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The ongoing trend of leaving a digital legacy

By the end of this century, the number of dead people on the popular social media network, Facebook, is expected to outnumber living members – turning it into the world’s biggest ‘virtual graveyard’.

Due to the strong interest in social media and our ‘online life’, the trend of people looking to leave farewell messages to their loved ones via various social networks is also becoming more common. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that more people are thinking about what happens to their social media accounts when they die.

A YouGov survey, published in early November 2018, revealed that 26% of people would like the content of their social media accounts to pass to their loved ones once they have died. Additionally, the survey results showed that 67% of respondents wanted their social media accounts taken offline after their death and only 7% wanted them to remain online.

Each social network has different rules regarding what happens to your account when you die. Facebook and Instagram will memorialise a person’s page once the death has been reported or they will remove the account if an immediate family member makes a request. Facebook has also added settings which allow you to plan for what happens to your account after you die. You can set a legacy contact to manage aspects of your page once it’s been memorialised. Twitter will delete any account if there is no activity or logins for six months. Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows you to make plans for what happens to your account after you die. You can choose to grant a loved one access to your information or request that your account is automatically deleted.

Beyond each of the main social media networks, there are other ways to manage your digital assets – enabling you to communicate with your family and friends online after you’ve died. Dead Social’s goodbye and legacy builder tool permits its users to schedule posts after they have passed away. Users are able to choose text or video posts and assign a digital Executor to send the message once they have died. Due to the popularity of the tool, Dead Social is currently updating the service. They are currently not allowing new users to join, but the tool is expected to grow once version two is released.

Other networks are looking to create different ways for us to live on virtually after we’ve died. ‘Eternime’ collects your thoughts, stories and memories and creates an avatar that looks and speaks in your manner. Before you die, you begin speaking to the avatar so that they learn about you and your personality. As of December 2018, over 42,000 had already signed up and Eternime is currently calling for more people to sign up to their private beta.

Digital legacies can cause issues linked to privacy rules and data protection regulations, highlighting the question of who ‘owns’ your virtual life. Online assets are being viewed as an increasingly important subject and some people are even including clauses about them in their Wills. It is not clear what happens to data collected during a lifetime after someone passes away, which could potentially cause upset to family members if there is any uncertainty. It is important to discuss your online accounts with your Executor so that they can handle your digital legacy as per your wishes.  

Kings Court Trust are experts in estate administration; the process of dealing with a loved one’s legal and tax affairs after they’ve passed away. When it comes to estate administration, we can handle everything. Every action, decision and service we offer goes some way to achieving our purpose - helping families to move on. If you have any questions about estate administration, call our experienced Client Services Team on 0300 303 9000.