The Digital Afterlife – Are You Prepared?

Elderly couple reading information on a laptop about the digital afterlife.


Julie Hutchison

27th October 2016 at 1:00pm

With so much done now in the virtual space, we’re just as likely to leave a digital legacy as well as a material one.

So how can you manage your digital legacy in the event of your passing?

A virtual reality

A digital legacy is the online presence that’s left behind when someone passes away. And without proper planning many valuable digital assets can be lost at death.

These can include social media profiles, e-mail and online shopping accounts and photos.

And it’s not only your social and sentimental material that can be lost. Digital assets can also include things with a real monetary value such as music, films, air miles, reward points, PayPal and Bitcoin accounts.

Do you need a social media will?

Leading separate lives

As a result of this new virtual life, it’s equally important to plan for its demise too.

However, research from Saga Legal Services has revealed that just 13% of us currently have a plan in place. And this can leave loved ones susceptible to significant burdens of time, effort and cost not to mention difficulty accessing accounts they have no passwords for.

But there are things you can do now to make things much easier later.

Just 13% of us have a plan in place to manage our digital legacy

Make a list and keep it up date

Having a list of online accounts, such as email, banking, investments and social networking sites will make it easier for family members to piece together your digital legacy, and provide the best chance for passing on the things that matter and closing the things that don’t.

When preparing your list it’s worth dividing things up into “digital assets” and “digital presence”. Digital assets can include the music, films or books that are held digitally, as well as any online-only bank accounts or investments that you may have. Digital presence will include any social media, email or e-commerce accounts, which make up your online footprint.

In any list, include the name and URL of every online account you access, and a brief description of the service it provides, as well as the information someone would need to login to your account.

The purpose of compiling this list is so the person you designate can serve as the executor of your online assets, so don’t assume anything will be “obvious” to him or her.

You can then store that with your will, so your executor knows where to start, and the kind of things that they should be thinking about.

Remember, the list you’ve created contains highly confidential information. Take every precaution to keep it secure in order to prevent theft, whether monetary or identity, and to prevent unauthorized access.

A digital deactivation

Secondly, think about how to deactivate accounts; this can prove a tricky process with many providers having different processes and rules.

A few websites now include something about what would occur on death in the small print. For example, Facebook confirmed that a user can now specify what should happen to their account if they die: it can either be “memorialised” or deleted. In the absence of any directions, the page will automatically be “memorialised” and Facebook state that they will consider requests to delete and/or release the content of the profile to family members at their discretion.

So if you are on any social sites or have email accounts, it’s worth checking with the provider what sort of procedures they have in place and include any details you can.

Don’t lock out your loved ones

Make things easier

None of us want to make life more stressful and upsetting for people we care about especially at a difficult time. By making the wishes on our digital legacy clear now, we could make it easier for loved ones to recover pictures to cherish and help with the more practical issues such as online bank accounts.

Have you been affected by the death of a loved one and faced challenges around online content? If so, we’d like to hear your experiences and any tips.

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The information in this blog or any response to comments should not be regarded as financial advice and is correct as of October 2016.