Digital legacy

So far the development of technology is ahead of law and policy in the area of digital media. Many of us use computers that need a password to log in, and then also use websites that need a password to allow access. Even those of us that do not use the internet for banking or paying utility bills probably have an email account, use at least one social media site and often shop on-line.

One of the most precious resources for family and friends after someone dies are photographs. Some people save these to their hard drive or to specific digital storage devices but if the photos are stored remotely, these may not be accessible to loved ones after we have died. If someone has created a computer game character this may have monetary value and could be sold as part of managing the estate.

Other important sites that may be relevant to the financial aspects of managing the estate are eBay, PayPal and on-line gambling and bingo sites.

The Law Society recommends keeping a Personal Assets Log which should include a list of all your digital assets.

This should be a list of all your account details including the email address or phone number to which the account is linked. However the Law Society warns that an executor using a password or PIN to access an account after a death may be guilty of a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act which was passed in 1990. This is the same as an executor not being able to access a bank account of the deceased even if they have knowledge of the password. In some cases it is against the Terms and Conditions of an account to give a password to someone else.

Some websites have very clear instructions about their procedures for notifying the company of the death of their customer. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find this information on other sites and it is often hidden in the very small print of the Terms and Conditions if present at all. Because many of the provider companies are based in the USA where laws around data protection may vary between different states, many of the companies will close an account but not disclose any content of any kind to immediate next of kin or an executor for any reason. If a social media account has unique material contained in it, this will be permanently lost.

Contact details about some of the more commonly used email and social media sites in the UK.

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