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Protecting or sharing your online accounts

Most people have dozens of passwords and accounts on various websites, especially on social media. The idea of protecting these is still quite new in legal terms, but you might decide that you don’t want anyone looking at your social media pages after your death, and ask for them to be deleted. Or you might want to keep important emails or allow people to look at sentimental items like photos on Facebook. 

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Making plans for your online accounts will make it easier for your executors to follow your wishes after you've died. While online banking is covered by probate, there aren’t any laws guaranteeing friends and family access to email accounts or social media accounts like Facebook. Even with permission, it could take months to access your data without a password, so it can help to make plans for your online accounts in advance.

If you’re not sure how to manage your online accounts, you might like to ask a friend or relative to help you.

Managing your digital property

Step one: create a document with all of your login and account details 

The document could include details about:

  • Music and other media subscriptions (Netflix, Spotify, newspaper subscriptions, online games).
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest).
  • Professional sites (LinkedIn, Google Apps, Adobe).
  • Email (Gmail, Hotmail).
  • Cloud storage services (Dropbox, Apple cloud).
  • Online shopping (Amazon, eBay).
  • Smartphone or tablet applications.
  • Accounts on the websites of utility or mobile network providers.

Online banking

Bank accounts are covered by probate so these will be managed by your executors. It’s up to you whether you include your online banking login on the file. If you write the details down and the account is accessed without your permission, the bank may refuse to compensate you for any damage. However, you may want to share Paypal account details (if you have one) so that people can transfer any remaining funds held in it to your bank account.

Remembering your passwords

It’s quite common to forget passwords. You may want to go through each of your online accounts and make a note of any passwords you need to reset in your document. You can then protect this document with a password (this is also known as encrypting) so you only have one password to remember to access all your online details. Most word processing and spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Word, Excel or Open Office, can encrypt documents.

Write this password down somewhere safe and give it to someone you trust. You may want to appoint a social media or digital executor to look after all your online accounts after your death. You can name this person in your Will. They may be a different person to your normal executor, for example, someone who is more comfortable doing things online.

If you’re worried about being able to manage these accounts while you’re alive, you might consider naming the social media executor in your Power of Attorney, if you have one.

Other things you can do in advance

If you’d like to leave reassuring messages or say goodbye online, you could try a website like Dead Social  . It allows people to leave messages and notifications for friends and family on or after their death. It also has a series of guides to downloading data and planning digital legacies on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Google.

If you have a Google account for email or any other service, you can set up Google’s inactive account manager at any time. Go into your account settings   then select data tools from the menu along the top. You can choose to notify up to 10 trusted contacts that your account is no longer active, and which of them can access your emails, online documents and other data (depending on what you’ve shared with them).

Step two: decide what to do with each account

Memorialise

Facebook allows accounts to be memorialised. This means your timeline and any pictures will continue to be visible to existing friends and family. You can also appoint a legacy contact to look after your account after its memorialised. They will be able to update your profile, pin notices on your timeline and respond to new friend requests. You can add a legacy contact by following the instructions under the security settings tab.

If you don't have a legacy contact

If you haven't selected a legacy contact in advance, a friend or family member (or executor) will need to submit a request online, providing a link to proof of death online, if possible. This could be an online obituary, or a scan of the death certificate you’ve saved in an online folder like Dropbox.

Facebook will make sure no one can change any of the account details such as adding or deleting friends, but people will still be able to post dedications on the timeline. Facebook won’t provide anyone with login information for a memorialised account. In some rare circumstances, however, it might be able to provide some data, like photographs, as long as the person applying can prove that they have permission to access it. This could be with a copy of the Will, naming them as executor.

Memorialising an account also means that there’ll be no status updates or birthday reminders appearing in other people’s timelines, which could be upsetting for friends and family once you’re gone.

It can take Facebook several months to review memorialisation requests.

Deactivate 

This keeps all the account information stored with the company in case anyone needs to access it in future, but removes it from the public domain. Your executor will need to provide a copy of the death certificate as well as proof that they have permission to access your accounts if they want to access any information after your death.

Email accounts like Gmail or Hotmail may come under this category as old emails might contain information that becomes important at a later date. Similarly, some online game accounts can be deactivated, but never permanently deleted.

Delete

If you want to ensure that no traces of the account are left online, you can delete your accounts. Be aware that if you do this with Facebook, all your pictures will be deleted as well. But you can download your Facebook data at any time before this – go to your settings and select ‘download my data’ at the bottom left of the screen.

It may be a good idea to delete any shopping accounts, such as Amazon, as they will often store payment details, such as credit and debit card numbers.

Step three: leave clear instructions about your wishes

It can take many months to access online accounts when someone has died, even if the person applying is an executor, so it’s best to plan ahead.

Even if you give someone your passwords they might still be prevented from legally accessing your accounts according to the terms and conditions of a site.

Leaving clear instructions about your online accounts should make your intentions about your digital property clear. Ask a legal professional for advice on how to do this. You may want to leave instructions in a side letter rather than in the formal Will. This is because after your death the Will becomes public information so any login details could be seen by others.

Find a solicitor 

If you’d like advice about creating a social media Will, search for a solicitor using the links below. You might like to ask whether they’re accredited under the Law Society’s Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme Protocol (WIQS). This is an accreditation open to solicitors with three or more years’ experience which includes digital assets in its guidelines. 

Search for a solicitor in England and Wales.

Search for a solicitor in Scotland.

Search for a solicitor in Northern Ireland.

Useful links

Facebook memorialisation request 

Saga digital legacy guide 

Deadsocial.org – social media end of life planning


This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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