Like it or not, traditions such as letter writing, cheque payments and photograph processing are dying out and, together with a global social media obsession, we are fast accumulating valuable “digital assets” which executors or administrators have to trace and grapple with after death. Our lives have become even more “online” as a result of Covid-19, and this increased digital aspect of our estates is here to stay, post-pandemic.
Administering a digital estate can be a complicated process. Such assets can be kept on numerous different email, social media and storage services, and on computer systems that the individual neither owns nor are physically located within their estate. Given the personal, cultural and emotional importance attached to so much of this digital data, what can be done to alleviate the complexities and preserve our digital legacies?
Make a list of all online accounts, including bank accounts, payment services, email, social media, file sharing and backups. Keep a “Digital Assets Log” or similar where log-in details and passwords can be recorded subject to any contrary terms and conditions of the applicable internet provider. This Log should be reviewed regularly and stored securely, perhaps via an online Password Manager, keeping a separate note with your Will as to how the Log can be accessed. Similar steps apply to information for cryptocurrency wallets.
Provide details of who should access the accounts after your death to avoid any being terminated. Facebook offers “legacy contacts” whereby a designated person can manage an account after death. Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” service allows a “trusted contact” to download data such as email and YouTube data. Apple has announced that it will be adding a digital legacy service to allow users to grant access to a named individual (an “administrator”) or choose to have their Apple accounts deleted. LinkedIn also now offers options for executors or administrators to close or memorialise a deceased person’s account, and companies such as Twitter and Instagram will do this on receipt of a formal request. Digital assets with financial value, such as cryptocurrency, should be included in your Will, clearly setting out to whom such assets should pass.
Online accounts, particularly social media and emails, often contain sensitive and private information and so as well as thinking about who should be given access to those accounts, also consider what should happen to the content of those accounts when you are gone. Apple’s new service is expected to be officially released later this year but in the meantime they have set up a “digital legacy” page, giving users the option to specify that their account be deleted after their death.