People with a significant online presence could find friends and family receiving sombre and unnecessary reminders of a recent death, for example, via poorly-timed social media birthday notifications.
More importantly, unplanned digital legacies could pose potentially harmful security issues. Any digital legacy should contain a financial element, as direct debits will continue to leave a bank account until it is frozen by the provision of a death certificate.
Silver surfers are increasingly adopting the internet with nearly one in five people aged 65 to 74 using social network sites, according to the Office for National Statistics. In addition, more than half of Facebook users are over the age of 35.
And as well as social media profiles, many people store a wealth of sensitive personal information on websites and email accounts which could go unchecked on someone’s death.
Emma Myers, Head of Wills, Probate and Lifetime Planning at SagaLegal.co.uk, said it was important people consider what will happen to their digital existence when they pass away.
“Being a relatively new invention, there are not yet any substantial legal procedures in place to protect your online presence and even less still when you die,” she said.
“In the same way you would not want your loved ones falling out or being inconvenienced over a missing will when you die, it’s also imperative to plan ahead for the great internet cafe in the sky.”
The guide also advises the public to compile a secure “online directory”, detailing all active internet accounts along with requests for how each should be dealt with.
Ms Myers continued: “Given how new an invention the internet is, it’s perhaps not surprising that many people are not yet familiar with the idea of a digital legacy.
“Yet as we continue to live more and more of our lives online, it’s become increasingly important to start planning for our virtual afterlife when we pass away.
“Accounts registered with everything from social media pages, email providers, online retailers and online banking contain sensitive information that should be removed. This is especially true where banking information is involved.”
“With the internet still being somewhat of a legal grey area, we understand the importance of consumers being aware of the risks – emotional, practical and financial – of not properly setting your online affairs in order.”