death, often many years into the future. Given the rapid pace of technology, and the growing importance that we place on our digital presence, this market seems destined to expand and change for years to come.