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The Death Taboo: What's your digital legacy?

Mon 01 Aug 2016

It is difficult to count how many websites I have signed up to in the last few years, many of which now seem to hold countless details of mine, from addresses to credit card details, photos and music.

Whilst privacy laws seem to just about be keeping up, and my data remains safe (I hope), the laws surrounding my "digital legacy" in the event of my death are far less developed.

I say less developed and that is perhaps unfair. What is less developed are the policies those website companies adopt on death and the publicity surrounding the subject of how my data will be handled when the day comes.

The Internet is no longer in its infancy, but it and all of the services collecting or holding my data are less than a generation old. As such, the issues arising on death are only just beginning to surface. As they do, public awareness will improve, as will the clarity over company policy on the data being held.

A few websites now include something about what would occur on death in the small print but whilst the subject of death remains taboo (and certainly does not make for glamorous marketing material), few of us will have time to read it or consider what might happen when we die.

This isn't a new phenomenon, however. It is thought that only a half of those in the UK over 50 have a will. We should all have one!

So what should we all be doing? Sadly, that is a difficult question at present whilst the policies of each website and company remain so different. 

As a start, it would be sensible to maintain a list of those websites and applications that store important data about you: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email accounts, etc. It should then be passed to the solicitor holding your will or a family member. That way, even without passwords, in the event of your death, the time, stress and cost of having to identify those sites can be avoided.

The most organised might even include passwords but if we follow the advice given to us by the experts, we should be changing our passwords regularly, so the opportunity for these lists to quickly become out of date is huge. 

This is a developing area and I expect we will soon see more on the subject.

Tim Snaith, private client partner at Winckworth Sherwood, is one of eprivateclient’s Top 35 Under 35 outstanding practitioners.

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