None of us really likes to think that we are eventually going to die. However, the harsh reality is that death is a certainty for all of us, either sooner or later. It is, therefore, important that we take steps to ensure that those left behind have access to funds, papers and anything else that they need.
This used to be fairly straightforward. You could make a will, and leave any important papers with lawyers. Now, however, it is more complicated.
Increasingly, many of us live much of our lives online. We store documents and photos in the cloud, we shop and bank online, and we share information via social media. This page explains how to ensure that your loved ones are able to access and manage this information in the event of your death.
What is a Digital Legacy?
Your digital legacy is defined as any digital content available about you after your death.
This may be content that you have created, such as social media posts, photographs, blogs or a website. However, it may also be created by other people, for example, by tagging you in photographs, or writing on your social media page, or even by writing about you on other websites.
Clearly, some of this is under your control—such as your social media posts—and some of it is not.
Understanding about digital legacy issues
An annual survey run by the Digital Legacy Association suggests that awareness of the issue of digital legacy has increased in recent years. However, around a third of people still report that they are either ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ unfamiliar with the term ‘digital legacy’.
Nearly half say that nobody other than them has knowledge of the password for their computer.
A massive 92% of people report that they have not documented what should happen to their social media accounts after their death.
On one level, of course, it is good not to share passwords. However, this becomes a huge problem if someone dies or is seriously injured in an accident.
Planning for and Managing Your Digital Legacy
When thinking about your digital legacy, you need to consider:
All your social media accounts. These may contain photos going back several years, as well as videos and written content;
Any cloud storage, whether paid or free. This will include storage in Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and other similar apps. You may be using this approach to back up your data, or to keep photographs safe, so this is an important aspect to consider;
Your email service(s) and address(es);
Any paid-for or free backup services, for example, those explained in our page on Backup and Storage Solutions;
Anything on your devices, including laptops or computers, tablets and smartphones;
Access to any e-books, e-music or similar, which may not be transferable (for example, Kindle books are single-owner assets, and cannot be lent or given away);
Programs and apps downloaded to your devices;
Online access to payment services, including third-party services and banking apps, and any cryptocurrency accounts;
Accounts on any other websites, including retail or trading sites;
Any ongoing services, such as an Amazon Prime or Spotify subscriptions; and
Any blogs, domains or websites that you own or maintain.
It’s Up To You!
Managing your digital legacy is up to you. Nobody else can or should decide for you what to do. You own the accounts, including any credit on them (for example, from gift cards or on gaming sites).
As with your physical legacy, the most important thing you can do is to appoint someone to manage your digital legacy, and make your wishes clear in advance.
The best way to do this is to make a digital will—or mention your digital assets in your will.
It is helpful to provide a clear list of all your social media accounts and other elements of your digital legacy.
You should also set out what you would like to happen to each of these accounts: for example, for them to be shut down, or a message posted explaining that you have died.
To do this, someone will need to have access to your password details. There are a number of ways to manage this.
1. Give someone else your password details
This is probably the simplest approach: give a trusted friend or family member details of all your passwords, and ask them to shut down all your accounts after you die.
You can do this in advance if you wish. However, you may not be happy to do this while you still remain well and in control. You should also be aware of the need to keep the list up to date: it is not much help if you changed all your passwords sometime after handing them over.
If you have given someone your password details, consider using their name as your ‘password hint’ on your computer or smartphone (if this feature is available).
This will direct anyone trying to access your computer to the right person.
Alternatively, keep a record yourself, and make sure that someone else knows where to find it if necessary.
2. Use a password app
These apps save all your passwords in one place (and many will even generate the passwords for you).
Examples include Keepass and LastPass. These apps usually have a free option, and paid options that provide more services. This approach avoids the necessity of telling anyone else your passwords. However, you need to remember to appoint someone to manage your password app if you die. You can, for example, use someone else’s credentials as a backup on some apps, so that they can log in if necessary.
Top tip! Appoint a digitally-savvy executor
If you have written a will (which of course you should have done), then you will have appointed one or more executors. To make everyone’s lives easier, it is helpful if at least one of your executors is
a) digitally savvy, and
b) also appointed as the executor of your digital legacy.
It is also helpful to include this information in your will.
3. Use a digital legacy app
There are a few apps available that are designed to help you manage your social media accounts in the event of your death, such as MyWishes. Some are free, but others require a fee for use. This will allow you to create a ‘digital will’ setting out what you want to do with all your social media accounts. You can even prepare messages for friends or family, to be published after your death.
Resources for digital legacy planning
There are more resources to help with digital legacy planning published by the Digital Legacy Association. These include a Social Media Will template and tutorials to help you work out how to manage your digital legacy on your phone, laptop and tablet.
You can find these resources via the Digital Legacy Association website.
Getting Your Life in Order
Some people are given the luxury of knowing they are terminally ill. They have time to put their affairs in order.
When doing so, it is worth considering aspects such as closing down any subscriptions to services that you no longer need, such as websites like LinkedIn Premium. This will save your executors from having to reclaim money from sites, or stop payments in future. You should also consider withdrawing any credit from online accounts like PayPal or any cryptocurrency accounts, and closing these down if you no longer need them. Again, this will save your executors from having to do so.
Finally, if you do this, it is important to keep a record of your actions, and remove them from your password list, so your executors know what you have done. As with all these issues, documenting is everything.