With the popularity of social media continuing to rise, many of us are building up a huge amount of data, photos, music and videos on-line. But what happens to this data when we die?
Social media and the internet are part of our every day lives, with recent research showing that 87 per cent of the UK’s population have at least one social media account. This digital legacy will live on after we die, but what should our executors do with it?
Some of our on-line data may have purely sentimental value, such as photos shared on Facebook and Instagram, which will grow in importance as a cherished memory for loved ones after a death in the family. Other things like gaming characters, the on-line currency Bitcoins, internet domains, YouTube videos, blogs and music may have a monetary value.
In either case, failing to leave clear instructions about what should happen to your digital legacy when you die, can cause difficulties and further heartache for your loved ones.
The Law Society has recently issued guidance recommending that, at the very least, people should keep an up-to-date list of all of their on-line accounts, which could include your email account, on-line bank accounts, investments and social networking sites. This will make it easier for family members to close them, or recover data from them.
The issue of passwords or PIN numbers is a difficult one, as your family member may be committing a criminal offence if they use your password after your death. The Law Society says that passwords and PINs should never be included as part of your Will, as this is a public document that may be published after your death.
Although the value of on-line assets like gaming characters and Bitcoins will be difficult to assess, a comprehensive list of your on-line presence will give your executors a starting point when assessing the value of your estate.
There is a risk that without proper records, much of your on-line presence will be lost after death. How do you let your loved ones know what you would like to happen to it? One possibility is to write a letter of wishes, giving your consent for family members to access your accounts after death, and explaining what you would like to be done with the data.
Although it is not yet clear if all service providers will recognise a letter of wishes, it is better than leaving no instructions. There are also some licensing arrangements to consider, such as iTunes, which state that assets die with the original owner.
As social media use evolves and more digital legacies are dealt with after death, the law will become clearer. However, until then it is advisable to discuss this with your solicitor when you are making or updating your Will.