Digital Inheritance – Protecting your online assets and memories

We are living more and more of our life online. Many people have internet banking, access investments over the internet and keep in touch with family and friends over Facebook or other social media channels. What we do with our digital life after our death is therefore becoming increasingly important.

From a practical point of view, the people that deal with your estate upon your death (known as your personal representatives) may not be aware of the existence of online bank accounts as there will be no traditional paper trail. They may be denied access when trying to deal with these accounts online. It could also mean that important sentimental materials, such as photographs on social media, are unfortunately never recovered.

Your online presence needs be planned for as you would your physical possessions, yet very few people have put any plans in place. Instead this is often left to personal representatives to hopefully stumble across the various accounts.

The concept of a digital legacy is relatively new, so legal procedures are not yet in place to set out how matters are dealt with on your death. It is therefore the individual websites who set out what their users are able to do. For example, recently in the UK, Facebook has launched a “Legacy Contact” feature.  This enables users to designate a person who will receive limited posthumous access to their account.  The Legacy Contact is notified at the time of nomination or by Facebook when they become aware of the death.

It is a good idea to prepare a list of online accounts which can be stored safely alongside your Will and be updated as and when necessary, without the need for your Will to be amended.

It is advisable to discuss with family and friends how you wish for your digital assets to be managed on your death and leave clear details of how you would like these to be dealt with either in your Will or a letter of wishes. Do not assume family members know where to look online. You will need to give consideration to not only those assets with a monetary value but those with a sentimental value such as all those photographs which may only be stored online rather than in a traditional album.

For now, keeping an up to date list of your online accounts would appear to be a sensible step in order to make the job of your personal representatives as simple as possible. For security purposes we would suggest storing such information safely with your Will in the secure storage facility of your solicitors.

It is clear that a fuller legal structure is required to deal with this ever growing area and hopefully this will be addressed by the Government in due course.

Lindsey Bohanna – Solicitor and Head of Probate, Wills and Trusts at Coley & Tilley Solicitors.

Lindsey is a full accredited member of SFE and STEP. She prides herself on her friendly, yet professional approach which puts clients at ease.

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