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What happens to your online presence when you die? Why you should make a Digital Will

Before the digital age the process of drafting a Will was undoubtedly simpler. The physical belongings of the deceased could be carefully sorted through, boxed up, and divided according to a Will among family and friends to act as a permanent and tangible reminder of a life. In the digital age however, things are more complicated.

What is a Digital Will?

As well as the physical belongings and making a Will, more and more people now have an entire cyber existence to take care of. Since the rise of the internet, concerns such as shutting down of Facebook profiles, Twitter or Instagram accounts and even accessing a deceased person’s email account have evolved.

Assets like web based photo libraries, personal documents, and financial accounts also now largely exist online. Most of the user names and passwords for these are kept inside people’s heads – what happens if they die without telling anyone? It can take months to close down some of these facilities, and that’s only if you knew they existed in the first place.

Providers of digital information storage

With this in mind, a few websites have recently sprung up to specifically deal with this issue. Although they may slightly vary in their format or protocol, their basic objective is the same – for a small subscription fee, they will store all this vital information and even personal messages securely on your behalf, in a kind of “Digital Will”. When the inevitable happens, the site then automatically emails this information swiftly and directly to nominated people that you have pre-chosen, be that family, friends or a solicitor. One of the main providers of this is a company called Dashlane.

Some people will find the thought of sending pre-programmed “messages from the grave” a bit macabre, but the underlying concept for releasing important information to the right people after your death is very practical. Many consider it to be a case of simply backing up your data as you would precious photos or documents.

With site security for important and sensitive information being essential, main providers market themselves as having the best possible web security in place, as well as fail safe measures to make sure they do not send out the information by mistake. Most will need your solicitor and/or two nominated “verifiers”, with a death certificate as proof, to make an application before any information can be released.

These sites can also be utilised as password managers whilst you are still alive. If updated regularly, they can securely keep a record of usernames and passwords for your own future reference, in case you manage to forget them, or have an accident or suffer an illness that renders you unable to recall this information.

Whether this “solution” is for you or not, the ability to maintain control of your digital footprint will appeal to many. Dealing with your death will be hard enough for those left behind and these sites can potentially give you peace of mind, and provide a practical service at a time when most needed.

Digital Assets in a Will

A Populus survey of more than 1,000 members of the public commissioned by the Law Society asked several questions about whether people had made a Will. In this survey just 26% of respondents know what happens to their digital assets after they die – with only 7% saying they fully understand and 19% saying they partially understand.

Of those surveyed who have a Will, a staggering 93% had not included any digital assets in their Will. One reason for this could be that the majority of digital assets such as accounts with streaming services or social media companies are not owned by the customer – rather they are licensed. It is important to check the terms of conditions attached to each of these accounts as often passing on your login details to an Executor can leave you being in breach.

However, this does not necessarily mean you have no right to state what happens to these accounts after you die. Larger companies including Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple and Google have procedures in place to deal with accounts of deceased people. It is worth researching this when preparing you Will to satisfy yourself with the options. In many cases your account can be memorialised to preserve your online presence in a sympathetic way for loved ones who follow the account.

Digital Will Template

Our free Digital Will template is available here.

What are considered digital assets?

A digital asset is anything that is stored digitally and comes with a right to use. This can be assets that are more of a sentimental value such as email, social media accounts and cloud storage containing important documents and photos but also assets that might have a monetary value such as cryptocurrency holdings and online accounts such as PayPal.

Leaving cryptocurrency in a Digital Will

Cryptocurrency is a financial asset that can be included in a Will, but you will need to consider putting procedures in pace for your holdings to be accessed. As those with cryptocurrency will be aware it can only be accessed with the unique private key.

For security this should not be shared in your Will, but do consider leaving instructions on how to access the key in a safety-deposit box.

Some cryptocurrency insurance firms, such as CoinCover offer a cryptocurrency Will service where you are provided with a beneficiary card to give to your individual of choice, setting out how they can access your holdings. However small your cryptocurrency is, it is advisable to discuss it as an asset with the solicitor preparing your Will so that appropriate arrangements can be made.

Lower value digital assets: What happens to your loyalty points?

Avios points or ‘air miles’ cannot be passed on to a beneficiary, but in some cases Nectar points and Tesco Clubcard points can be passed on if the owner has nominated a beneficiary before they pass away. Always check the terms of business before leaving items such as loyalty points in your Will.

Why you should make a digital Will

In a survey conducted in August 2021 of more than 1,000 Which? customers, 77% said they had digital assets of sentimental value and 35% said they had assets of monetary value. However, of the 722 people who had a Will only 5% said the document contained a reference to their digital assets.

Leaving a Digital Will can not only ensure that valuable monetary assets such as cryptocurrency or online bank accounts are preserved, but also precious photos and data relating to you and your loved ones. Consider including digital assets in your Will so that these assets are able to be enjoyed by your Beneficiaries.

Finally, do remember that a “Digital Will” does not replace a Last Will and Testament. In the UK, only a Last Will and Testament on paper, signed in ink by appropriate witnesses will be legally recognised. Your “Digital Will” might mention where your Last Will and Testament is stored, and could even contain a copy of it, but it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.