Digital legacy: What is it and why you need to plan

21st February 2024

We live increasingly digital lives. But how many of us have planned a good digital legacy after we die?

At a glance

From online banking to our Facebook page, our digital footprint may survive us by many decades.

Planning your digital legacy allows you to control who has access to your digital accounts and assets when you die or become incapacitated.

Planning the digital legacy you will inevitably leave behind is a new and vital part of your total legacy planning.

What is digital legacy?

Just one generation ago, it would sound like science fiction. But nowadays, we all have far-reaching digital personas, and footprints. We exist in the real world, and the virtual world – from the photos we post on social media, to our household accounts and our weekly shop.

Your digital legacy is the sum total of all the digital information that exists about you after your death. It’s often information that you yourself have created – accounts, passwords, memberships, online conversations, even your photos or your website.

What happens to my digital presence when I die?

We now recognise that our digital selves will last beyond our own lifetime. Facebook may eventually have more accounts belonging to the dead than the living. We need to plan our digital legacy – what we leave behind, and who can access it – with as much care and thought as we would any other form of legacy planning.

Think about all the online accounts, digital devices and passwords you’ve accumulated in your social, working and financial life. You’ll need to make sure that the right people are able to access them at the right time, and that they’re not locked behind a password forever.

Password management - to share or not to share

Across the UK, 46 million1 of us use online or remote banking. We also manage many more of our investments online.

Recent research conducted by Opinium on behalf of St. James’s Place (SJP), reveals that an average of 43% of the UK population don’t, or won’t, share critical financial account details even with family members they trust.2 That can lead to enormous complications and distressing delays after someone passes away.

Opinium's survey reveals that In Yorkshire and Humberside, for instance, 40% of people rely solely on memory for password management, and 12% find it too much trouble to keep updating their legacy plans with new passwords. A sentiment echoed across the other regions.

Responsible legacy planning

Sometimes we simply forget to share details of our financial arrangements. Other times we don’t feel comfortable sharing. But if we don’t include them in our legacy plans, it’s our families who have to try to retrieve them or guess them, when the time comes.

A digital society has made us increasingly cyber-aware, too. With many of us having numerous passwords, we’re encouraged to update regularly and never to share.

Opinium's research uncovered a significant number of people either forget or purposely avoid sharing important digital information because they think they’ll open themselves up to scams, or they simply don’t see the need to share personal information.

But responsible digital legacy planning is about sharing key information, such as account names and passwords, safely, securely and responsibly.

Six steps to leaving a good digital legacy

Leaving behind a clear and accessible record of digital accounts is almost as important as making your Will.

Here are our six steps to leaving a good digital legacy:

  • Include your digital assets – social and financial – in your Will and leave a record of your personal wishes regarding what should happen to digital assets such as social media accounts, photographs or videos.
  • Store your digital account details securely and in a hard copy. Make a backup of key personal assets such as photos for your family or friends.
  • Talk to your family about your plans, and how they can access key online accounts when the time comes.
  • Make a Power of Attorney that includes your key digital asset information so it’s ready, should you need someone else to manage your affairs.
  • If you have an Apple ID, set up a digital legacy contact who can access your accounts if necessary.
  • Take professional advice on your digital legacy planning.

Protecting your digital legacy

The digital world evolves at lightning speed – so your approach to digital legacy planning needs to be proactive and continue to evolve, to ensure it stays fit for purpose.

A robust digital legacy helps protect your digital self as carefully as you would your physical self.

If you’d like to speak to us about your personal digital legacy, do get in touch with us today.

Will writing and Powers of Attorney involve the referral to a service which is separate and distinct to those offered by St. James's Place and are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Sources

1Finder, digital banking statistics, accessed 7 Feb 2024 
2Research conducted for St. James’s Place by Opinium, between 23rd August – 4th September 2023 among 4,000 UK Adults. All results are weighted to nationally representative criteria.

Digital legacy: What is it and why you need to plan
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