Planning your digital legacy

With increasing numbers of people spending more and more time online and storing information digitally, what happens to your online presence in the result of your death?

If you haven’t planned your digital legacy, you’re not alone. The Digital Legacy Association, the professional body for digital assets and digital legacy, found that 89.92 per cent of people have no plans.

Jessica Rowbotham, assistant solicitor in Wake Smith’s private client team, looks at how identifying who can access your online accounts, photographs and documents means your wishes can be followed.

“Your digital legacy is the digital information left by you after your death. This includes a wide array of accounts and data such as photos and videos saved on smartphones, documents in cloud storage, emails, social media accounts and music stored online.

“Your digital legacy also includes any digital assets which have monetary value that you may have after your death such as a PayPal balance, bitcoin or gambling credits.

“Many people now spend a lot of time online, so planning what happens to this online presence after death is becoming increasingly important.

“You need to consider who would you like to have access to any accounts you hold? Would you like the accounts to be deleted or remain in use? Is there anything on these accounts which you would like other people to have access to?”

“Photograph storage is one of the areas that has changed most. Many people no longer have physical photographs but instead store photos on their smartphone or other devices. For many, the only person who knows the password to these devices is themselves, so on death loved ones will be unable to gain access to such photos.”

In recent times social media accounts are often used as an outlet of grief by family members.

Jessica added: “A person’s personality, thoughts and feelings can be shown in the posts they share. Looking at these social media accounts after death can be a great comfort to close friends and family, allowing them to remember the person as they were when they were alive. This would not be possible if the account were to be permanently deleted on death.

“Examples like these show the importance of ensuring your wishes for your digital legacy are considered and made known to your loved ones.”

Many online providers have their own policies to allow you to choose what happens to your digital information after your death.


Facebook has two ways your account can be managed on death: removal of the account, and memorialisation of the account. You can also choose to appoint a legacy contact who manages your memorialised account, or chooses to permanently delete your account on your death.

By memorialising your Facebook account, the word “remembering” will appear before your Facebook name.

Any legacy contact appointed by you before your death can then respond to new friend requests, change your profile picture and cover photo, and write one final post on your timeline which will be the first post anyone sees when accessing your page.

Existing friends may also be able to write posts on your wall, depending on your privacy settings. The legacy contact does not have the power to log into your account, delete past posts, remove friends or make friend requests.

They cannot read private messages or appoint a further legacy contact. Without a legacy contact, memorialised accounts cannot be changed. No further friends can be added and the profile photo and cover photo cannot be changed. Family members, however, can make a request to Facebook to permanently delete the deceased user’s account.


Google also has its own, distinct policy for dealing with your account after death. Google allows you to set up an Interactive Account Manager (IAM) through your account settings. Once set up, Google will contact the IAM if you have been inactive for a specified period of time. You can decide when your Google account should be considered inactive, and what data should be shared with your IAM. You can also decide if your Google account should be deleted once it is has been deemed inactive. On the IAM being notified of inactivity of the user, their identity will need to be verified, and then they will be able to download the data that you chose to share with them.

Jessica added: “It is important to be aware of the policies associated with the online accounts you hold to ensure your choice is known and followed on your death.

“Another recommended way of managing your digital legacy is to create and keep updated a side log of your wishes to accompany your will.

“In this you should detail the usernames and passwords to your online accounts, who you wish to have access to the accounts after death, and what you wish to be done with the account.

“We recommend that this log is kept with your will, or in a safe place known to your Executors (the people named in your will to administer your estate after your death). This log can be amended as frequently as required when passwords change and new accounts are created.

“The log will ensure the people you wish to have access to your accounts can gain access, and that they know what you wish to be done with the account.”

For further information please contact Jessica Rowbotham at or on 0114 266 6660

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