In the non-digital era, sentimental memories consisted of printed photographs, photo albums, postcards, scrapbooks, and certificates. Due to their tangible nature, these were easily retrievable by the loved ones of someone who had passed away. Fast-forward to today’s modern world where digital technology has become an integral part of our personal lives, people have now opted to store their sentimental memories online, for example, photos on social media and videos on cloud storage. Unfortunately, many do not consider what will happen to these digital assets upon death; accessing sentimental memories online can be a difficult task for loved ones to navigate without prior digital legacy planning.
According to a YouGov survey published in June 2022 of 2,000 adults in the UK:
- 64% said that it’s important to them when considering what will happen to their sentimental digital possessions, such as photos and videos.
- 57% have not made any plans to pass on their digital assets.
- Of those who have no plans to pass on their digital assets, 52% had not thought about it, 15% thought about planning but had never gotten around to it, and 11% did not know where to start with the process.
- Only 3% of respondents have used the digital legacy tools offered by providers such as Google and Apple.
To encourage people to make plans for their digital memories in the event of their death, STEP, a worldwide body for professionals that help families plan for their futures, has launched a Protecting Your Digital Memories campaign to drive awareness of its growing importance. With only 3% of the YouGov survey respondents utilising the digital legacy tools currently available, it’s clear that more awareness is needed. For this reason, STEP and its members are engaging with digital service providers and governments to produce best practice guidance for users of the various platforms.
What happens to social media accounts after death?
To help your loved ones during the process of dealing with your digital assets and accounts, it’s worth leaving clear instructions with your estate planning documents on how you would like your social media accounts to be handled. At this present time, there are three options available to you. Your accounts could be:
- Memorialised. A feature which is available on various social media platforms but not currently offered on all of them. This changes how the profile works and makes it clear that the person has passed away. For example, Facebook removes birthday notifications but allows photos and memories to be accessed.
- Deleted. This will permanently remove a social media profile from the platform, deleting all of your photos and information stored on their site.
- Left open. The account will remain open and operate with the same features.
Which platforms have legacy planning features?
Digital providers each have their own approaches to legacy planning; some are yet to introduce these useful features. So, how do you set up your digital accounts so that your loved ones can access them in the event of your passing?
Please note the below information is accurate as of 6 September 2022.
As part of Apple’s legacy contacts, which was introduced in December 2021, users can now choose one or more trusted individuals to access their account after death. Once activated, the function generates an access key that can be shared with the nominated contact(s). To request access, they will need to provide the access key and upload a copy of the death certificate. Legacy contacts have three years upon approval to access files, notes, messages, videos, photos, and other data.
Currently, if a legacy contact has not been nominated, the account will be deleted as part of Apple’s retention policy on an unpaid iCloud account. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult for your loved ones to gain access, as they may need to go through the difficult and expensive process of obtaining a court order.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager can assist in making arrangements by outlining when your account should be considered inactive; the inactivity waiting period can be set for any period between 3 to 18 months. Once activated, up to 10 people can receive automated messages about the inactivity; emails and mobile numbers are required during the registration process. Alternatively, you can change your settings to delete your account after three months of inactivity or to share specific data such as Google Calendar and Chrome with the nominated people.
In the event of passing away without setting up Google Inactive Account Manager, the Personal Representative(s) may require a court order to access the data.
A legacy contact can also be enabled on Facebook. This allows the user, who must have a Facebook account, to view private ‘only me’ posts, change your profile and cover picture, pin a tribute post, and request the deletion of your account. However, this is only achievable once the account has been memorialised.
If you prefer your account to be permanently deleted on death, you can activate this setting upon notification of your passing. However, if you do not set this feature within Facebook’s legacy tool, it’s set as default to memorialise the account. A ‘Request to Memorialise’ form is required if no legacy contact is appointed.
Which platforms do not have legacy planning features?
Please note the below information is accurate as of 6 September 2022.
At this present time, Twitter does not have a function to provide a legacy contact, memorialise an account, or provide access to anyone of any relationship to the deceased. In the event of a death, Twitter works with the Personal Representative(s) of the estate or with a verified family member to deactivate an account. This includes providing the deceased’s Twitter username, a copy of the death certificate, proof of identification, and a signed statement. Find out more information about Twitter’s policies on deceased members’ accounts.
Instagram does not have a legacy tool at this time. Currently, the account can either be memorialised or deleted. For an account to be memorialised, the Personal Representative or verified immediate family member must submit a request by providing the full name, Instagram handle, and a death certificate. For an account to be deleted, a ‘Removal Request for Deceased Person’ form must be completed. Read more about Instagram’s policies on the subject.
A legacy contact feature is currently not available on LinkedIn. However, it does have a function to memorialise or close a deceased member’s account, similar to Instagram and Facebook. This can be achieved by the Personal Representative(s) or family members of the deceased contacting the platform; LinkedIn members can also report a deceased person. More information about LinkedIn’s options to close or memorialise an account of a deceased member can be found here.
Currently, Microsoft does not offer a legacy contact feature with their services. Their website currently states that due to privacy and other legal reasons, they are unable to provide any information to those trying to access a deceased person’s account. If the account credentials are known by the deceased’s loved ones, the account can be closed by themselves. If account credentials are unknown, it will automatically be closed after two years of inactivity. Read more about accessing Microsoft services when someone has died.
How to store passwords in the event of your death
To protect your digital legacy and provide ease of access to your loved ones, you could leave details of all your digital assets with a trusted friend, family member, or within your estate planning documents. This should include a list of your accounts, usernames, and passwords.
Alternatively, consider using an online password manager to house the keys to all of your digital accounts and any other important information you might need to leave behind. If login details are detailed with your estate planning documents, this will provide added peace of mind and ease of access to those instructed with the task of dealing with your online accounts. Many of the password managers also include a similar concept to a legacy contact, allowing you to nominate an emergency contact who is notified after a set period. Regardless of the approach taken to store your account details, it will be particularly useful for platforms that do not offer a legacy contact feature.
STEP has also created a five-step guide on how to plan ahead to prevent family and friends from losing your sentimental digital memories. Download the handy guide.
Kings Court Trust is an estate administration provider that offers award-winning solutions to support every family. Our team is familiar with various types of digital assets and can advise on dealing with these assets during the estate administration process.