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What happens to all of our digital stuff when we die?

It’s not a subject most people even think about, but with the typical global internet user spending almost 7 hours per day using the internet, it’s essential to plan what we want to happen with our digital accounts.


Many of these online accounts e.g., Amazon or Netflix would be of little consequence to our loved ones after our passing, but many of our digital accounts such as your Facebook or Instagram will be in some way, and loved ones are likely to access them after a death.


As the time we spend online grows, the way we prepare for a death, mourning, and remembering our loved ones has also started to change. Due to this, we need to better understand how the internet and technology will affect us and our loved ones after we leave.


In this article, we have provided a thorough guide to help you understand how you can manage your digital assets after passing.


What are digital assets?

A digital asset refers to the assets you have that are in a digital or online format and come with a right to use. This includes, but is not limited to, the following examples:

  • Photos or videos saved on a device, or in cloud storage.

  • Social media accounts.

  • Email or IM (Instant Messaging) accounts.

  • Documents saved on a device, or in cloud storage.

  • Word documents, spreadsheets, or presentations.

  • Websites or domains you own.

  • Loyalty or bonus schemes.

Should I include my digital assets in my Will?

Thomas Bradley & Co recommend that you keep an up-to-date list of your digital assets and how they can be accessed - but don’t include any passwords as this is likely to be against the terms and conditions of the company. This will save your executors time tracking them all down, and ensure your beneficiaries receive any of the assets within them. Additionally, as these online tools will be personal to you, only you may have the login details to access them. If you don’t refer to them, your Executors will not be able to access the accounts and fulfil your wishes.


What will happen to my digital assets if I don’t have a Will?

Under the Law of Intestacy, which you can read more about here - alongside the rest of your estate, your digital assets will pass along to the person entitled. Due to differing company policies, this may mean that while your account can be closed, items such as photographs might not be retrievable.

You may want some of your digital assets to be archived and saved, and others to be deleted or perhaps even transferred to a loved one. Therefore, it is rather valuable to the Executor of your Will to know what your wishes are.

Below, you can find some popular companies’ terms and conditions surrounding digital legacy.


How do I close an account after the owner’s death?


Apple

Apple has previously been known to refuse to unlock devices for bereaved relatives, however they have recently included a digital legacy program which allows you to designate up to five people as legacy contacts. These individuals will be able to access your data and personal information such as photos and documents.


Meta

Meta is the parent company of social media platforms Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook will allow you to choose a legacy contact that takes care of your account if you want it memorialised when you pass away or have your account permanently deleted from Facebook. However, Instagram does not have a legacy contact option, for an account to be memorialised they require proof such as a link to an obituary or news link. Instagram accounts can only be deleted through a verified immediate family member. When a request is submitted, Instagram will also require proof such as the deceased’s person’s death certificate.


Google

Google’s inactive account manager can be utilised to pass over your email account and other Google products such as your YouTube account when you pass. This tool will send a notification to a chosen contact if your account has not been active over a certain time.


Amazon

Amazon accounts can be closed by your loved ones through Amazon’s Bereavement Support. To close an Amazon account, they will need to send Amazon a copy of the death certificate along with the email address of the account being closed. If you require any other support e.g., transferring of credits etc. they may ask to provide documentation such as an Executor of Will.


eBay

eBay’s policy allows you to designate a loved one to take over your account following your passing, but this person will not have access to your financial information. This person will be able to change your profile information, close your account, or do nothing.


PayPal

PayPal’s policy means that all accounts are non-transferable and will be closed when the account holder passes. The balance in the account will be refunded to the named Executor of your estate. To close a PayPal account, you will need the following:

  • A cover sheet, providing the appropriate representative’s contact details (name, email address and phone number), stating that the account holder is deceased and that their representative wants to close the account.

  • Details to help locate relevant account (e.g., email address, phone number, home address)

  • The death certificate of the account holder.


A Quick Guide to Managing your Digital Assets

  1. Make a list of all your digital assets and how to access each one e.g., the email address associated with the account.

  2. Decide what you would like done with these assets. Would you like your social media accounts to be memorialised or deleted?

  3. Download any sentimental items such as photos or videos from the service and pass them onto your next of kin.

  4. Let your Executor know, and if you have assigned any legacy contacts - make them aware you’ve done this.

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