When making a Will, relatively few Brits think about the technicalities of executing that Will after we are gone. This is demonstrated by the fact that whilst 94% of us have online accounts of some description, but only 25% have planned what to do with those accounts after they pass away.
This leaves details as to the whereabouts of online accounts and other online interests can save a significant amount of time and trouble for your loved ones.
Even social media and blogs can prove to be a source of upset for those we leave behind. Without suitable access, your loved ones may be unable to remove them or perhaps create a memorial on them, if so desired. Of far greater concern is the risk that these social media accounts may be accessed and used by hackers, whilst still bearing your name. Without knowing of its existence, your beneficiaries may be powerless to take the appropriate action.
Funds may not go to those to whom you have bequeathed them if your personal representatives are not aware that those online accounts exist. You may perhaps have thought about what you want to happen to your social media and other online accounts when you pass away. However, if you have not recorded your wishes regarding these social media accounts, it will become a matter of guesswork for friends and family. Many of us also keep contact information online. This may add to the administrative burden for your legally appointed personal representatives (sometimes referred to as your ‘executors’) as they endeavour to track down your beneficiaries.
Constructing a Digital Legacy
As many as eight out of ten people dealing with probate will experience some or all of the above problems managing online accounts. It is thus becoming increasingly common to construct a digital legacy at the same time as writing your will. This legacy should be regarded as a will that applies to your online assets. It is important to know how to deal with online information, because it cannot be included in the will itself. This is because a will may become a public document upon the death of its writer. Including your online banking details in the will could clearly cause all manner of security problems. Rather, you could write a letter including what digital assets you own.
This should not include online banking login details. You should not provide user names, passwords or security question answers for any of your online accounts. The digital legacy should include which social media accounts you have but, again, you should not provide log-in details; Facebook now offers a legacy feature, so that someone can post a last status update for you after you pass away. This may offer some level of comfort to grieving friends and family.
Most of us also store information and photographs online. These may be lost unless you ensure that somebody else is aware that they exist and where they are located. As with many online accounts, such cloud storage is secure and is personal to you. It is therefore for your personal representatives to contact the companies managing these accounts in order to try and gain access to these. Companies should have their own policies and processes in place in order for these to be accessed after your death. However, please be aware that, in the digital world, it may be the case that ownership of music files for example is provided by license to the account holder. This means that only the account holder has the right to listen to the music during their lifetime so it cannot be bequeathed to anyone else upon death.
The majority of utility services and phone contracts are now managed online, so you will need to list the companies with which you hold accounts. This will allow your personal representatives to make contact and to arrange for the accounts to be closed.
If you are the personal representative and are dealing with the online affairs of someone who did not leave the relevant details, you may still be able to access the required information. If possible, check their bank statements to see with which companies they were making payments, direct debits or standing orders. Alternatively if you share access to their computer or laptop, check their web browser history as this may tell you which websites they had been routinely using. This will allow you to contact the relevant organisations in order to settle and close any accounts. Clearly, the provision of a digital legacy will avoid the need for forensic activity in identifying organisations and accounts.
However, it will be of little value unless your personal representatives know where to find it. Given the sensitive nature of the information it will contain, it is advisable to store it in a secure location. In many cases, this is likely to be with the professionals who hold your will for safe keeping. You will also need to provide updates to include any new online accounts however, there should be little or no cost for you to do this with a professional provider as it doesn’t involve a change to your actual will.