Probate – What is a Digital Will?

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What is a digital will?

A digital will is a relatively new concept to describe how we might deal with our online footprint. 

A digital will is a cross between a ‘letter of wishes’, and an inventory to help our loved ones/personal representatives deal with our online footprint in the event of us passing.  A digital will is not legally binding on anyone, nor is there a prescribed format that it must take that is set down in law.

What does a Digital Will do?

Your digital will is intended to provide your personal representative(s) with the necessary information to deal with your ‘digital estate’ ie to access your various online profiles, and to do with them as you wish.  This is limited, dependant upon which platform is involved.  For most, all that is allowed is to close the account down, or leave it dormant (following which most platforms will have some policy for removing the profile after a specified period).

What format should a Digital Will follow?

Let common sense prevail.  Remember, your digital will is intended to (in simple terms) provide your loved ones with the information they need to know:

  • what platforms you use
  • login credentials for each of them
  • what you would like to happen to them all

And so, it can be as simple as a table, for example:

Platform Login Password Wishes
Twitter Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx Please close
TikTok Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx Please close
YouTube Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx Please close
Facebook Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx Please memorialise

What problems are there with Digital Wills?

The obvious practical problem with a digital will is keeping it up to date!  If nothing else, passwords will often change.  One way of overcoming this is to utilise a central password log (for example both Apple and Microsoft offer this).  If maintained via this, then all passwords should be accurate by providing your personal representatives access to that central source.  Even then, it is still worth providing an inventory of all profiles.

Does a Digital Will cover things other than Social Media?

Yes, your digital will can cover anything online such as productivity apps (Office 365, Apple ID, Google), and health, wellbeing, and general interest apps and subscriptions.

For subscription based online accounts, these will typically (and automatically) cease when bank accounts are frozen.  Your personal representatives may welcome access to (for example) email accounts for a period of time as it may shed light on what assets and liabilities comprise your estate.

Does a digital will provide authority like a normal will does to Executors?

No, a digital will is not legally binding, and it provides no legal authority to anyone to deal with your digital footprint on death.  It is merely helpful information that will likely help your personal representatives close down your digital footprint on death without having to contact the platform providers themselves (ie with login credentials they can simply go into each profile and close them down).

What if I don’t have a Digital Will?

Don’t worry!  All platforms have a process to hear from loved ones after the user has passed, and where (subject to receiving certain information/documents) they will deal with the account accordingly.

The documents your loved ones would have to provide would likely include evidence of the death (death certificate), and proof that they have authority to deal with the estate (grant of probate).

A digital will can of course remove the need to contact each provider.

Can my Digital Will memorialise an online profile?

No.  Currently, only Facebook and LinkedIn (of the major platforms) provide for a profile to be memorialised.  In simple terms, this labels a profile as being for someone that has now passed.  Your digital will does not provide the authority for your loved ones to go into a profile and do this – ie they will have to contact Facebook and or LinkedIn in any event.

Is a Digital Will the same as a Legacy Contact?

Again, no!  Some platforms (Facebook again) will allow you to nominate a representative during your lifetime to be your ‘legacy contact’ on your passing – ie someone pre approved by you to speak to Facebook and give instructions on your behalf as to what should happen to your profile now that you have passed.  It is perhaps the closest thing to a traditional will appointing an executor as we see in the realms of digital estates and digital wills.

Is a Digital Will the same as a normal Will?

No!  A traditional will has been governed by the same law for close to 200 years (Wills Act 1837)!  There are many things a will should include and comply with for it to be deemed legally binding.  A will forms the basis of the process of ‘probate’ in the UK, and is intended to deal with cash assets and liabilities.  Amongst other things, it formally appoints those persons entitled to deal with things, known as Executors.

As above, a digital will is more like a ‘letter of wishes’.

What if a Social Media platform has monetary value on death?

For most of us, our online footprint will hold no monetary value – albeit perhaps significant sentimental value.  Hence the process for closing these things down (social media) is different to dealing with case assets and probate – eg banks, houses, investments, and so on.

However, for some, their online footprint might not just have generated an amount of monetization, it might (for top content creators) have provided significant wealth.  Where there is a value to our social media footprint, and moreover there is balances held at date of death, or ongoing income to be received thereafter, then a crossover between traditional will/probate, and digital will/digital estate will arise.

If any elements of our online footprint have date of death of values (retained monetization) they will in turn form part of our estate for the purposes of probate, and indeed for the purposes of inheritance tax.  Your executors would need to establish the value of all assets on death – including social media etc (where appropriate).

What needs to happen with each Platform on death?

Read more about what needs to/can happen to happen by clicking on each one below:

  • Facebook – they do provide facility for memorialising the profile, as well as nominating a legacy contact during your lifetime.
  • Twitter/X – there is no option to memorialise the profile, just close it.
  • Snapchat – there is no option to memorialise the profile, just close it.
  • TikTok – there is no option to memorialise the profile, just close it.
  • Instagram – they do provide facility for memorialising the profile.
  • Pinterest – there is no option to memorialise the profile, just close it.
  • YouTube – there is no opportunity to memorialise the profile. YouTube accounts may of course for some be income generating – and for others (high profile ‘YouTubers’) the provider of a wealthy legacy.  This creates a different aspect which we cover in our article on YouTube accounts.

Free Legal Guide – Digital Wills

We hope you’ve found this free guide on digital wills helpful.  Do check out the rest of our site where we hope you will find any and every answer you are looking for around the laws that impact us all.  Do remember that it is only a guide – and it should be taken as such.  It is not intended to be legal advice specific to you.  BUT (!) our expert solicitors can help if that’s what you need.  So, don’t hesitate to reach out by leaving a comment below, calling, or emailing us.  Meantime, thank you for visiting QLAW – the digital law firm, for everyone, everywhere…

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