22 / 06 / 2021
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” within our estates 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” where log-in details and passwords can be recorded or another mechanism given to the executors to access those assets, 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. Other companies such as Twitter and Instagram require formal requests to memorialise or remove an account. 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.