What happens to your ‘digital footprint’?
Have you ever wondered what happens to your digital assets after death? However morbid it may sound, in our ever-evolving digital age it is now becoming increasingly important to think about including instructions in your will and advising others on how to manage your digital legacy after you leave. In previous generations, physical objects such as photo albums, letters and diaries were often passed on to our heirs and family members; whereas it is now more common to have such information stored and immortalized online – which the begs the question, who owns this information after we leave?
Many of us turn to the virtual word to maintain social relationships and document major life events such as births, marriages, graduations and career achievements. This means that every day we contribute to our growing digital footprint; through internet searching, social media profiles, email, internet banking, online subscriptions, shared online photos and other information stored online. Such assets can have a sentimental or even financial value to those we leave behind and if it is not made clear what should happen to these digital assets in our estate planning, it can cause legal as well as emotional problems for our heirs.
If we want to pass on our digital legacy to our families then we need to make preparations now. You can begin by following a few simple steps:
- Start by listing all of your accounts: this includes logins, emails, and URLs. Include all social media profiles and sites you use to purchase or sell products. Keep logins in a safe place e.g. a physical safe or in a secure online storage site such as SecureSafe or KeePass and if storing physical lists keep the passwords in a different place to the record of accounts – but remember to make the place known to your heirs. Bear in mind that your will becomes a public record when you die, so do not include any login details in it.
- List all business-related accounts such as internet banking, utilities, internet, subscription websites, etc. This will help your heirs manage and close down accounts where your bank details are saved and which use instant transfers.
- Research the deceased user policy for each social media account you use. Each site is different, and closing the account of a deceased user is an easier process on some but harder on others. Some social media sites require a death certificate before the account can be memorialised or closed down.
- Talk to your family. Discuss what you would like to happen to all of your accounts after you leave. Do you want them to be kept open and memorialised or do you want them to be closed? It may be a somewhat sombre conversation to have but it’s one that is essential.
- After consulting your heirs, you may also wish to create a list detailing the contact person for each online account; this person will be responsible to see to the management or closure of each account. Provide copies of this list to your family members and include this in your will.
- Consider using Googles ‘Inactive Account Manager’ programme. This programme was released in 2013 and is designed to let Google users decide exactly what happens to their Google accounts after death. This could include such things as uploaded YouTube videos, Gmail accounts, Cloud storage and other uploaded data. You will be able to request that up to ten people be notified when Google deactivates your account. You can also choose when Google deactivates the account; be it after three, six, or twelve months of digital silence. On deactivation, Google notifies you heirs and provides links they can follow to download any videos, images, or documents you may have left to them.
See the sites below for more information on digital estate planning: