Digital End of Life

What happens to our digital world?

 
So much of our life is carried out in the online world these days. Our banking, our socialising, all the endless passwords to different websites. A whole wealth of information that exists at the touch of our fingertips. But where does that digital world go when we die? What happens to our bank accounts, social media accounts, where do our emails, our photos stored in cyberspace go? If nothing is done those accounts simply remain frozen in time. While being able to leave condolences on loved ones’ social media pages is lovely in the time after a person has died, it does provide closure to sort out people’s digital life, just as we sort out the rooms of the people that we love. Leaving your affairs in good order will ease the administrative burden placed upon your executors and family. Here at NC Funeral Directors, we talk you through the digital end of life.

Is it a legacy or an asset?

Everyone who owns a mobile phone, uses a computer, logs into social media leaves behind them a digital legacy. Your digital legacy is your comments and posts on your Facebook feed, it is the correspondence of your emails. It is the digital equivalent of leaving your old letters for your loved ones. A digital asset is something that belonged to you, and now can be passed down, for example, digital photos. These can be passed onto a family member who can then share them with the rest of the family. There are variations about what can and cannot be passed onto your next of kin and executors, depending on the individual policy for that platform. It is interesting to note that music downloads from iTunes cannot be passed on, as they are only for listening to by the individual that bought them, and the rights to listen expire on the death of that person.

Examples of digital legacies and assets:

  • Email accounts
  • Bank and credit card accounts
  • Social media accounts
  • Online subscription accounts
  • iTunes
  • Websites and domain names
  • Blogs
  • Cyber storage accounts
  • Digital photos and videos
  • Digital e-books
  • Online gaming accounts – Xbox and PlayStation
  • Online trading accounts – Amazon, eBay, and PayPal
  • Cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin etc

 

Digital afterlife

Without passwords, you cannot access any of the digital legacies or assets of a loved one. It is estimated that 37% of us forget a password at least once a week. If we can’t remember our own passwords, it seems unlikely that we will remember or even know the passwords of our loved ones.

While it can be difficult to consider one’s own demise it is worthwhile being practical. Leaving the information required for your executors to access your digital world, means that your wishes for what happens to your digital world can be carried out.

Make a list of accounts, with relevant log-in details, and instructions for what you would like to happen to each account. You may want to gift your blog on bonsai trees to a much-loved nephew. You may want to leave your Bitcoin currency to your younger brother. You may want your email accounts deleted without being read. Whatever you decide you wish to do with your digital world, you need to communicate that with your executors.

Ensure that your information is stored safely. If you are unsure how to do this, contact your solicitor or bank to ask for advice on the safest way to do so.

How to close digital accounts?

After someone has died you will be granted a death certificate. It can be useful to have copies of this, as many companies require proof of death, quite rightly, before they will close accounts, or allow executors access to the accounts. The digital world in many areas replicates the physical world. You cannot simply close other people’s accounts without showing proof.

If you do not have any logins or passwords to digital accounts, contact the business with the death certificate. Companies should have a policy around how to deal with the accounts of the deceased, and this should enable you to close the accounts down.

Many companies are committed to user security and will not allow access to accounts to executors even with a death certificate. Google, for example, will not allow access to a Gmail account, though they will help you to close it down. If there is important information in that account you can appeal to Google to be allowed access, and this will be considered.

The different social media platforms have different policies as regards account closures. Generally, executors can close social media accounts of the deceased. Facebook and Instagram both offer memorial versions of a user account, where people can continue to post onto the deceased’s page. This page will only be visible to friends and family, and not appear in searches.

If you are struggling with closing accounts, please ask for advice. Your probate solicitor will be able to help you, or contact Citizens Advice for will provide free information and support.

Bringing closure

The death of a loved one is always a sad time. But reducing the administrative burden on your executors by leaving your affairs in order is a great help. According to statistics, 54% of people do not have a will, this is known as dying intestate. When this happens the Government decides on the allocation of your assets and divides them according to intestacy law. Regardless of the size of your estate, it is always better to leave a will and an expression of your wishes. Even something as simple as making sure that you record the password to your computer can make a huge difference to your family. Being able to sit together and look at photos that you have stored on your hard drive or in cyberspace will give your family the chance to celebrate your life and to remember you with kindness and affection.