Charting the unexplored territories of our online existence, this guide delves into the intricacies of safeguarding your digital legacy in the UK.

Imagine for a moment you’re flicking through your photo gallery, laughing at memories from holidays, family events, and candid selfies. Or perhaps you’re reminiscing about that time you decided to dip your toes into the world of cryptocurrency. All these digital memories and investments, from your emails to your tweets and even the Bitcoin you bought a few years back, make up your digital legacy. But have you ever paused to think, “What happens to all this when I’m no longer around?”

We wrote about this a few years ago, you can read the article on ‘Digital Estate Planning‘ here. So we thought we’d add an update as the issues surrounding digital estate planning are evolving, but people do not seem to have fully grasped the consequences as yet.  Also, you’ll be surprised just how much control social media companies have over what you believe you own online.

Understanding Our Digital Possessions

These days, it’s not just about the tangible things we leave behind. Your digital footprint, vast and varied, is just as important. There’s likely a mix of personal moments, like those photos on Google Drive, and financial investments, like online bank accounts or even accumulated loyalty points from your online shopping sprees. And let’s not forget about those social media profiles, where you’ve documented snippets of your life, connected with old friends, and perhaps even made new ones.

Think about those unpublished manuscripts on Dropbox, the blog created during the first lockdown, or even those loyalty points you’ve been accumulating from all your online shopping. Ever paused to think of their value?

Example: Digital Manuscripts and Publishing Rights

Story: A budding author was in the process of writing a potential best-seller on her cloud storage. After her sudden passing, her family wanted to publish it posthumously. The issue arose when the cloud service provider’s terms of service did not easily permit access to her account.

Takeaway: Creative work in digital format is an asset. Ensuring heirs have both access and rights to such assets is crucial.

The Tricky Bit: Law and the Digital World

A digital legacyHere’s where things get a tad murky. Remember all those terms and conditions you agreed to without giving a second thought? Often, they come with a catch. For instance, while you might consider your Facebook account yours, in the eyes of the platform, it’s more of a borrowed space. You’ve been granted a ‘licence’ to use it but not own it in the traditional sense. This means leaving your Facebook memories to someone in your will isn’t as straightforward as bequeathing your favourite watch.

Moreover, many of these platforms aren’t based in the UK. This raises questions about which country’s laws apply if there’s a dispute about your digital assets. It’s a bit like trying to figure out which set of rules apply when playing a board game internationally!

Example: Bitcoin Heirs Left in the Dark

Story: A gentleman invested in Bitcoin during its early days. Unfortunately, upon his untimely death, his family knew about his Bitcoin investments but had no idea how to access them. The substantial digital wealth remained locked away due to the absence of clear instructions.

Takeaway: Cryptocurrency, with its emphasis on security and anonymity, can become a tricky asset for heirs if they don’t have the required access information.

Example: Email Accounts Holding Vital Information

Story: In one case, a family business was significantly operated through the deceased’s personal email. When he passed away suddenly, the family had a challenging time navigating client relationships and business deals because they couldn’t easily access vital emails.

Takeaway: Important business communications or instructions stored in personal digital spaces should be organised and accessible to relevant heirs.

Making Sure Your Digital Legacy Lives On

So, where does one start? First things first, take some time to think about everything you have online. It might be helpful to make a cup of tea, sit down, and list out your most significant digital assets. Next, when you’re updating your will – and it’s a chat everyone should have, even if it’s a little uncomfortable – mention these digital assets to your solicitor. They can guide you on the best steps to ensure your digital world is taken care of.

It’s also worth considering appointing someone you trust and who’s pretty tech-savvy to look after these assets. Think of them as the guardian of your digital realm. They’ll be in charge of managing or even shutting down accounts, ensuring your wishes are followed. It’s a responsibility, sure, but it’s also an honour.

Example: The Facebook Memorialisation Dilemma

Story: A few years ago, a grieving mother wanted to access her late son’s Facebook account to cherish his memories. However, she faced several hurdles, as Facebook’s policy doesn’t readily allow for account access, even to next of kin. Instead, they offer to ‘memorialise’ accounts of the deceased.

Takeaway: While Facebook’s intentions are to respect privacy, it underscores the need for clear directives about digital assets in one’s will.

Thankfully, some platforms are starting to recognize the importance of this issue. Google, for example, has a feature where you can determine what happens to your data if your account hasn’t been active for a while. It’s worth exploring and setting up.

Embracing Our Multifaceted Legacy

In a world where our online and offline lives are beautifully intertwined, it’s pivotal to ensure every piece of our existence – tangible or digital – is cherished, remembered, and handled with care. The stories we’ve shared, whether told through photos, blogs, or even digital currencies, underline the complexities of safeguarding our digital legacies.

Now, as we navigate these uncharted waters, having a compass is invaluable. This is where the expertise of a seasoned solicitor comes into play. Crafting a will isn’t just about dividing physical assets anymore; it’s about ensuring your digital life, with all its nuances and intricacies, is equally addressed.

Choosing a solicitor, like those at Foys Solicitors, who are adept at understanding these evolving challenges, is imperative. Their experience ensures that every tweet, every blog post, every Bitcoin is accounted for, honouring your wishes and bringing peace of mind to your loved ones.

So, as you reflect on the vast digital tapestry you’ve woven, take that crucial step of seeking guidance on creating a will with digital assets. Because, in today’s digital age, your legacy deserves nothing less than a well-informed, holistic approach.