Managing accounts online - planning ahead

Advice and guidance on how you can help loved ones in the future by organising and recording your online accounts today.

What happens to your online accounts and assets when you die?

This depends on what your online assets are and who they are with. When you set up an account with an online provider, be that a music and entertainment provider like iTunes or a utilities provider like British Gas, you are asked to agree to their ‘User Agreement’ which is captured within their terms and conditions.

User agreements are unique to every online provider, but the general principle is that online assets are non-transferrable to another user and sharing passwords breaches the terms and conditions.

Even in the event of a death, online providers will not allow another person access to the account, they will however take steps (upon receipt of certain information) to close down or deactivate accounts.

Online assets are non transferable

How you can help your loved ones in the future?

We now spend more of our lives online. In the past, we had ‘hard copies’ of information such as CD’s or records of the music we owned, prints of the photographs we’d taken and paper bills, statements and account information from the organisations we did business with (banks, utility and insurance providers).

A lot of this activity now happens online and many people just don’t see the need to keep ‘hard copies’ of their lives. However, to truly preserve personal digital assets such as photographs for generations to come, then it is recommended that you print them off.

Following a death, physical items can be given to family members, friends or to a charity and you may have even specified what items would be given to whom within a will. 

Transferring ownership of ‘virtual assets’ can be more challenging, because many user agreements specify that username and passwords must not be shared for security reasons, and rightly so, but many of us have very valuable assets hosted online – our music libraries, films, photographs and messages.

Many of these items will hold a great deal of value to you, and your family and friends. They could also have a considerable financial value associated to them.

Here are a few simple practical things you can do to ensure your online belongings are passed onto the people you care about:

Have a conversation

You can help your family or friends easily identify your legacy by talking to them about it and what you would like to happen should anything happen to you.

Tell those close to you where you have saved valuable personal items such as photographs and films.

If you have assets such as music and photographs held via an online provider you should make sure you have copies of these within your personal files and folders so these can be passed on as you wish.

Leave a trail

Maintain a list of all the organisations that you hold online accounts with and let someone know where this can be found.

List of accounts

You can go a step further and leave this information in a sealed envelope and stored alongside your will or on an encrypted flash drive – you need to keep this updated, be careful not to breach any terms of your agreement (you shouldn’t share online accounts and passwords for example).

It would also be useful to include the telephone numbers of these providers in your list because with some companies you can only submit an online enquiry if you have an account.
You should also make sure that your personal representative knows what they are looking for, where to find it and, in the case of an encrypted flash drive, how to identify the password.

You may also want to consider what will happen with your IT equipment and how loved ones might be able to access it if anything were to happen to you. You should never share your usernames or passwords but consider how a loved one might access this information in the future if they needed to.

Did you know? If you don’t know an iPad passcode, you’ll need to erase the device using iTunes. You can then use a backup to put data and settings back onto it.

Make a Will

A Will is one way of leaving information about your legacy however please note that your Will may become a public document after your death so you would not want to include usernames and passwords.

Leave list of accounts alongside your Will
Furthermore, if you want to update your Will then there may be costs attached if you are instructing a legal professional.

The Co-operative Legal Service can provide further information and advice about making or updating a Will.