The subject of "digital wills" has come into focus recently, particularly due to reports surrounding Bruce Willis and his wish to leave his iTunes account to his children when he dies. Whether or not these reports are true, they bring the issue of digital property and what happens to it on an individual’s death sharply into view.
Death in the digital era
Facebook has estimated that more than 1.5 million of its users will die within the next year. This alone shows the wealth of information which will be left in limbo when an individual passes away. Website policies vary in relation to the ability of left behind loved ones to access the accounts of the deceased and often relate to the level of access available to such information during a person’s life. For example, email providers such as yahoo and gmail have very strict policies in relation to access. Due to the private nature of a user’s email account, it can be very difficult for a surviving relative to gain access after an individual’s death. Although there have been no publicised cases of this in the UK, in the US it has been necessary for some families to litigate in order to be allowed access. Access such as this also raises concerns in relation to privacy and data protection, not in relation to the deceased (as data protection only applies to the living) but in relation to other people who may be affected by access to such an email account. Websites such as facebook and twitter have a more lenient policy. As long as death can be proven, the deceased’s facebook or twitter account can be deleted or memorialised by a family member.
A digital will
In order to deal with the issues outlined above, it may be sensible for individuals who consider that they have a lot of digital possessions, or even a number of online accounts, to set up a digital will. Although it may sound easy this is not always the case as people may have thousands of pounds worth of digitally stored items but if relatives don’t know where these are stored they have no way of getting to them. A digital will can be set up in conjunction with a standard will, or as a separate document, could appoint an executor to deal with digital possessions on the death of an individual and could also include usernames and passwords where relevant. It is the case, however, that passwords often expire (though hopefully not at the same time as their owners) and as such, keeping an up to date list of such access information is important.
Lock in your legacy
As ever, there are websites who have cashed in on this already. Apps such as ‘IFuneral’ allow an individual to organise all aspects of their death before it happens and websites such as Legacy Locker and Deathswitch allow users to store information such as passwords (for a fee of course) in order that appointed people can access these after that individuals death. In summary, as morbid as it may be, organising your digital death could be one of the most important things you do in life!