Digital legacy: how to organise your online life for after you die

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Making a will enables you to set out what will happen to your money, possessions and property when you die but, in the online era, it’s also important to consider your digital estate. This means everything from PayPal accounts to social media and photos stored in the cloud that may hold financial or sentimental value. Poppy Mardall, founder of the funeral director Poppy’s, says: “Your digital legacy consists of online accounts, precious videos and anything in between that isn’t physically stored. But many people don’t even consider their digital assets, which can make things tricky for family and friends dealing with their estate.” According to the wealth management firm St James’s Place, almost three-quarters of Britons with a will (71%) don’t make any reference to their digital life. But while a document detailing your digital wishes isn’t legally binding like a traditional will, it can be invaluable for loved ones. Draw up an inventory Start by writing a list that includes your online accounts’ basic details, including the name of the account, website, and your username or account ID. You can find a list of the most common types in the digital wishes pack on the SunLife website – things such as email accounts, subscription services, blogs, store, credit and currency cards. Think about whether you have anything of value, such as music or creative work stored on a computer or hard drive. Check the terms and conditions of any accounts and services that you use to see what you can do to pass on, preserve or delete them after you have gone. This includes any copyright licences, for example. Appoint a ‘digital executor’ You can appoint a digital executor in your will, who will be responsible for closing, memorialising or managing your accounts, along with sharing or deleting digital assets such as photos and videos. You could include a list of your digital accounts and what you would like done with these in a “letter of wishes” to be stored alongside your will. Ian Dibb, founder of the cloud-based life-planning platform Keylu, says: “We recommend that your executors are also named as your digital executors, and they’ll ideally include someone who is relatively tech-savvy. “You can signpost these individuals to where your accounts are held, so they are aware of their existence and can contact the organisation when you’re no longer around.” Social media accounts Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow you to add a legacy contact who can manage your account when you die. You may want it simply deleted, or “memorialised”, which means the word “remembering” will be placed next to your name. Instagram has memorialising and deletion features. Apple allows you to name one or more people as legacy contacts, who are able to access your account after your death. In this case, your chosen contact is able to request access using the access key generated when you added them as a legacy contact and your death certificate. They will then have three years to view photos, messages and any other information and to decide what happens to them. Google has a feature that confirms when an account should be considered inactive (between three and 18 months), after which up to 10 people may be notified and receive your messages and emails. You can create a free MyWishes account and make use of the downloadable “social media will” to document what you want to happen. It is worth backing up cherished photos or videos on a hard drive and telling one of your executors where this is located. Keep passwords safe You shouldn’t put your passwords in your digital wishes letter. “The person who will be responsible for managing your digital wishes needs to contact each account separately to ask for it to be closed or memorialised,” Mardall says. James Norris, founder of MyWishes and the Digital Legacy Association, says: “In some circumstances, using a shared password manager can be useful, but these are also prone to cyber-attacks. “Each online account service has its own terms of service, and some provide ways to grant access without the need to share passwords.” If you own digital assets, such as cryptocurrency, you could use Pamela Morgan’s Letter to Loved Ones as a template for instructions to give access to your executors, rather than hand over passwords. Storing your wishes There are plenty of online storage providers such as Biscuit Tin and MyWishes that offer a secure online vault for documents such as wills and your digital wishes. Some services are free, but you may pay a fee for some options, so consider which is best for you. For example, Keylu charges £49 a year for a secure online place to store and manage all your personal, legal and financial information, alongside photos, and messages for your loved ones. You appoint “trusted contacts” who can access your wishes after you die. Dibb says: “The only legal copy of your will is the physical paper-based version, but this can easily be lost, damaged or misplaced. “Holding a digital copy in a Keylu account is a backup, and you can include a reference to its physical location. Alongside the copy of your will, you can keep a digital letter of wishes, which can be updated easily online when needed.”

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