What is a digital legacy?
A digital legacy is any information you leave behind online after your death.
Your online accounts and everything in them are known as digital assets. They are all protected by usernames, passwords and privacy policies that only you can access.
You’ll need to leave instructions for how your social media profiles, online accounts and personal files should be taken care of.
Use this easy-to-follow guide to record your digital wishes and take control of your digital legacy.
What are digital wishes?
Digital wishes are instructions that say what should happen to your digital assets when you die.
Documenting your digital wishes now gives you a chance to say how you want your digital legacy to be handled.
For example, would you want your social media profiles to be kept online, or to be deleted? Your digital wishes are a chance for you to state your preference.
You can also say who you want to take care of your digital affairs.
To make sure your instructions are followed, your digital wishes should be added to your Will. So, if you’re yet to make a Will, now could be a good time to get that sorted.
What do Brits want their digital legacy to be?
A 2019 YouGov study shows that 7% of Brits want their social media profiles to stay online forever, while 25% want them deleted entirely, and 26% want them downloaded, taken offline and shared with family and friends. Which would you prefer?
Why record my digital wishes?
It probably won’t come as a surprise that 91% of adults in the UK were internet users in 2019, according to this report from the Office for National Statistics.
In fact, a Digital Guardian study found that, on average, people had 130 accounts linked to their email address.
That’s a lot for your loved ones to deal with when you’re gone. Recording your digital wishes could really make things easier for them, both practically and emotionally.
Other reasons you may want to record your digital wishes are:
- Protect your personal privacy
- Decide how you want to be remembered
- Share sentimental digital assets, such as photos, videos and music
- Prevent future upset for your loved ones e.g. birthday reminders
- Control who can access, save, transfer or close your accounts
How to plan your digital legacy
Step 1 – Choose a digital executor
The first step is to name your digital executor. This is the person you would like to take care of your digital assets when you die.
Your digital executor will manage your social media profiles, close or memorialise your accounts, and distribute digital assets (like photos and videos) to friends and family.
This can be a lot to take on, so make sure to ask permission before making someone your digital executor.
You can’t just give your login details to a friend. They won’t be recognised in law, so won’t have the authority to act on your behalf.
That’s why you should name your digital executor in your Will.
Make sure to give them a copy of your digital wishes, so they know what will need to be done when the time comes.
Can the executor of your Will also act as your digital executor?
It’s up to you. You can choose to appoint one executor for both roles, or you can appoint a digital executor to assist the executor of your Will.
You might want to consider naming a separate person if the executor of your Will is likely to have a lot to deal with, or lacks confidence with technology.
The digital executor doesn’t replace the executor of your Will, who is legally responsible for taking care of all your financial obligations (including property, banks accounts, debts and taxes).
What to look for in a digital executor
Your digital executor should be:
- Reliable – trusted to carry out your wishes
- Organised – able to keep on top of their responsibilities in a timely manner
- Digital-savvy – computer literate and good at managing accounts online
- Patient – able to deal with tricky and time-consuming tasks
Once you’ve chosen a digital executor, have a chat with them to make sure they’re happy to help and understand what will be expected of them.
Then follow up with a letter or email asking them to act on your behalf. It should explain the responsibilities of the role, so they can consider your request properly before committing.
You can use our digital executor letter template as a starting point.
Step 2 – List your online accounts
The more information you give your digital executor, the easier it will be to tie up your digital affairs when the time comes.
So, when planning your digital legacy, it helps to make a list of all your online accounts. Then you can leave your digital executor instructions on what to do with them.
When you’re making your list, don’t forget to include accounts you don’t use often, or ones that aren’t active any more.
To help, we’ve put together an in-depth guide on dealing with your online accounts, including social media, email and banking.
Here’s a quick summary of the most popular online accounts, and what information you’ll need to give your digital executor:
Your online accounts
To help you get started, here are some examples of popular social media, paid-for subscription services and online accounts:
- Google accounts (e.g. YouTube)
- Current account
- Savings account
- Credit cards
- Online store credit e.g. Next Directory
- Auction sites e.g. eBay
- Betting or gaming e.g. National Lottery
- Store cards/loyalty cards e.g. Tesco Clubcard, Nectar
- Investments/share dealing
- Photo sharing e.g. Flickr
- Music e.g. iTunes, Spotify
- File storage e.g. Dropbox, iCloud
- Personal blog or website
- Online dating
- Entertainment e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.
Information to give your digital executor
The more information you can give your digital executor for each account, the better. For example:
- Name of the account e.g. Facebook
- Web address and/or link to the account/social media profile
- Username, account name or ID number
- Email address associated with the account
- The digital assets associated with the account – e.g. photos, videos, documents
Read our full guide on what to do with your online accounts here.
Don’t include your passwords in your list. Your digital executor won’t need them to deal with your digital assets. Instead, they’ll need to contact each account service (e.g. Facebook, Spotify, your bank) and ask for it to be closed or memorialised.
Step 3 – Document your digital wishes
Your digital wishes should contain a list of all your online accounts, with clear instructions on how you’d like them to be dealt with when you die.
What to include in your digital wishes
Here’s the most essential information to include:
- Your digital executor — their name, contact details and responsibilities
- A list of your social media profiles and online accounts — web address, username, account number (where applicable), and the email address for each account
- Your wishes — what you would like to happen to each account e.g. memorialise, close etc.
- Gifts — instructions for passing on any digital assets (like photos and videos) to friends and family
Once you’ve done this, it’s helpful to run through your plans with your digital executor. Then they’ll know what to expect and can clarify anything they aren’t sure of.
Letter of wishes
You can choose to put your digital wishes in a letter of wishes instead of your Will.
Unlike a Will, a letter of wishes isn’t legally binding. This means your digital executor will have more freedom to choose what happens with your digital assets.
If you decide to go down this route, make sure nothing in your letter of wishes conflicts with anything in your Will.
Use our letter of wishes template to help you get started.
Step 4 – Store your digital wishes
When the time comes, your digital wishes will need to be found quickly, so it’s important to store them in the right place.
However you choose to store your wishes, make sure your digital executor knows where they are.
In your Will is best
There’s only one way to make sure your digital wishes are legally binding, and that’s to include them in your Will.
If you’ve already written your Will, you can add a codicil covering your digital wishes and the name of your digital executor.
If you haven’t made a Will yet, why not use this as an opportunity to do so? Getting all your affairs in order could give you and your family real peace of mind.
If you don’t include your digital wishes in your Will, there won’t be a legal obligation to follow your instructions.
That said, they’ll still be a big help. So, if you don’t include your digital wishes in your Will, you could store them:
- With your solicitor – If you have a Will stored at your solicitors, the safest option is to keep your digital wishes there too, so everything’s in one place.
- At home – Or you could keep your digital wishes with other important paperwork in a safe place at home. But remember to tell someone where to find them.
It’s important to keep your digital legacy up to date. Why not set up a regular diary reminder to update your digital wishes with any changes, and to back up precious files like photos and videos?
Tools and resources
Here are some handy tools and resources to help you plan your digital legacy, make a Will and leave your affairs in order.
Your free digital wishes pack
This handy pack helps you organise your entire digital legacy. It includes:
- A template to help you write a letter to your digital executor
- A checklist to help you create a full list of your online accounts
- Tables where you can leave your instructions for each account