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An average digital life – what happens when it’s over?

Selwyn Figueras
A day in data

Apple vs Android – does it matter?

I’m all about Apple. I am fully subsumed into the Matrix world of the Apple ecosystem and gleefully make monthly contributions to the corporate giant’s bottom line. I am not, however, in an exclusive relationship with Apple. I like to ‘cloud’ around.

What Google have done for search and cloud services for end users is frankly fantastic, and as good as Apple’s iCloud is in terms of the sync between devices, etc, the search features in Drive have made Google the default option for my personal data management needs for some years now.

In writing this, I accept that I may be opening myself up to attacks from ID hackers by effectively pointing them in the direction of the digital ‘family jewels’, but I’m setting the context of what is likely just an example of an average, run of the mill data services use case for millions around the world.

Regardless of where I put it, or how I use it, there are now THREE things that are certain in life – taxes, death AND data.

The data we create/gather as citizens of the world, data accumulated during a life’s worth of interaction with a continuously growing range of services, accounts for a significant and increasingly important part of a person’s life. As a forty-something year old with data I’ve been accumulating over just the last 20 years, it’s hard to fathom what the data needs of a global population connected from birth can grow to be.

How much data is generated every day?

The figures on data are just staggering and this infographic from Visual Capitalist attempts to process it for us – find it online here

A day in data












In summary, data currently being generated daily looks like this:

  • 500 million tweets sent
  • 294 billion emails sent
  • 4 petabytes of data are created on Facebook
  • 4 terabytes of data are created from each connected car
  • 65 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp
  • 5 billion searches are made; and
  • By 2025, it’s estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day globally – that’s the equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs per day!

So much of this data is, of course, data that, when we die, we can’t just leave to our loved ones. There’s data that belongs to you and much that doesn’t. Making sure your nearest and dearest can properly process your estate is getting complex, and often there really is little that can be done to ensure continuity of access. Humans are bad at creating wills – and those have generally tended to relate to things we understood. Our photos and other memories, of huge sentimental value, are stored as data we hold alongside other data (think crypto assets and access credentials for online investment portfolios) of potentially significant financial value too.

Data also ranges from that which is stored on platforms run by entities that can open doors to next of kin but, as with crypto, access to certain data dies with its owner if that person has not left clear instructions ahead of time.  Crypto assets can be kept in personal wallets, without the keys to which the families can never realise/inherit the value. Beyond that, it’s the digital footprint in the shape of membership on platforms of all sorts, viewing statistics, history, photo libraries, social media accounts, and a myriad of other things that we all frankly forget about, that make up the digital estate – and IT IS a minefield.

As hard as it is for most of us to simply think about drawing up a will, I get that most of us won’t ever really be keen to manage our online presence on the basis that WE ARE GOING TO DIE.

Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill

So last week, in the House of Commons, Ian Paisley MP moved a motion for leave to bring in a Bill by the name of the Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill.

“The Bill will go some way towards unlocking and finding a way through [the digital devices and platforms] labyrinth. It will allow next of kin the automatic right to access to a person’s digital device and place a responsibility on the tech companies to unlock devices for those next of kin who do not have the access codes for devices left by the deceased. It will avoid unnecessary legal action by the next of kin. It will remove forever the unnecessary wall and unlock, for many, happy memories and access to what they thought was lost archive material about their loved one. Precious photos, videos, memories, messages, diaries and other material will be accessible to next of kin at the most difficult time in many families’ lives. There is a need for the Government to bring our laws into the digital new century and ensure that next of kin are not blocked by tech companies from having access to their loved one’s material.”

Mr Paisley went on to describe how: “Today an estimated £25 billion of our assets in the UK are held online in password-protected cloud storage solutions such as iTunes and social media accounts. For many people, digital assets fall into the important category of predominantly sentimental value—for example, memories, photos and videos stored on a laptop, notebook, smartphone or on social media accounts accessed via those devices. But this is not just about sentimental records. Music is purchased online, physical record, CD and book collections are replaced, and in some instances significant revenues are generated online. In the gaming world, a player’s virtual character can be traded for considerable revenue. YouTube channels, cryptocurrency and frequent flyer points can each be translated into monetary value—but only if next of kin has access. Most people are under the impression that they own their online content. They do not.”

The Bill, scheduled to be presented on 4 February, will no doubt attract an interesting debate which is long overdue about ownership of digital content, access to devices and platforms and how these all fit into the estates and succession planning context. It’s one to watch. The digital property at stake is of significant value, there are many questions unanswered and legal challenges aplenty for families dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one in 2022.

Whilst there’s currently no single correct way to manage this new and challenging component of your estate plan, the Bill presented before Parliament, if it attracts enough support and makes it on to the statute books, could be an inflection point for digital estate planning and management. In the meantime, you might want to consider using a password manager, or even something like Google’s inactive account manager too. Make sure family, and those you trust, know how to access key documents and your password service. Write a will, set it all out in there and provide practical pointers to ensure that when you’re no longer here to guide your family, they’ll at least get a slightly less bumpy start to their journey without you.

For any advice in this regard, get in touch with one of our lawyers in the private client team and they’ll be happy to help get you started on planning for that day when you can no longer help.  Not the most chipper note on which to end, I’ll concede, but it is what it is and focusing some attention on it today really can make life a whole lot easier when your family will most need it.

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