Navigating the Digital Afterlife

The Increasing importance of Digital Estate Management.

By Luke Cheadle, Head of UK Operations for The Estate Registry

In our digital world, individuals accumulate not only physical possessions but also a vast amount of digital assets. From social media profiles to online financial accounts, these digital footprints form part of our legacy, and may stay active long after our deaths.

Estate planning for physical assets is becoming a significant factor for those nearing end of life yet, when it comes to considering what happens to digital accounts and profiles after an account holder has died, many individuals overlook their digital lives and the accumulation of personally associated online assets or property.

So, for professionals in law, finance, privacy management, and legacy planning, for example, it is imperative to recognise the growing importance of digital estate planning – a trend that is reshaping how estates manage and preserve their online presence after death.


What is a digital asset?

In short, a digital or online asset is an intangible asset that exists online or in a digital device, for example:

  • Social media accounts, message board accounts
  • Websites, domain names, blog contents
  • Smart phones, tablets, digital watches, and applications on them
  • Online financial accounts and, credit facilities, including PayPal or Klarna, as well as Virtual currencies and/or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum
  • Digital accounts for online betting or lotteries
  • Transferable online rewards programmes and loyalty points such as Air Miles, Clubcard’s or hotel points
  • Digital photographs, videos, music, e-books, audio books, information and documents stored on online accounts such as the Cloud
  • Online gaming avatars or accounts, and in-game items with real world value.


According to Express VPN, a security software that encrypts users’ web traffic, of the 68 million population in the UK as of 2024, there will be a predicted 20 million deceased social media profiles by 2050[1] and 70 million by 2100.

Amongst the social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and TikTok, all with their large user base, are a host for digital memorials. These not only raise questions about the management and ethical considerations of deceased accounts but could also impose a considerable financial burden on social media platforms in the future.

Further to this, the prospect of social media platforms evolving into digital cemeteries brings with it not just emotional and ethical considerations, but also implications for relatives. Without clear instructions from an estate, family members may struggle to access or close online accounts, leading to potential privacy breaches, AI clones, deepfakes, identity theft, or loss of sentimental possessions. This poses the question of who looks after these social media accounts, or who closes them? And, more importantly, what is the closure process, and is it clearly defined?

Facebook users have the most clear and definitive closure process. They can appoint a ‘legacy contact’ before they pass – which would suggest they would like their account to be memorialised – who acts as mediator of the account. To protect the privacy of the person who has died, legacy contacts, however, cannot remove nor alter any posts, read messages, or remove and add friends.

Meanwhile, Twitter does not allow for accounts to be memorialised, and so will only remove the account if it is notified by an immediate family member or executor of the estate.

Ten years ago, Google established a feature called ‘inactive account manager’, which requests that users decide what happens to their account should they die. However, if a selection is not made Google’s strict policy means that if an account is not used within two years it is deemed inactive, and so obtaining access to a deceased person’s email account will be possible only in rare cases.

For accounts on Instagram, there is currently no legacy contact option available, but family members can make their profile into a memorial page. LinkedIn allows others to notify it of a deceased user and it will research and confirm this before taking action.

For digital assets such as cryptocurrency accounts, or online programmes, it is crucial that all digital assets are listed and factored into estate planning making transitions smoother. It is also becoming common for estates to appoint a dedicated “Digital Executor” who, may not be legally bound by appointment, is solely responsible for the online assets. This person will be in charge of managing the digital accounts – including the locating, downloading, converting, or destroying of those accounts.

Estates should also consider a Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs), which can be a helpful document to have in place, allowing a person prior to death to appoint a trusted family member or friend as an ‘attorney’ to make decisions about their welfare, property, and financial affairs.

Digital estate planning may involve legal nuances which estate planning professionals can help with to ensure that the wishes regarding digital assets are honoured. Without a proactive plan, digital assets may become inaccessible or lost, causing unnecessary stress for family members.

As we continue to move into a more digitalised age, with more digital assets becoming an essential part of our lives, the trend of digital estate planning is seeing a surge in importance and interest.

Digital estates represent a paradigm shift in estate management, which is driven by advancements in technology and the changing of consumer preferences and practices.

By addressing and understanding the various types of digital assets people, with the support of estate planning professionals, should be able to create a comprehensive inventory of them, and safeguard their digital legacy, by giving an executor everything they need to ultimately settle the estate. With the right strategies and tools in place, this also means that businesses can ensure a smoother transition for clients and their loved ones.



This article was published by The Estate Registry as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate.

The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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