Digital Will

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Urban Times July 2013.
Our resident entrepreneurial expert Stephen Fear lays out his tips for sustaining your online legacy with a digital Will. As we move our lives into a digital arena, where privacy and passwords are king, ensure you allow your loved ones access once you are gone.

Preserving Our Digital Memory With A Will


Many people do not make a Will, and like my Grandfather die intestate, with most, if not all of their possessions going to either the State or people that were never intended to receive them.

In my opinion making a Last Will and Testament is essential and worth paying a solicitor for, especially if you have assets such as property or shares to worry about. However most people forget that we live in a digital age, and therefore it is also prudent to protect our digital possessions such as family photographs, music and personal email addresses.

Every second nearly an hour of video is uploaded to YouTube and every day over 200 million Tweets are sent from Twitter. These figures rise exponentially every second of every day with Facebook alone receiving over 7.5 billion photographs a month.

The big question therefore is what happens to all your digital content when you die?

It is essential that you make a digital Will to sit alongside your physical one to protect your online legacy should the unthinkable happen.

Research shows that we have almost 30 internet accounts each, including shopping, email, social media and Skype.

Many if not most people probably believe that their digital property belongs to them and will be very surprised to find out that it doesn’t. Currently the legal position is that an individual doesn’t own the digital content and merely has a licence to use it. Effectively this means that your access to all those music collections, e-books and movies cannot be legally transferred and therefore cannot be passed on.

The law is struggling to come to terms with what is a fast-moving arena where, from a legal standpoint, nothing is clear cut. Do not think that all your digital suppliers will cooperate with your executers because they may not. Many companies including Facebook and Google have refused access in the past citing client confidentiality. Courts will often rule in favour of the deceased but only after a lengthy process.

My tip on this is to create a digital Will to sit alongside your physical one as already mentioned after first making a list of all your passwords, accounts and usernames. Keep it in a secure place at home or in the office and tell your executers where to find it. Also give a copy to your solicitor so that he can inform your heirs of the information to access online bank accounts and such like.

Deciding what you want done with your assets after your death is an important matter, and should be taken seriously. This includes your digital estate.

Here are a few more tips which might help.

Make a digital inventory and begin by listing all your online assets particularly bank account details but don’t forget shopping accounts such as PayPal and EBay and make sure you cover social media profiles, blogs etc.Store your passwords somewhere safe and give a copy to your solicitor.

Make a digital Will. Decide exactly what you want to do and make sure that you appoint at least one of your executers with some technical ability with regard to the internet. If you are elderly you might want to consider asking a teenage grandchild to act as an executer because most teenagers have grown up with the internet and are often more savvy than older people. Worth a thought anyway and might make a young person’s day to be asked.

Often the treasures we hold on the internet are not financially valuable but may be personally priceless, and include photographs of loved ones past and present. Personal letters and email exchanges mean little to a stranger but may mean a lot to those you leave behind so make sure they are accessible.

Life moves quickly, and unless you take action today it may be too late, so my advice is to do something about making a digital Will sooner rather than later.

I am not a lawyer so it is essential you instruct one and take detailed legal advice before acting on any of my suggestions, which are born of common sense rather than legal training.

Laws in different countries vary so investigate everything thoroughly before, and not after, you make important decisions. I am pretty sure most of the above applies to the majority of English speaking nations where the law is based on its British equivalent. However to be sure consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction.

Here are a few facts to make you think…

Families often find it very upsetting clearing up a loved one’s online social life, especially if the companies involved won’t cooperate.

Court orders are often needed to gain access where passwords and usernames are not known causing long delays in settling an estate.

Facebook processes in excess of 7.5 billion photos every month.

Makes you think doesn’t it? Don’t think too long though, do something about listing those passwords now.

Original article for the Urban Times July 2013.

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