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Plan your digital legacy

You can help your loved ones by planning what will happen to your digital presence after you pass away.

We accumulate a lot of assets throughout our lives. Most people ensure that their precious items like houses, cars, finances and possessions are left to children and loved ones via a Will.

But, even though it may be our most enduring legacy, few of us actually spend time planning for our digital presence after we die.

Making your wishes known early does make it much easier for whoever is managing your digital legacy. It can also help protect you against identity theft and damage to reputation.

Plan ahead

You can plan for the management of your digital legacy in the same way as your physical estate. 

This helps to ensure that your family has what they need to navigate this tricky area of your life in a streamlined way, in line with your wishes, when they are ready to do so. 

Consulting a lawyer may be helpful, just as you would when you make your will.  There are also a number of online services that can take care of account closures on behalf of your estate if this is your wish.

Your digital legacy can be divided into two categories:

  • your digital assets
  • your digital presence. 

Digital assets

Digital assets are items in digital form that you have purchased and consumed over the years, like books, movies, games, music and podcasts. Your digital assets may also include any domain names, website and blogs you administer, as well as the access codes and passwords for financial accounts and utilities, and accounts on platforms such as PayPal, Amazon or eBay.

Many assets in digital form don't actually belong to you, even though you may have paid real money for them. You may have just purchased a licence for the term of your life.

Licensing and ownership varies from platform to platform, with different rights and exemptions for different types of content. Try to establish exactly what your rights are and what you can (or cannot) do with your assets once you pass on. 

Some licences can be bequeathed, but you will only know this if you read the End User License Agreement (you will have ticked a box at some point to say that you agree with it).

You also need to consider how any other devices in your home may be affected by your passing. If your Microsoft, Amazon, Apple or Google account also services your children's devices then the impact could be considerable.

Digital presence

Your digital presence is the identity you have developed online over time, through things like your social media activity, messages, emails, photographs and videos.

What would you like done with these when you are no longer here?

Aspects of your digital presence like photographs, memories and events may be precious to those left behind and it is important to make sure that this element of your life is addressed.

Many social media platforms have options to memorialise your profile, including your posts and photos, so it can still be accessed by loved ones as a reminder, but not used to post on your behalf. Some allow you to nominate a ‘legacy contact’ who has limited access to manage the account. If you don’t do this in advance, your account can still be memorialised but nothing can be changed.

Planning tips

  • List your digital assets as best you can.
  • Document access codes, passwords and usernames — keep these secure and separate from your list of assets — and let trusted family members or a legal professional know where they are. 
  • Check the help section of your social media accounts for information about how you can to plan for the time when you are no longer around.
  • Set out what you wish to happen to your digital legacy in writing. 

Managing a loved one’s digital legacy

If a loved one has not left any details about how to handle their online legacy, your options may be limited. 

The ability to access or shut down accounts varies, particularly if you do not have access to emails or the passwords attached to each account. Generally, a death certificate is required. Some of the links below may help you.

Useful links

Google

  • Set up ‘Inactive account manager’: this allows you to specify when Google should consider your account to be inactive and what they will do with your data afterwards; you can share it with someone you trust or ask Google to delete it.
  • Close a Google account after death (Google and YouTube).

Yahoo

Facebook and Instagram

Twitter

LinkedIn