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Our guide to leaving a digital legacy

Your Money
Friday 11 January 2019
We spend so much of our lives online these days. In the UK, people are, on average, online for more than a whole day in every week*.

It’s easy to forget how engaged we are with the digital word, be that surfing the web, chatting on social media, shopping or managing finances. And despite how big a part of our lives it’s become, very few have thought about the implications this might have on their Will or estate.

After you’ve gone, everything you have online could be lost forever. Unless you’ve made the right provision.


Passwords are the bane of many people’s lives. Well-worn combinations of mothers’ maiden names and dates of birth are rarely enough these days.

This leaves you with a bizarre concoction of letters, numbers and symbols, often jumbled together in some kind of character melting pot known only to you.

And for security’s sake, that’s the way it should be.

From accessing your emails to your preferred shopping sites, dealing with utilities, entertainment providers and much, much more, passwords are a privacy essential.  

However, should you then pass away without plans for your digital legacy in place, all of your online accounts – from banking to photo-sharing – could become hard or even impossible for your beneficiaries to access.

Whether that’s a significant sum in an online account or a much-loved video of the family cat dangling from the Christmas tree, it’s all stuff you don’t want to be lost.

But you can protect yourself.

There are several sites that allow you to securely store all of your passwords online. Take LastPass, which is acclaimed as one of the best*2.. It lets you import all your saved login details into an encrypted database from nearly any web browser.

You then only have to remember your master password.

The site also does a few other things for you, too. It will monitor your credit footprint, allow for multiple identities if you have separate accounts in your household and even provide an auto-fill feature, streamlining any shopping experience. All for free.

And because LastPass uses the cloud to store your information, you’re not tied to accessing your account solely from your home PC, laptop or phone.

Although, if you’re not comfortable storing your information online, Microsoft Excel provides something similar.
You can password protect any Excel spreadsheet, creating a more secure document to store personal or sensitive information in. Here is a guide on how to do so.

Social Media

Facebook, for example, allows you to set up a Legacy Contact in its settings. This is someone who can access certain areas, not all, of your account after your death.

They can post out a last statement on your behalf and let friends know if there will be a memorial service, but they won’t be able to take over your personal communications. So, they won’t be able to see private messages or delete friends.

It’s a way to help you be remembered while leaving your legacy intact.

Most popular social media platforms have ways to make sure you’re not forgotten online. The majority, however, require someone to take them over.

This is where your Will comes in.

Unless you specify what you want to happen to your accounts, or make provisions that your passwords will be passed on, the account’s inactivity will likely mean it’s closed down.

Take Twitter, for example. If you don’t log in at least once over a six-month period, the account will be suspended or permanently closed.

But the web is much more than social media.

Online money

It’s worth having a list, either on or offline, of all your online financial accounts – such as bank accounts, ISAs, even accounts with online bookmakers. And make sure that accessing this information is possible, through a clause in your Will, so the executors know who to contact after you’ve passed away. Just make sure you store it securely.

But with accounts solely stored online, such as PayPal, you will have to make provisions.

Until you withdraw your funds from PayPal, for example, any balance is still electronic. And if your account becomes dormant, all remaining money stored in it will be transferred to the Treasury of Luxembourg*3.

It’s unlikely that’s what you had your eBay income earmarked for. PayPal, however does make it pretty easy for executors to close your account if requested to do so.

Put very simply, it’s crucial to keep a note of all your accounts and make sure you have appropriate provisions in place for a trusted person or people to access them in your Will. Or you could risk losing what might be a very valuable part of your estate. 

What else do I need to do?

If you have specific ideas as to how you would like your digital property to be treated, or who you want to be in charge of it, make sure it’s in your Will.

Although, it’s important to know that not everything online that’s yours is also yours to pass on.

Ever downloaded an album from iTunes? Well, it comes with only a lifetime licence. When that lifetime ends, it can’t be passed on like your CDs or records can*4.

However, this isn’t the case with every digital download. Some software, book, music and video providers do let you pass their products on. If this is something that concerns you, it’s important to check each provider’s terms.

If you’re confused about your Will, want a free-of-charge professional appraisal or simply want to guarantee that your cat’s festive stunt video is passed down the generations, you can download our free brochure here.

Alternatively, request a personal call from one of our team of experts by filling out this form.

Remember, good advice is Key. 
* https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/01/decade-smartphones-now-spend-entire-day-every-week-online/
*2 https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-password-managers/
*3 https://www.boodlehatfield.com/the-firm/articles/digital-legacies/
*4 https://www.marketwatch.com/story/who-will-get-your-itunes-when-you-die-2016-08-17
Page last updated: Monday 07 December 2020