Leading law firm Latimer Hinks is fielding its first enquiries about leaving a digital legacy on Facebook and Twitter.
Clients at the Darlington-based company are asking whether they can include instructions about social networking sites in their will.
Daniel Williams, who specialises in wills, trusts and probate at Latimer Hinks, said: “Whether we have one or not, we’re all aware of the importance of leaving a will to specify who we want to leave our savings and assets like our home, jewellery or family heirlooms to.
“But it’s now important to consider leaving instructions which are fitting for the 21st century.”
Daniel said while many of the firm’s more elderly clients aren’t on social media, typically once individuals or couples buy a house or have children, they start to think about making a will.
He added: “We’re now seeing enquiries about digital legacies and we’re expecting questions about social media to increase in 2016 as we live more of our lives online. The question is how much of an influence can you have, or do you want, on what happens to the likes of your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts?
“This is all so new that the waters are still being tested legally. But if you do have concerns or particular wishes surrounding what you would like to happen to your social media accounts, then it does make sense to write those down, not as part of your will but in an addendum document to go alongside it.
“In this, you could specify who you want to manage your accounts and even whether there is a particular post you want to make as your final message to family and friends.”
Daniel also suggests making a note of any email and social media accounts, along with passwords, in a document if you want your loved ones to have access to them upon your death. Importantly, this information needs to be kept up to date.
Facebook has recently announced a new Legacy feature, enabling account holders to nominate a friend or family member to manage their profile when they pass on. Facebook profiles can also become memorialised once someone dies, so that friends and family can still post and share photos. Or, you could decide you simply want your Facebook page to be closed down. Twitters rules mean you can only put in a request to deactivate the account.
Daniel is also urging people to consider what happens to everything stored on the Cloud once they are no longer around.
He said: “Everyone is becoming increasingly reliant on the Cloud. We have precious family photos and videos squirreled away on various host sites, whether they are with Google or Dropbox for example. But, without passwords, your family won’t have access. It’s worth preserving them onto a hard drive or, at the least, making sure you note down your log-in details.
“Many people also assume that they can pass on the contents of their music or film collection, amassed over a lifetime on the likes of iTunes. But, it is surprising to lots of people to find out that they don’t actually own the content. When we download digital songs, movies or books, we often pay for a license to use them during our lifetime in which case we don’t actually have the right to pass it on.
“However, social media and technology are changing at such a pace that it is still worth writing down who you would like these assets to pass to if this should change. While the legal situation still has to be tested in these sorts of cases, expressing your wishes can help your family to find material you wish them to have and to try to fulfil your wishes on death, allowing you digital immortality if that’s what you decide.”