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Dealing with your digital footprint after death

Dealing with your digital footprint after death

When writing a will, don't forget about your digital assets

We all already know that having a will is incredibly important, making sure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes when you die. Most wills commonly include property, financial assets and valuables, but in an ever more digital world, what about digital assets? Often overlooked, this is an increasingly important aspect that a lot of us haven’t even thought about. 

Why should you protect your digital assets?


If you don't include digital assets in your will, photos and conversations could be lost forever

As the world becomes increasingly digital, large aspects of your life will end up somewhere online. This could be in the form of social media accounts or a personal blog or site, but can also include accounts that you have created on apps and websites. If your will doesn’t specify what is to happen to your digital assets, responsibility will be placed on the executor to act reasonably on your behalf. In an already stressful time, this is only added pressure that can be easily avoided by detailing your wishes in your will. 

"Many digital assets contain sensitive information, like personal and financial data. You may also have money tied up in digital accounts, such as PayPal, eBay, or gambling sites"

Your social media profile is likely full of posts, pictures, and videos from throughout your life and your loved ones may wish to keep these as a way of remembering you. However, it can be complicated to get consent from the platform to access the account of the deceased due to privacy and security measures. 

Many digital assets contain sensitive information, like personal and financial data. You may also have money tied up in digital accounts, such as PayPal, eBay, or gambling sites, which can also be difficult for others to access. By specifying who can access these accounts after your death, you can protect your privacy and prevent unauthorised access. Leaving clear instructions in your will can make this process much simpler for your loved ones and can also reduce the risk of any legal battles or disputes over who will be given access to your accounts. 

Protecting your passwords 


Make sure to leave passwords in an accessible place so that your loved ones can access your digital assets

Leaving your passwords to be easily accessible after your death is important to ensure ease for those involved. Without your passwords, your executor will be left to contact each platform, website, and app individually in an attempt to gain access to your account. This is much easier said than done due to the aforementioned security and privacy measures. 

"Without your passwords, your executor will be left to contact each platform, website, and app individually in an attempt to gain access to your account"

Passwords should not be written in a will, but instead left in a separate document. This can be either a digital or hard copy but should be left with a solicitor or storage company that follows relevant security practices. Your will should detail who these passwords should be released to after your death. 

Your options for social media 

Every social media platform has its own policy regarding what can happen to the deceased's account. Both Pinterest and Twitter offer the choice between deactivation and deletion, but TikTok, Snapchat, and Yahoo offer deletion of the account only. Microsoft and WhatsApp will automatically delete accounts once they have been inactive for a certain period of time. 

"It’s important to note that transactional accounts are often linked to your bank account which will be frozen once a death certificate is provided"

Some platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn will allow an account to become memorialised, meaning that the posts, photos, and videos on the profile can remain online, but the account itself is secured. Google allows accounts to be deleted after death, but a Google account may be linked to a YouTube channel that holds content created by the deceased. In these instances, the content from the account can be requested by the executor or immediate family if they wish to obtain copies before it is deleted.  

Both PayPal and eBay accounts may hold funds that can be requested prior to deletion. It’s important to note that transactional accounts are often linked to your bank account which will be frozen once a death certificate is provided. Your will should detail what accounts may have funds remaining and what you wish to be done with those amounts so that it can be carried out in a timely manner. 

Writing a valid will


Including your digital assets in your will is helpful for legal clarity

You may have seen various online services for writing a ‘DIY will’, removing legal assistance from the equation. Whilst this may seem like an attractive option, it’s important to remember that there are a variety of legalities involved with writing a verified will. If your will is not properly regulated and doesn’t meet the requirements, it cannot be legally followed or may even be challenged by others. 

Working with a solicitor will ensure that your will is valid and reduce the risk of any complications arising after your death. Be sure to leave appropriate consent and access to all of your digital assets, with clear instructions about how you would like them to be handled after your passing. If you have already written a will but have neglected your digital assets, it’s time to update it! 

John Roberts is a Partner and Director at Austin Lafferty Solicitors. John has been with the firm for almost 20 years, with experience in all areas of family law. 

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