What will be your digital legacy?
Historically most of us would have stored our treasured memories in photo albums and paper diaries, physical items we could leave to our loved ones by way of our Will. Fast forward into the 21st century and hardly any of us still store our memories in this way. Today it is all about sharing our thoughts, feelings, memories and images online through the realms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.
So what really happens with our digital assets on death? Who owns this information and how do we ensure our loved ones have access to this?
What is a digital asset?
In the United Kingdom there is no legislative definition of what constitutes a “digital asset” but it is understood to be any information that exists in a digital form and this can be online or on a storage device.
For example these include, but are not limited to, online photos, music libraries, social network profiles and email accounts.
We do not necessarily own all of the data that we store online. When using many online services we regularly agree to that company’s terms and conditions without knowing what we are agreeing to and in many circumstances we are agree to restrict our use of digital assets.
For example Apple’s terms and conditions state:-
“You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted”
This is the same for photos that we upload to social networking sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. It is therefore important to know who owns what so that our digital legacy can be managed.
Safeguarding your digital legacy
Our digital legacy is often something our loved ones will not know the full extent of and locating assets without a paper trail can be an horrendous task. It is therefore up to each individual to assist those we leave behind so that all of our digital assets are dealt with.
So what can you do? We would suggest to:
- Make an inventory of your digital assets. Ensure this is updated regularly and keep a hard copy with your Will.
- Download any photographs or documents that are only stored digitally to an external hard drive or print out hard copies.
- Leave clear instructions to your Executors as to how you would like certain matters/accounts to be dealt with.
- Some websites make specific provisions for another person to receive data from your account after your death. For example Google Inactive Account Manager and Facebook Legacy Contact allow you to nominate another individual to receive some data from your accounts after your death. Therefore ensure your Executors know your wishes about how these accounts are to be dealt with and any particular message that you would like to leave to friends or followers on there.
- Consider creating or updating your Will. Sentimental assets (such as digital photos stored on your computer) can be gifted under a personal chattels clause in your Will.
These small steps can assist your loved ones with locating your digital data and help to prevent sentimental material from never being recovered.
It is worth noting that it is not only sentimental material that can be lost. Digital assets can also include things with a real monetary value such as music, films, reward points and PayPal accounts etc.
Be warned, many websites’ terms and conditions prohibit you from passing on you login details to other people. Therefore leaving a list of passwords can cause great problems for your loved ones. An Executor or family member accessing your account using your username and password after your death may be committing a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. For each digital asset, the Executor or family member should refer to the service provider’s terms and conditions.
The bottom line
The law is outdated and has not caught up with our digital lifestyle. With the terms and conditions for each company differing significantly there is no conclusive answer as to how your digital assets will be dealt with on your death.
It is therefore vital that you start to plan your digital legacy. It is hoped that greater awareness will push companies into reviewing their procedures so that loved ones can access our memories and thoughts we share with the world today and close down accounts where other personal details are stored.
If you would like to discuss any of the above issues then please feel free to contact us on 01245 504904 to book an appointment to discuss these in more detail.