What happens to all your online accounts when you die? It’s not something many of us give a lot of thought to, however, planning how you would like your online accounts and digital assets to be managed after you are gone is just as important as working out what will happen to your physical assets.
Everything from your Facebook and online banking accounts to your photos in the cloud, so much of our lives are now spread across the digital space. Leaving a clear digital legacy plan gives you peace of mind and saves your loved ones from having to deal with some tricky tasks at a difficult time.
In this guide we explore why it’s important to create a digital legacy plan and the steps you can take to prepare one.
In this article:
Why it’s important to create a digital legacy plan
It pays to plan ahead and take control of what you want to happen to your online accounts. Closing your online accounts when you die can help protect you against identity theft. It also makes it much easier for your family to manage your online accounts when they know what they are and what you want done with them.
What is a digital asset?
Digital assets can be explained as anything that you store online, including:
- online financial accounts like PayPal
- entertainment subscriptions including TV or music streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, as well as eBook subscriptions
- email and social media accounts like Gmail and Hotmail, and Facebook
- photos and videos stored in online storage accounts like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Cloud, and iCloud
- Word and/or Excel files containing important or valued information.
Using this list as a starting point, follow the steps below to create your digital legacy plan.
1.Compile a list of your online accounts
Start by creating a list of all your online accounts that you can think of. Enter the details in a spreadsheet or Word document under these suggested headings so that the information is easy to read:
- Company name
- URL or web address
- Username / email address
- Account number
You will also need to provide a password so that each account can be accessed by whoever you have nominated to carry out your digital wishes. Don’t worry if you have forgotten a password, you can normally reset it by selecting the ‘Forgotten password?’ option on the login screen for that account.
Consider using a password manager to keep your passwords protected.
A password manager stores all your passwords so that you only need to use a master password to access all your online accounts, but more on this later.
2. Decide how you want your online accounts to be handled
For each online account, add instructions on what you would like to happen to it when you pass away. For example, would you like for it to be closed? Or deleted once any valuable information is downloaded?
You may not feel comfortable providing a family member with your password or access to a particular account, however, it helps to still include the associated account details like your username and email address so that they can contact the business and close the account for you.
3. Appoint a digital executor and store your plan somewhere safe
Think of somebody you can trust to appoint as your digital executor. They will need to have the know-how to close your online accounts, download files and speak to a business if they can’t access your account. Let them know you have entrusted them to carry out your digital wishes and where they can find your digital legacy plan.
Consider how and when you would like to give your trusted family member access to your accounts. The safest option is to include the name of your digital executor and whereabouts of your digital legacy plan in your Will. If you choose not to store your plan with a solicitor, be sure to keep it somewhere safe as it contains your personal information. And if you leave it saved as a file in your PC, remember to include your PC’s login details so your digital executor can access the document.
As your Will only comes into effect when you pass away, you may also want to consider appointing enduring power of attorney to your digital executor in case you lose the ability to make decisions. The difference between a power of attorney and an enduring power of attorney is that the enduring power of attorney continues to manage your financial and legal decisions on your behalf even if you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself.
4. Update your plan on a regular basis
Passwords often need to be updated or reset, and new accounts opened, so it’s a good idea to set aside some time every couple of months or so to make sure the details in your digital legacy plan are still correct. Without the correct information, it will be extremely difficult for your digital executor to access your accounts.
It’s important to keep your personal information safe so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. If you are concerned that your financial accounts are being accessed by somebody else without your permission, this can be a sign of financial elder abuse. You can find out more about how to recognise the signs and take steps to stop it by visiting the Compass website.
How a password manager can help
With so many online accounts, it’s hard to remember all your usernames and passwords. This is where a password manager can help. Its job is to securely store all your usernames and passwords so that you only need to remember the one master password.
Your password manager can contain the login details for all your accounts like banking, social media, Wi-Fi, TV subscriptions and so on. Some of the benefits of having a password manager include:
- it enters your login details for you when you visit a website, regardless of what internet browser you are using
- generates very secure passwords that are practically impossible for others to guess
- notifies you when any of your passwords have been compromised by a security breach
- saves you having to update your digital legacy plan as all your account details are already included in the password manager
- convenient for your digital executor too, saves them having to trawl through a long list of accounts.
You can learn more about password managers in our course: Managing passwords.
What some businesses are doing to help you plan for your digital legacy
Many online businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of letting members plan for their digital afterlife. They do this by providing you with the option to control what happens to your account ahead of time.
For example, Facebook lets you appoint a legacy contact (they have to be a Facebook friend) who can delete your Facebook account on your behalf or turn it into a memorial page after you’ve passed. Alternatively, you can choose to permanently delete your account.
Google has an Inactive Account manager feature you can set up that lets you determine what happens to your Google accounts like Gmail and YouTube. You can choose when Google should consider your account to be inactive, who can access it, what they can access, or whether you would prefer to delete the account instead.
So check with the business you have a relationship with to see what options are available to you.
Tips to get organised
- When you draw up your digital legacy plan, it might also be a good time to do a spring clean of all the documents and files on your computer. Create new folders to house the important files and delete anything you no longer need.
- Take the opportunity to organise your photos so that they are all stored in the one spot, if possible. Whether that may be printed in an album or saved to the cloud or external hard drive.
- Set yourself a reminder to update your digital legacy plan with updated passwords and new accounts.
What will happen to my Facebook account if I pass away?
How to set up an Inactive Account Manager for your Gmail account
How to add a legacy contact for your AppleID
How to download your Google data
Example of a digital legacy plan template from Sunlife