In the pre-internet day, death was a relatively simple affair. The belongings of the deceased would be sorted through, boxed up, and divided among family and friends to act as a tangible reminder of a life. A will, often called a “Last Will and Testament“, is a legal document that allows a person to give instructions on what to do with their possessions once they pass away. It is also used so that people can declare a legal guardian for their children in the event of their death.
However, what happens to your digital assets and online presence when the inevitable happens? Suddenly finding all the accounts and passwords for business and personal accounts becomes a real challenge. A digital will allows you to manage the fate of your online presence and assets in one document, without having to make arrangements with each site individually as not all sites allow you to do this. Your website names, website addresses, usernames, passwords, and any other relevant information like security questions and answers will be stored in one place ensuring your family have everything they need when the time comes.
Do I need a digital will?
We all arguably need a digital will. Nowadays, so many of us manage our lives online with innumerable online accounts, that soon we will all need digital wills. There’s so much that we do and store online. Check out the list below and see how many apply to you.
- PIN or passwords for your computer, tablets and smartphones
- Voicemail passwords
- Bank PINs and account numbers
- Loyalty cards, membership numbers, and gift cards
- Medical IDs and insurance numbers
- Wi-Fi passcodes
- Social Media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc
- Web based photo libraries
- Shopping/payment accounts such as eBay, PayPal, Amazon
- Recurring subscriptions and payment cards they’re charged to
- Copyrighted materials, trademarks, etc
- Information or data that is stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, or on a physical device
The list goes on. Many people do not make plans for their digital presence or digital assets which means their loved ones will struggle to make sense of it all. In some situations they will need to save, transfer, cancel or close accounts, and even though you may not care about some accounts, it may mean a lot to them to be able to access information such as online photo storage.
How can I make a digital will?
Arranging a digital will is essential. It may take a little while to prepare but once it’s set up it will be easy to manage and maintain moving forward. You’ll need to create you digital will and assign your digital assets to your friends and family. Once the inevitable happens, and your demise is certified, your digital assets will be sent to those that you have pre-chosen, be that family, friends or a solicitor.
There are companies that allow you manage all your passwords and online information in one, secure place. With some you can also store notes for other types of important information, make your last wishes known and even attach documents, photos and leave messages for your loved ones.
Some sites that can organise this for you are:
- Pickled Assets – a Cloud based solution to create your Digital Will, it’s simple, safe & secure
- After Note – Digital wills, messages to loved ones, funeral wishes.
- BoxTomorrow – Leave pictures, files, documents and passwords to the people you will choose. Everything is secure, and your privacy is respected
Difficulties to overcome
There are a few obstacles to bear in mind when it comes to digital wills.
Make sure you include all the information needed and that all passwords are listed. Without them, online accounts cannot be accessed.
When using an online site to create your will, make sure it uses encryption which converts information or data into a code, this will keep your online will safe and secure.
Be sure it’s noted if any accounts need two-factor authentication, and detail how to log in.
Remember that to access the information in the digital will, your family members will need to show proof of a death certificate to online networks and digital executors.
Digital wills may also go against the terms of service agreements that many websites have. For instance, if in their terms it says they cancel on death you may not be able to transfers accounts another individual.
Considerations in activating digital heirs
Some websites such as Google, Facebook and Instagram provide the ability to activate a digital heir. This allows your trusted contact to carry out your final wishes. Make sure you record in your digital will where you have used these features.
In Google there is an Inactive Account Manager feature that lets you pick up to 10 trusted contacts who will be notified if your account goes inactive and will be given access to your data (with your permission). Facebook and Instagram allow you to select someone so they can memorialize your page.
Be aware, many web services do not offer an automated process for handling accounts after death, so accessibility to your passwords by digital heirs through a digital will is really important.
Do not include your passwords or other digital asset access information in your Last Will and Testament. The reason being, your will becomes a public document once you’ve passed away meaning anyone can read the sensitive information it may contain. In your will simply refer to an outside document which contains all the necessary information needed to settle your digital estate. Then you will be able to maintain your digital will, update it and add to it without having to formally change your will or put your digital assets at risk.
And remember, in the UK, only a Last Will and Testament on paper, signed in ink by appropriate witnesses will be legally recognised. Although your “digital will” could contain information where your Last Will and Testament can be found, it cannot be used instead and a digital will may not stand up in a court of law.