What happens to our digital assets and online accounts when we die?

In today’s digital world, how many of us have digital assets and online accounts? We are encouraged to manage most of our accounts online and it can be more cost effective this way especially as many companies have started charging extra for paper billing.

You may wonder what happens to our digital assets and online accounts when we die. Your executor is responsible for dealing with your estate, which includes your digital assets - but how will they deal with digital assets and online accounts (including your social media accounts) if they are unaware of their existence or cannot access them?

You can help!

Keeping track of your digital assets with a log will make your executor’s job less onerous. It should include all your logins and passwords and be kept as a hard copy.  A review of your log should take place regularly so that it is up to date. Ideally, review it every six months but, at the very least, on an annual basis. Placing a copy of your log with your original will is also a good idea to keep it safe.

When creating online accounts, take a few minutes to consider the specific terms relating to how the account will be dealt with after your death and take any steps you consider necessary for someone to deal with these accounts. If possible, nominate someone, such as your executor or a person with your permission, to access your accounts following your death. Service providers may provide such a facility.

Many service providers such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and iTunes include provisions relating to the death of an account holder in their terms of business. For instance, iTunes includes a provision for the licence to terminate on the account holder’s death and therefore, account holders are prohibited from passing on the account and it will be necessary for your executors to arrange closure of the account.

Be wary of online-only bank accounts. If you hold money in a PayPal account for example, then it is necessary for your executors to close this account, as they would a traditional high street bank account. They will need to send a death certificate to PayPal who will arrange to close the account and pay any monies to your estate. 

Remember to consider access to digitally stored photographs, videos and emails as these can often be missed – and can hold great sentimental value to your loved ones.

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or professional networking sites such as LinkedIn also need to be dealt with following your death.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter may also need to be dealt with following your death. Leaving written instructions for your executors explaining what you would like to happen with these accounts is a good idea. 

You may want them to post a message for your followers and friends or for the accounts to be closed immediately. Facebook now offers a variety of options to allow you to have a digital online presence after death – known as ‘digital afterlife’. One of its newest features is a Legacy Contact Feature allowing its users to nominate a person to control a memorial page on death.
Overall, the best thing to do is keep your details somewhere safe and update them frequently. 

 

Nicola Dalzell

Partner and the Head of the Wills, Probate, and Trusts department, Tilly Bailey & Irvine Solicitors

Nicola is a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly (‘SFE’) and her team is accredited under the Law Society Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (‘WIQS’).  Nicola is a specialist private client advisor with over 15 years’ experience, advising individuals and business owners on all private client matters. 

Tilly, Bailey & Irvine Solicitors is a full-service law firm providing services to individuals and business across the UK.