Pre-planning funerals is becoming more popular in the UK as people look to take control of the events which will take place following their passing. However, in the UK, we still have some way to go to catch up with certain parts of Europe where the idea of pre-arranging a funeral is becoming the norm. At Legacy of Lives, we are proud to be able to offer the latest expertise to clients wishing to make advance funeral plans to help ease the stress involved for family members. However, one issue we rarely get asked advice on is how to plan a digital legacy. Despite our increasing reliance on storing and sharing aspects of our lives online, many people seem unaware of what happens to our online selves after we die.
What is a Digital Legacy?
A digital legacy covers everything which you have put online, including information about you and your life created in social media profiles and online conversations such as blogs or website content. It can also include content created or co-created by or with others in a newspaper, blog or on a website.
The understanding of the term ‘digital legacy’ has, according to the Digital Legacy Association, increased over recent years. However, their research shows that only 36.61% of people surveyed are familiar with what it means.
Before the internet, we used to keep our memories in photo albums and scrapbooks. Important letters and documents would be stored safely in a drawer or with a trusted organisation such as a bank or solicitor’s office. What this meant was that when we passed away, all this would be instantly accessible for those left behind to sort out.
The problem we have now is that much of our important information – our banking details and transactions, photos, social media posts, emails, contracts and even our music collections – are stored on computer hard drives, mobile phones and/or the cloud. This makes accessibility a problem if there is no digital legacy plan in place.
And nowadays, rather than place goodbye messages and obituaries in local newspapers as used to be the case, the trend now is for people to place these announcement on social media, and this has driven more of us to question what happens to our online life after we die. A YouGov survey in 2018 told us that 26% of people wish for their social media content to go to their loved ones after they pass away. 67% want their social media accounts taken offline after their death, and 7% would like them to stay online.
Problems can arise because the different social media platforms have different rules in place to deal with a deceased person’s accounts. Facebook and Instagram say they will memorialise a person’s page when their death has been reported and will remove an account on request from an immediate family member. Other platforms may well do things differently. And as always, in the fast-paced online world, rules can change rapidly.
How to Plan Your Digital Legacy
It is true that many people are happy for their online personal and family memories to remain online as a lasting memorial, but for some people, having digital reminders of their lost loved one can be upsetting. The obvious thing, then, is to take stock of your entire digital life and make plans for what is to be done with it after your death to ensure that all your digital content is responsibly taken care of.
One way to ensure this is to grant access to your devices to one or more persons who you trust. In doing this, you would, of course, need to give them all the relevant passwords to enable them to access the important files contained within. For photos, documents and videos saved in the cloud, you could download these and give a backup copy to your trusted person. A ‘social media will’, often in MS Excel format, can be downloaded and completed by you with access granted to a trusted third party to help ensure your wishes regarding your social media content are adhered to, although it must be pointed out that this is not a legally binding document.
What About Your Music or Video Collections?
Apple recently introduced something called a legacy contract which allows you to nominate one or more trusted persons who can access your Apple account after your death by way of a generated access key shared with your nominated contacts. Upon the upload of your death certificate, they will have three years to view your online content within Apple and make decisions about what to do with it. Facebook offer a similar legacy contract. Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows you to make plans for your content with them after your death. Not all platforms allow you to nominate trusted people to access your accounts, so you need to be sure of the procedures involved to allow third-party access or decide whether to transfer or delete accounts yourself.
Protect Your Digital Legacy
As this is a relatively new concept, there can be issues relating to data protection and privacy violations, along with the question of who actually owns your online life and assets. Some people now insert clauses about online assets in their wills. Despite the bigger social media and other online platforms putting in place routes for the management of your accounts by nominated third parties, it is still unclear how the law sees this and whether things could change. It could be a good idea to include your online accounts and assets in discussions with the Executor of your will to ensure your digital legacy is handled as you wish.
Digital legacy planning can be complex and time-consuming, but it is worth doing to ensure less stress and upset for those you leave behind. In the end, it is up to you to follow the advice given by The Law Society, which states that people should leave clear instructions about what should happen to their social media, computer games and other online accounts and assets after their death.
How We Can Help With Your Digital Legacy
Here at Legacy of Lives, not only can we help you plan your digital legacy, but you can save your digital legacy plan in the ‘important documents’ section of our funeral planner, so it can be found and accessed by your chosen representatives without hassle or stress after you have passed away. That way, you’ll know that your digital legacy will be as you always wanted it to be.