Wills | 10th February 2017
The digital age has done a curious thing to mankind. Whilst many human habits have threatened our very existence (CO2 emissions, toxic chemicals, littering) our dependency on the internet has actually seen us develop second bodies. Subconsciously, we have moved to immortalise ourselves in digital form. Once upon a time, people knew one another by face and name. Now, we create and project our alternate, healthier, superior mirror personalities via social media.
In one sense, it’s great. We can connect with people who live on opposite sides of the planet, and our loved ones are never more than a Facebook message away. But our second personalities also raise plenty of questions.
What happens to all of our social media accounts when we pass away? Where do all our photos go? Who owns this information? Will our second (digital) personality be laid to rest in the same peaceful way as our tangible bodies?
In order to answer these very important questions, it is important to explore the aspect of leaving behind a digital legacy – something that is becoming more crucial in society with every passing day.
We live in an ever-developing digital age, and whilst physical items can be passed on easily from one family member to another when we die, there is considerable lack of awareness among the nation on how to bequeath web-based information. That’s because it’s all still quite new to us. We might have embraced the online world rather quickly, but that doesn’t mean there’s still a lot for us to learn.
Currently, digital legacies lie in very tricky territory – both legally and morally.
There have been several legitimate cases where social media network Facebook have refused family members access to accounts of deceased members of their community. In some instances, Facebook have even locked the accounts down or transformed them into “memorial” accounts with limited features. The social media giant have defended their actions as protecting users’ privacy, and whilst their stance on handling deceased peoples data is routinely debated, the real issue for the common (wo)man is taking the correct steps to preserve their information so the likes of Facebook don’t have to get involved.
This is why you need to know what you can do, and what you should do, to protect and leave behind a digital legacy.
These can include:
Taking the time to determine the digital assets you own will enable you to list them all in your will and pass them on to the people you care about, without being forced to overcome complicated hurdles laid out by social media sites or online organisations.
It’ll take you thirty seconds to list your social media accounts with the login details and passwords on a piece of paper. Most of us keep our digital account info in our heads and avoid writing it down in fear it may fall into the wrong hands. However, when it comes to digital legacies you need some form of physical paper trail, as the internet will not provide you with one.
Hand over all your social media account details to your executor/solicitor as soon as you note them down, and they will be able to stow them away in a place for safe keeping until the times comes when your family needs to use them. This info can be used alongside your will, rather than as a part of it. Wills can, in some cases, be accessed publicly several years after you die, so writing your login details in the actual will document itself is not recommended.
It’s important to give some consideration as to what you’d like to happen to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media channel when you pass away. Some people prefer the idea of their accounts remaining live, so people can post memorial messages to the afterlife. Others feel quite strongly that once they’re gone, their social media presence ought to disappear too.
However you feel, you need to explicitly outline your wishes regarding your online presence when you check out, otherwise it will not be your decision to make.
You can do this by making a statement in your will expressing your desires, with an accompanying sentence to remind loved ones that all your account login information is in the hands of your executor.
It is also worth assigning a specific person to handle all this information. This individual can be outlined in your will, and ought to be someone who you trust deeply and can rely on to follow any wishes you might have expressed with regards to how you want these social media accounts to be managed when you are no longer controlling them yourself.
It’s not just the younger generation who have as many digital assets as they do tangible ones nowadays. According to the Office for National Statistics, more than half of the people in Britain over the age of 55 use the internet for social networking and internet banking.
The world is steadily becoming cashless too, with most money tied up in online banking. As many as 43% of over 55’s are using the web to make online purchases (via the likes of PayPal).
Elsewhere, treasured images and videos are increasingly shared among loved ones across the web rather than in the form of Polaroid pictures or video tapes.
In order to preserve your online assets so they can be passed on without hassle, make the effort to create hard copies. Transfer your online photos to a compact disk or memory stick, and download any movies/music/videos in the same way. Remember to write these physical copies down in your will.
The prospect of items holding sentimental value vanishing into cyberspace is a foreboding one, but a closer look reveals that money can also go missing in big wide digital world.
A McAfee survey from 2011 revealed that the average person in America owned an astonishing $37,000 in unprotected digital assets, and given the huge rise in internet users since this period, it is likely all your virtual belongings could be worth a lot of money for your loved ones.
These assets can be put to far greater use in the hands of your inheritors and loved ones rather than the government. Explore all the money you have floating around on the web, and make sure you list the accounts in your will so that your inheritors can benefit from these finances when you pass away.
Anybody who uses the internet will have built themselves a digital legacy: which means that pretty much everyone will have some virtual assets left behind when their time comes to an end. It’s up to you to make sure your digital legacy is handled carefully and considerately when you pass away, and you can ensure absolutely everything is taken care of simply by taking a few moments to look at your online activity and transferring this information to the pages of your will.
The sooner, the better.
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