Have you considered your digital afterlife? As people increasingly live their lives online, we are beginning to witness the consequences of a digital legacy on death.

Social media is an ever expanding digital forum. There are currently over 400 million active Facebook users, and countless other sites such as Twitter, Flickr and LinkedIn continue to grow in popularity. These sites provide the user with the opportunity to store and accumulate valued personal information and records (including photographs). However, little thought has been given to specifying what should happen to these digital assets once they have logged off for good, and this can cause problems for those left behind.

During a person’s lifetime, personal information held by such networking sites should be protected by our data protection laws. Yet those laws only apply during a person’s lifetime. Therefore, on death that information should be capable of being revealed to a deceased’s executor. However, there currently is no uniform approach among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as to how relatives/executors of the deceased should access such personal information.

As many of these ISPs are based outside of the UK, jurisdiction issues may explain the lack of common policy among providers. On the face of it, under domestic copyright law, writings and photos posted on such sites should form part of the deceased’s estate. However, where that ISP is based outside of the United Kingdom, without clear global regulation on the issue, accessing those files can become a problem for those administering the deceased’s estate.

While larger social media exponents are slowly coming to grips with this issue (Facebook currently provides the option of memorialising a profile on receipt of proof of death and authority to act), a significant number of ISPs are lacking clear polices in this area and executors/administrators of a deceased’s estate can often find themselves denied access if they are unable to notify the ISP of the exact terms of the account. Most ISPs will require service of a death certificate at the very least. Many ISPs are still approaching these issues on a case by case issue which can be a headache for the executors.

Various online third party providers have sought to offer a solution to these problems by providing digital deposits for individuals to upload their passwords and other personal data that will provide assistance to their executors/administrators in wrapping up their virtual lives on death. However, in the current climate of online identity fraud, you would be forgiven for worrying about the security of such prime targets for the online hacking community. For the moment, early consideration of these issues and a well drafted Will may well be the best solution to the problem of how you deal with your online presence on death.