Digital is now an integral part of daily life for so many of us, but are we planning what happens to our digital footprint – such as email accounts, social media accounts, photos, videos and other online services – when we die? Will digital memories be safely preserved and protected?
Earlier this year, STEP, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, launched its campaign to “Protect digital memories for future generations”. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the need to plan for digital assets, just as we would plan for what happens to other property such as our homes.
This guide discusses digital assets as a part of estate planning, with some useful guidance on getting started with the main social channels.
Making digital assets an essential part of estate planning
According to STEP’s 2021 report ‘Digital Assets: A Call to Action’, many people don’t know what will happen to their digital assets after their die. In STEP’s commissioned YouGov poll of 2000 people in the UK, 64% of respondents agreed that what happens to their digital footprint is either important or very important, but 57% had not made any plans for this eventuality at all.
Findings from STEP’s report included:
- 25% of estate practitioners stated that their clients had encountered difficulties in accessing or transferring digital assets following a death or incapacity of someone close to them
- Almost half of the report’s respondents were unprepared to be able to support clients with management of digital assets
- 80% of estate practitioners questioned had not used pre-planning tools created by digital providers; in fact, over 40% had not heard of them!
Providing for digital assets as part of estate planning gives comfort to a client that their digital property is accessible and secured by people they trust.
It’s clear that there’s a great need for all of us, and particularly estate planning professionals, to become more aware of digital footprints, considering digital property during estate planning and advising clients to take steps to protect valuable assets.
Practical steps to consider in protecting digital property
There are key steps everyone should take when planning for the future:
- Access, use and update legacy settings on platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Apple
- Tell family, friends or another trusted person what you want to happen to your digital assets if you die or become incapacitated
- Make sure financial and digital property is protected and managed by a trusted person
STEP’s digital memories website encourages members to share its video, spreading the word and educating others on the importance of protecting digital property.
Accessing & using social media legacy settings
Those planning estates and preparing Wills, or those who are bereaved and dealing with the deceased’s property, can make a start on protecting their social media footprint by following some of our pointers.
Alternatively, clients may wish to leave login details and passwords with their Will and other documentation, but these must of course be stored securely.
Users can assign a trusted contact in their Facebook app to look after their account in the event of death or incapacity.
- On a phone, open the Facebook app and click on the Account menu. This is most likely placed along the bottom of the screen, appearing as the user’s profile image and 3 lines.
- Click on ‘Settings & Privacy’, then ‘Settings’, then ‘Personal Information’.
- Click ‘Manage Account’, then ‘Legacy Contact’ to enter memorialisation settings.
- Users then click ‘Choose Legacy Contact’ and follow the steps to choose who will manage their Facebook account in the event of death. Alternatively, a user can choose for their Facebook account to be permanently deleted.
- Users may also want to grant their Legacy Contact permission to download Facebook data to preserve photos, videos and other memories. To do this, click ‘Data Archive Permission’ and ‘Yes, allow’. Then remember to save the new settings.
LinkedIn allows those who are appointed and authorised to act on behalf of a deceased member to request that an account is memorialised or closed.
- A request must be submitted to LinkedIn with information including:
- The deceased member’s full name
- A link to their LinkedIn profile
- Details of the applicant’s relationship to them
- The member’s email address
- The date they died
- A copy of the Death Certificate
- A copy of the document(s) appointing the applicant to act on their behalf
- Submit your request and documentation here
Similar to LinkedIn, Twitter allows those authorised to act on behalf of a deceased or incapacitated account holder, or an immediate family member, to request that a Twitter account is deactivated.
- An initial request and details must be submitted here
- Twitter will work with the applicant to deactivate the account once a request is received.
What’s needed from our digital platform providers to create better digital legacies?
The major networks still have work to do in the field of legacy accounts.
STEP’s campaign highlights a need for the implementation of comprehensive legacy tools within popular apps, giving users complete control and flexibility over what happens to their digital footprint after their death.
Whilst Facebook gives users some legacy controls over their accounts, LinkedIn and Twitter are still reliant on those managing the estate of a deceased person to submit information and await permissions in order to properly deal with digital data.
As the digital world is ever-changing, continually growing, and stretches globally far beyond just the UK, there is a great need for standards of best practice to be established and for simple-to-use systems to be implemented by tech companies that give users freedom and control over their digital assets whatever the future holds.
This article has been prepared by Adroit Legal Services and is not intended to constitute legal advice.
Trusted legal support for your people by Adroit Legal Services
Established in 2015, Adroit connects our clients’ people and customer base to quality-assured, affordable and accessible legal services from trusted and experienced experts.
Legal specialists throughout the UK are tried and tested, delivering honest advice at every stage of life to protect people’s interests, family and wellbeing.
Adroit’s panel of advisors offers a free initial consultation and discounted rates to make legal services accessible to everyone that’s important to a client organisation.
Contact Adroit Legal Services to find out how we help our clients to protect their peoples’ wellbeing with access to quality-assured, great value legal services through tailored employee benefits packages.