In this guide our recently appointed ‘Digital Research Fellow’ James Norris, highlights the importance of making plans for our digital lives and provides ways in which you might want to do this.  

James has spent the last 10 years exploring and raising awareness around the increasingly important role our digital life has both when we are alive and also after we have died.  During this time he has spoken on BBC Breakfast and featured in the New Scientist. He launched the Digital Legacy Association at Hospice UK’s conference in 2015 and founded the care planning platform MyWishes.  

The average person in the UK now spends over four hours a day online and during the course of our lives, we create a trail of digital information. This trail is sometimes called our ‘digital footprint’.  

Our digital footprint might include photos uploaded onto social media sites, messages shared between friends on messaging apps, online shopping points and other digital assets held within online wallets and other financial accounts.   

The sentimental value and the monetary value placed on the content we upload, purchase and store online is increasing each year.  

When we die our digital footprint can help inform how we are remembered. This is often referred to as our ‘digital legacy’. With fewer and fewer photos and videos existing in physical formats (printed photos, photo albums, videotapes etc) our digital legacy is becoming increasingly important. When someone dies these assets often become inaccessible, lost, deleted and claimed by the organisations where they are located. 

Laday with walking stick watching laptop screen


Everyone who uses the internet, a computer or a mobile phone should think about and make plans for the devices they use. They should also make a log of the online accounts and digital possessions held within them. Making plans can help ensure that sentimental photos and videos remain accessible to those you care about following your death. It can also reduce the likelihood of financial assets being lost, prevent family disputes and reduce both solicitor fees and governmental taxation. 

Man with glasses writing on a note pad whilst on a laptop


Your mobile phone, computer and tablet. 

If you own a mobile phone, computer or tablet; is it password protected? If so, does anyone else apart from yourself know the password? If no one knows the password for your devices how might your loved ones access the photos and videos contained within them? If you use your mobile phone as your main phone book might it be of use for your next of kin when arranging your funeral? If you own a computer or laptop are there also important files, photos and videos stored within it? Once again, think about the information contained within your computer or any other electronic device that you use. How might you transfer some of the files and inform someone you trust how they can be accessed and why they are important to you? (We will explore this in more depth later on within this guide) 

Whatever your wishes are, discuss them today with someone you trust 

Social Media and cloud storage accounts 

Many social networks are no longer used and many have gone out of business. MySpace, Friendster and Flickr are just three of many. As society changes so will social networking. 

It is important to realise that social media sites and the media they contain will not exist forever.  

If you have uploaded photos and videos to a social network or if you store photos in a cloud service (like iCloud, Dropbox or Google photos) think about how the content will have longevity both online and offline.  

picture of a tablet and mobile screens

 Social networks and cloud storage providers do not grant access to someone else’s account after one of their users has died. Photos can be extracted from other people's social media profiles, however it can be difficult to do so. Making plans for your social networks and cloud storage platforms in advance is a great thing to do.  

Online bank accounts, prepaid travel cards, travel points, Cryptocurrency and other financial assets 

Within our ever increasing ‘paperless’ and digital society finding and accessing money, currencies and assets that are of a financial value can be difficult. When someone dies this task can become extremely stressful and often leads to digital financial assets being lost, reclaimed by organisations, financial institutions and the state. By documenting assets of a monetary value you can help ensure that the assets are received by the people and charities to whom you would like them to be gifted. 

Your email account 

Emails are used for setting up other online accounts, for paying bills, managing ongoing subscriptions and for an array of different personal and financial reasons. Would you want someone to access your email accounts after you have died in order to carry out administrative tasks? Whether the answer is “yes” or “no” plans should be made and conversations take place.  


Different ways you can make plans for your online accounts and safeguard your digital legacy 

Below is a list of tasks you might want to undertake.  Planning shouldn’t be seen as something scary but something positive that might benefit you mentally and spiritually. At a later date, it might also help reduce confusion, reduce the likelihood of assets being deleted and help safeguard aspects of your digital legacy.  

  • Think about how you might pass on access and pass on passwords for your accounts. Discuss this with someone you trust.
  • Print your favourite photos and share them with one or more people. 
  • If you use Facebook,  backup your Facebook photos and videos to your computer or a cloud storage platform (like Dropbox) 
  • If you use Facebook,  assign a legacy contact for your Facebook account. This will allow them to carry out a number of administrative tasks in your Facebook account after you have died.  

  • If you use Instagram, backup and transfer your Instagram photos and videos to your computer. 
  • If you use Google services (Gmail, Google Photos, Youtube etc) assign someone as your Google Inactive Account Manager.  
  • If you have a password on a mobile phone, computer or tablet decide how you might pass on your passwords for the devices. 
  • Consider creating  a folder titled ‘my favourite memories’ on your desktop. Once created add photos, videos and other content that is of sentimental value. When you are ready to do so, save the folder onto a memory stick and give it to a loved one. Alternatively, you might want to email your favourite photos and videos to someone you trust.  
  • If you use a Cloud storage account for personal photos or videos find out how you might pass on access to a loved one. Each service has a different policy and some have ways in which sharing can easily take place.
  • Document assets that are of a financial value in your Last Will & Testament.  
  • Document the wishes you have for all of your online accounts within a Social Media Will (sometimes called a Digital Will). This is a non-legally binding log of your accounts stating what you would like to happen with each. Once completed it can be emailed to someone you trust or printed and kept in a safe place. If you would rather not use MyWishes but instead, download and fill in an Excel document click here

Support for or Harlington Hospice and Michael Sobell Hospice

If you are a patient at Harlington Hospice or Michael Sobell Hospice and would like to receive support when making plans on MyWishes or for any of your online accounts email the Wellbeing Team using [email protected],