Do you need a will for your digital life?

December 8, 2015

When you think of a will, you probably imagine some kind of fancy piece of paper. There’s probably some italics, and most likely some signatures written with a fountain pen. Well, although you might be a little outdated there, the chances are good that a will remains a printed document, much like a contract. That’s because wills exist in the real world.

So here’s the thing. We’re now at a point in time where people don’t just exist in the real world. Don’t worry – we haven’t been on a sci-fi binge – the fact is that a lot of our lives these days are online. You connect with your friends on social media. You store your photos on those or other sites. The music you listen to may well be digital files. Cash back on purchases might come in the form of air miles or Nectar points. We live a lot of our lives connected, so are we at the point where we need to make arrangements for what happens to our online selves when we die?

While it certainly doesn’t replace the need for an actual will, it does throw up all sorts of interesting things to consider. Here’s some of them:

Do you even really own things online?

Well, maybe. But probably not. In the case of content, it’s highly likely that in most cases, such as with iTunes, you are ‘leasing’ the content that you choose to download, not ‘buying’ it. Sound odd? Well, you’re basically sold a licence to ‘own’ that song (Chesney Hawkes, right? No surprise.) for as long as you’re alive. But, when you come to write your digital will, there’s actually nothing really left to leave, as the terms and conditions normally prohibit sharing or transferring of downloads.

It’s the same with the digital books you buy, as well as movies. So, if you’re desperate to leave your loved ones the gift of Led Zeppelin’s greatest, or perhaps your complete Harry Potter collection on Kindle, maybe now’s the time to buy physical copies.

What happens to your Social Media?

This is the area that will have even more meaning for the next generation, who will have amassed a huge online presence from a young age, complete with photos, diary entries, likes, shares and meaningful things. What happens to it all? Well, each social network has its own process, with a variety of options in the way the page or presence of someone who has died can be treated.

Facebook, for example, allows you to designate a ‘legacy contact’ via your security settings. This person will be allowed to post on your timeline following your death, perhaps informing people something like the details of a funeral or any other arrangements. Perhaps they could even post something of your choosing for people to read. Your actual page can be ‘memorialised’, deleted, or even left unchanged. The start of that process begins when friends or family (or perhaps your will’s executor) notify Facebook of your death.

If you’re on multiple social networks (or have multiple email accounts), each one operates slightly differently, meaning you’ll need to read and understand each process if you decide to leave any instructions.

What about things like loyalty points or air miles?

Good question. In fact, it’s an important question, because things like Avios (the British Airways air mile currency) can be worth rather a lot if you’ve collected them for years. Again though, it’s going to require a little legwork. Nectar points (taking a loyalty points example) are straightforward as they are classed as part of a person’s estate, which can pass to beneficiaries. The next of kin would need to contact Nectar (most likely with the death certificate and a copy of the will) to arrange for the points to be transferred to another account.

Avios is the other end of the scale, with their official line being that points that are unused at the time of death are lost, as the person’s membership of the scheme is automatically cancelled. However, some digging around shows several cases where family members were able to transfer miles, and it seems to be dealt with on a case by case basis. It’s worth a call, and if you have a lot of miles or points, it could well be worth including them in your will.

So do you need to update your will to include the ‘online’ you?

For some people, it will be a resounding no. For others, it could be something worth seriously considering. Assuming that most people have an email account, even making sure someone you trust knows where your login details are so that they can respond to emails (and then perhaps delete the account on your behalf) after you’ve gone seems like a logical step.

If you’ve got a hefty online presence through social media, for example, perhaps it will be worth thinking about what you would like to happen to your pages after you’ve gone. And if you’ve got online accounts, like Nectar, which are actually worth something, it’s a good idea to include them when you create your list of assets to put in your will.


This article is for general use only and is not intended to address your particular requirements. It should not be relied upon in its entirety and shall not be deemed to be or constitute advice.

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