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What happens to your digital records and social media on death

What happens to your digital records and social media on death At Stonehewer Moss solicitors in Northwich the wills are prepared for clients by family lawyer Michael Brennan. Gaining more detailed knowledge of wills law by sitting a Cilex course this year, Michael came across the issue of digital records, a fact of life for most people today but by the nature of it, ephemeral. If the existence and custodianship of your social media history, cloud records and downloads is of concern, Michael advises as follows:-

  1. Beginning with basics, make a will. The document instructs executors about how you want to leave your estate. The Administration of Estates Act 1925 s55 defines personal property but clearly pre dates digital records and it may be an opportunity to define such property by specific gift. It is, as far as we can tell, an untested issue in the courts but, for example, your digital photos will usually be held on a physical item such as a memory card that you could gift.
  2. Items you have downloaded will be subject to contract/ licence terms that probably mean you do not own the song or film, simply the right to store it to view personally while alive. Will we see a trend for people to be buried with their lifetime supply of lap tops and smart phones? In 2012 Michael recalls seeing a story that Bruce Willis was taking Apple to court for the right to gift his downloads from iTunes to his children and wondered what came of it but (online) his research for this article confirmed it was a false story. Apple have licence terms that prevent the music on your ipod or other device from being gifted to anyone. Similar terms are likely with other streaming services and companies like Google and Amazon. Technically anyone viewing or listening might be breaking patent and copyright laws after death of the licence holder. The best advice we can give is that your executors should contact the relevant company to put them on notice of the death with indication that usage until informed otherwise will be assumed to be consensual. Keep a copy of the message.
  3. Social media records are another matter. We suggest you follow Law Society guidance and put together a personal assets log to help your executor untie your digital history as best he can. it should include password and usernames for social media sites, cloud records and other online storage facilities. Include up to date on line account records and make sure it is kept safe. The family may request that the executor deactivate account records and bank accounts will need to be closed and distributed according to the terms of the will. Care needs to be taken as the Computer Misuse Act 1990 could make criminals of loved ones acting innocently after your death at the behest of global technology companies well known for their lawful activities. Don`t forget to supply your e mail account details to deactivate.
  4. Get back to basics. Buy your books from Oxfam, your music on CD or listen live. We spend our lives recording our experiences digitally and miss something in the process. Global tech companies should not inherit your world. Teach you children to play an instrument an American billionaire can never take from them.

To make a will or for family law advice telephone 01606872200 e mail visit

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Stonehewer Moss Solicitors, Citadel House, Solvay Road, Northwich, Cheshire, CW8 4DP

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