Social media and online services – what happens when you die?

15th July 2013

Much of our daily life is now online or digital. Do you keep personal assets such as photos online? Do you keep in touch via Facebook? Do you bank online, no longer receiving a paper statement? Do you have a large collection of downloaded music or e-books?

Shelly Wainwright, of Ansons Solicitors advises everyone to think carefully about how this information can be accessed when they die.

You may not know that buying music downloads for your MP3 player or material for your e-book reader is not ownership in the true sense. It is the purchase of a perpetual licence for you to play the music or use the e-book content. So, whilst you can give your CD, vinyl or book collection on your death, the content of your MP3 or e-book reader cannot be passed on in the same way.

Access to any information or media stored online, or to online service providers, will be protected by a username and password. Will the people who deal with your estate be able to access and administer your legacy easily?

Details of your online bank accounts will be essential for your executor. It is a good idea to store a copy of this information safely with your will; but bear in mind that you will need to update this record when information changes.

There is a growing number of online password storage facilities, where all you need is a note of the single access code (this should also be saved with your will). However, these providers are still relatively untested so you will need to be sure how you are protected if something goes wrong with the company.

For email and social media accounts such as Facebook, there are is no uniform set of rules for the service provider to follow on the death of a user. Accessing and managing an individual’s account up to closure can sometimes prove difficult, as legal requirements often relate to US law rather than English law. Your executors will need to navigate a number of digital service providers to close your various accounts.

With much of our finances, shopping and services and socialising being done online, it is important to think carefully about how those dealing with your estate will be able to access and deal with your digital life on your death.