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The Rise of Digital Wills

A growing number of people in the UK are making "digital Wills" to make sure that any online trail they leave will be properly handled once they pass away.

More web users are recording their login details, passwords and detailed instructions to online executors who use the personal data to clear unwanted online legacies. Digital executors can access the personal data from a secure server to, for example, close subscriptions to websites, erase secret e-mail folders or remove photos from Facebook pages.

The online wills store passwords at a secure location where testators can update them at any time, and when they die a guardian they have named is able to access the data upon presentation of a death certificate.

According to statistics, the average person has 26 Internet accounts for services such as e-mails, social media sites, banking, online purchases, PayPal and Skype.

Cirrus Legacy, one of the first digital legacy firms in Britain, has signed up over 500 clients since its establishment earlier in 2012. Some of its clients choose to upload scans of key documents such as house deeds, insurance and passport documents, co-founder Paul Golding told the Sunday Times.

It is estimated that a quarter of people have over £200 stored in "cloud" services and the total value of such online items in the UK is estimated at over £2.3 billion. This doesn’t include e-books and digital music collections, which are examples of the online assets that cannot be bequeathed upon death as they are licensed for individual use.

More than one in ten people have made provisions to leave Internet passwords in the right hands after their deaths, or have plans to do so, according to new research by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Laws have been passed in several US states protecting the rights of appointed executors to access or close down digital legacies of people after their death. However, UK laws have some way to go to catch up with this growing trend.