Mind the (digital planning) gap

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The message finally seems to be getting across. Families who have lost siblings may not have to fight quite so hard to get access to their loved ones’ social media accounts when they die.

Facebook has announced the launch of a legacy contact feature that allows users to give permission to someone else (a family member or friend) to manage their account when they pass away and to post a final message or an obituary on their behalf.

Prior to this service, when an account holder died Facebook offered just a basic memorialised account that was viewable but could not be managed by anyone.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 Facebook users die each day. Whilst the announcement of the legacy contact service is good news for the family of the deceased, they will still not be able to access everything in an individual’s account. Furthermore, the service is only available (at present) in the US.

However, it’s a good start and we are seeing other organisations such as Apple, Google and Twitter beginning to recognise the need to provide digital legacy services. But the social media networks can be just a small part of an individual’s digital legacy.

In research undertaken by Saga, a British company with around 3 million customers and focusing on serving the needs of those aged 50 and over, found that 87 percent of Britons have not planned their digital legacy. Almost a year ago the UK Law Society was urging people to leave clear instructions about what should happen to their social media, computer games and other online accounts after their death.

Gary Rycroft, a member of the Law Society Wills and Equity Committee, said people should not assume family members know where to look online and to make details of their digital life absolutely clear. Even if family members have knowledge of an individual;s usernames and passwords for online accounts, accessing these account could be committing a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Given the rapidly changing volume, nature and ownership of digital assets, it is becoming more widely recognised by lawyers that including these assets in Wills can be difficult and expensive, particularly if regular changes are to be made to the WIll. That’s one of the reasons why Planned Departure is working closely with an increasing number of law firms to efficiently accommodate individuals’ digital legacies.

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