Gabrielle Dell and Lizzy Mills
You may (or may not) have made a will and thought about how your assets should be distributed after your death. What you may certainly not have given the same consideration to is access to and distribution of your digital assets.
As an increasing proportion of our lives are spent and more and more of our affairs are run online, it is becoming ever-more essential for us to consider how to deal with our digital legacy.
Our digital legacy includes everything from how we want our social media accounts and our public profiles dealt with after our death, to providing access to our passwords for online banking, and everything in between.
Some thought needs to go into how this is to be dealt with to avoid leaving your executors and loved ones with a time-consuming headache after your death; if you don’t make arrangements during your lifetime, your digital assets and online profiles may not be handled how you would want them to be following your death.
The number of usernames and passwords used by people has increased rapidly in recent times – passcodes to digital devices are key to a deceased (or incapacitated) person’s kingdom. This information should be available to executors and trustees.
At the very least, you must make sure you make a list for your executors of usernames and passwords so they can deal with your online affairs easily when the time comes. Such a list must be accessible and easy to find, while at the same time, crucially, stored securely.
If your solicitors hold your will in safe storage, you could lodge a list with them. Do not store your list on your phone or computer – they will no doubt require a passcode for access in themselves!
Think about subscribing to a password management system. This requires you to remember a master password, then all the other passwords you need in your digital life are generated and stored securely for you. Then, it would just be your master password which you would need to pass on to your executors in due course.
There are several different forms of digital content which may each need to be dealt with, and you must consider:
• Music or books held digitally
• Social media accounts
• Online banking
• Photos stored digitally
• Email accounts
Music you have downloaded onto your computer may not be owned by you. If you have created a funeral playlist, or a selection of music you want your children to listen to and remember you by, you should not store this solely within your music download account. Many of these such accounts operate by granting a licence to the account holder to listen to the music online. These licences usually cease on the death of the account holder, and friends and family may find that they are in breach of the licence conditions if they try to play your music after your death. If there is special music you wish your loved ones to be aware of when the time comes, then consider leaving a hard copy list with your will for example.
If you want your loved ones to have access to your photos in the future, it would be advisable not to store them solely within social media accounts as Facebook and Instagram, as they may find it difficult to access them following your death. If you store them within Dropbox or Google, then consider what will be needed to access your account. Some storage facilities may delete content after a period of inactivity. Indeed, facilities such as Google’s Inactive Account Manager allow you to set the period of inactivity after which your account will notify someone and share certain data. It would be an idea to back assets up onto external storage devices or discs to avoid any possibility of access to the images being lost, and allowing your family to access them easily – or consider printing out the best ones. Another thing to consider is whether the copyright of any of the images has any value?
There are likely to be specific terms and conditions relating to the management of your social media accounts following your death – you should familiarise yourself with these – and it can certainly be difficult for loved ones to access your accounts after you’ve gone. Some social media platforms do now allow you to nominate a “legacy contact” who can access your account and “memorialise” it following your death, so friends and family can leave comments in remembrance of you for example.
The key message is “be prepared”. Don’t let your digital assets go without consideration. Make life easier for everyone following your death.
For more information, or for advice regarding any other Private Client matters, please contact:
Gabrielle Dell LLB TEP
Head of Private Client Team
Consultant Solicitor, Private Client Team
Consultant Solicitor, Private Client Team