Death in the digital age
24 February 2015 , by The Co-operative Funeralcare
Death in the digital age: Three quarters of UK adults unprepared for life after death online
• 75 per cent have no plans for their online accounts in the event of their death placing additional grief on the bereaved
• Over three quarters (78 per cent) of bereaved people have experienced difficulties in managing a loved one’s online accounts
• A fifth (20 per cent) found it so difficult they were unable to manage the process at all
The growing use of digital channels is creating additional grief for the bereaved, according to a report from the UK’s largest funeral director, The Co-operative Funeralcare*, released today (February 24th).
The report reveals that whilst 94 per cent of UK adults now hold online accounts, as many as three quarters (75 per cent) have not yet considered or made arrangements for the management of their digital presence when they pass away.
Worryingly, the findings also point to the personal impact that this is having on the bereaved. More than three quarters (78 per cent) of those who have managed a loved one’s online accounts following their death report having experienced difficulties, and a fifth (20 per cent) of these found it so difficult that they were unable to manage the process at all.
Once accounts have been traced, families are facing further difficult decisions when determining what their loved one would have wanted to happen to them. As online contacts increasingly replacing the traditional address book, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of UK adults would like a status update or online post to notify friends and followers that they have passed away. A fifth (16 per cent) would want their next of kin to have access to their social accounts due to sentimental value, whilst over one tenth (14 per cent) want their loved ones to stay in touch with the online contacts they have built up throughout their life.
For others, granting access to their online accounts is a financial matter. Of the tenth (12 per cent) of people who would like to leave their online account details for their loves ones, over two thirds (67 per cent) say it’s to enable loved ones to be able tie up their financial affairs, and almost half (45 per cent) want to do so because of their financial value.
With the findings highlighting that the average UK adult has accumulated personal digital capital such as music, films or books worth £265, with over 500million online accounts and assets throughout the UK, this could result in a staggering £17 billion left in cyber space.***
Sam Kershaw, Director of Operations for The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “It can be really hard and incredibly emotional to sort out the belongings and financial affairs of a loved one after they have passed away. Accessing and managing digital assets and accounts can add further complications to this, especially if you aren’t aware which accounts exist or the process to follow.
“Conversations about end of life are never easy, however as we increasingly live and manage our lives online, communicating with a loved one about the accounts you hold and what you would want to happen to them may greatly help should they ever need to access, manage or close accounts on your behalf.”
James Antoniou, Head of Wills for the Co-operative Legal Services, added: “When people are thinking about how they want their assets to be divided, the first thing people usually consider is making a will. However this typically only covers financial assets or physical belongings rather than taking an individual’s digital legacy into account.
“It is important that people are aware that they should never leave online passwords in their will as it can become a public document after death. Individuals can, however, leave details of the online accounts they hold in a sealed letter alongside their will and addressed to their executors to ensure that their digital lives are not missed, or forgotten about, once they have passed away.”
Commenting on the findings, Benjamin Cohen, Former Channel 4 News Technology Correspondent said: "From the bank statement that now lands via email rather than through the post, to our online contacts that have replaced our address book, as each and every year passes we’re increasingly living our lives online. Due to this it’s essential that we start to consider our digital legacy now, before it is too late. Our personal accounts, such as Facebook or Gmail and our professional profiles on LinkedIn are all manifestations of our lives and, should the worst happen, these need to be either wound up or converted into memorial pages. But to do this without clear guidance and passwords is no easy task.
“The Co-operative Funeralcare has put together a guide, talking you through the process for the most popular services. Whilst some providers such as Facebook have taken recent steps to address this, not all digital services have systems in place to deal with legacies and an executor's task is a difficult one at the best of times. Putting plans in place now - so you can decide what happens to your digital estate - is something we all need to consider, before it is too late.”
To help consumers plan for manage digital legacies, The Co-operative Funeralcare has developed a guide offering advice and information about managing and protecting online accounts and assets, as well as identifying the accounts of loved ones who have died which can be viewed at: www.co-operativefuneralcare.co.uk/help-with-accounts-online.