Digital immortality – what happens to my Facebook page when I die? - The Law House Family Law Solicitors, London & Peterborough


Digital immortality – what happens to my Facebook page when I die?

By in Wills, Trusts & Probate Category on June 7th, 2017

EilishEternally yours means so much more. To say we are wedded to technology and all that it can provide is an understatement. It seems we are inseparable from our phones and the media we can access.

At a networking event a week ago and I was approached by printer, a  local chamber of commerce member. As a printer he just did not understand why I didn’t want a paper diary. It just didn’t “sync” with my phone or desktop.

What is a digital asset?

So much of our lives are now and forever digitally recorded. There really isn’t any clear definition of what constitutes a “digital asset” in the UK. However it can mean any information personal or otherwise that exists in digital form. This can be either online or on a storage device such as a memory stick. Our personal digital assets include blogs, digital photos, online bank accounts and Bitcoins. It also includes, e-books, media players such as iTunes, online gaming accounts, and social media profiles. We can also have professional profiles such as LinkedIn and accounts linked to our profession.

Are we really that addicted to digital media?

Think about it. If you live in  London and use the underground daily, have you noticed that it is quieter that it used to be. Earphones and headphones shut the world out. It is hard to walk down the high street without bumping into someone texting. Look at any group of people in a tourist setting. Is it me or does everyone look they are preying with the heads bowed in reverence to the gods of technology… Its not even safe at the dinner table!!

The way to really test this out is to have a technology free day. Deny yourself  access to your mobile phone, laptop and remote control. Go cold turkey and see how long you last!!

OK, but what about when I am dead, what then?

In the same way that you would make provisions for tangible assets such as your house and expensive pieces of jewellery when you die, making provisions for your digital assets is a modern day issue. Some of your assets may have financial value, such as PayPal/bank accounts and bitcoins, and others may have sentimental value, such as photos or emails, and you may wish to pass these down to loved ones on your death. You may also want to pass on the passwords for any devices you own such the as the code to unlock your iPad.

Social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can either be frozen. They can also be turned into an online memorial for friends and family, or taken offline. For instance, Facebook have a “Legacy Contract” feature so you can nominate someone to have access to your account upon death allowing friends and loved ones to leave messages and view photos.

Some assets are not owned by the individual and are merely licences to use a website’s services. These, in general, are specific to an individual, are not transferable and will terminate on death. An example is an individual’s iTunes account, which is not transferable upon death and the account is not ‘owned’ by the deceased. In 2012, it was widely reported that Bruce Willis was going to great lengths to make sure his iTunes digital music collection could be passed on to his daughters. The story was later denied but it still raised important questions about how people’s digital assets fit into their estate.

We have been urging individuals to leave instructions in relation to  their digital assets on death. They detailed that having a list of online assets would make it easier for family members to piece together the deceased’s digital legacy and adhere to their wishes. Despite the fact that there is a lot of guidance out there online more than 50% of us, or should I say our families, will not be able to access our digital accounts because we will not have left any arrangements about what should happen.

The advice is often to leave a list of accounts with their respective passwords and update regularly. Sounds great but in my working life I use many online applications. Some of them will never ask for a password change and some will ask me to change my password every month. Honestly, it wears me out. Updating my list of accounts and passwords is not top of my agenda.

This area of law is new. How your digital assets will be dealt with on your death is still illdefined. Here are some suggestions that might shed some light on how to protect your digital existence.

  1. Make a list of all your digital assets so that, on your death, the person dealing with your estate can locate them. You have to be explicit unless it is written down no one will know. Keep a copy with your Will. Set a calendar reminder for twice to update your list.
  1. Store the details of your digital assets in a safe place. Make sure whoever is dealing with your assets is able to access them. There is, of course, the issue of how to deal with passwords. This could be listed in your Will or a separate list kept with your Will ;
  2. Appoint someone you trust to deal with these assets on your death. Make sure they know what you want them to do.  Will it be clear which assets they should keep and which they should destroy;
  3. If you are able to memorialise your account after death, let your executors know your wishes and any particular message that you would like to leave to friends or followers; and
  4. Update your Will (or if you don’t have a Will then make one) to include your digital assets.

If you would like to discuss your digital afterlife and make a Will please contact me Eilish Adams on 020 3150 2525 or email me at eadams@thelawhouse.com