What happens to your memories when you die?

November 2018

One of the kindest gifts you can leave a loved one when you die is your memories—the photos, music collections and books that are the images, stories and soundtracks of your youth, major milestones, and a life well lived.

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We now keep many of these items online–our photos albums are in Google Drive and Dropbox, our music collection is now a series of Spotify playlists arranged according to mood and many of our day-to-day interactions are on email, Facebook and Instagram.

So how do you pass the digital versions of these prized possessions onto others? And can you choose what happens to your digital accounts when you die? A digital will can help.

What is a digital will?

It tells your family how to access and manage your online accounts and what you want to be done with your digital assets after you’re gone.

You can start by making a list of all your accounts and what you use them for. Knowing what you have makes it easier for your executor to access to your files, pass the management of them onto your family or close them down. Email is often the most useful to access as it’s likely linked to your other accounts. You should also include any:

  • file managers (DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud)
  • social media accounts (WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube)
  • streaming and subscription services (Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, Audible)
  • utilities
  • banking and insurance
  • shopping accounts (eBay, Amazon)
  • websites or blogs you own and manage

You should also include how to access your computer, phone and other hardware that may hold your digital valuables.

You can keep all of your account details in a secure password management service. Keep the access details for this in a safe place and include instructions on where to find these in your will.

What you own versus what you use

When deciding what to do with your assets, you should check what you own and what you have a licence for—many music and publication services like iTunes only sell you a licence that can’t be transferred to someone else. The terms and conditions for each service will outline ownership and what can be transferred.

Your digital legacy can last forever

As well as giving your digital collections to loved ones, a digital will can also protect your privacy, as well as that of your family and friends. If you’re not around to manage your accounts, hackers could use your information for fraudulent activity without detection.

To combat this problem, some services let you choose someone to have limited access to your account.

Google’s inactive account manager: Choose someone to have limited access to your account and data if you haven’t logged in for a set amount of time.

Facebook's legacy contact: You can ask Facebook to memorialise (keep it published but ‘inactive’) or delete your account once they’re told of your death. You can nominate someone who can use your memorialised account to do things like notify your friends of a memorial service or close your account.

While it may not quite be the same as going through your record collection, being able to access your memories and the things you loved is just as powerful for your family and friends as any material object.