05 May 2021
Wills & Probate
These days, with so much of our lives – and money! – spent online, we all own a lot more digital assets than we might realise. Items such as digital photographs, music and films that you’ve purchased online are also likely to form part of your possessions so you may well wish to specify who owns these after your days.
A digital asset is, essentially, anything that is stored in a binary format and comes with a right to use. This means any accounts that you open online – including email, social media, photo sharing plus any websites and domain names which you own – as well as any items stored on your computer or online accounts, such as photographs, Word documents, spread sheets, family videos, emails and messages.
Most online accounts will be password protected and only you will have access to them. In fact, in many instances, only you will be aware they even exist.
This may not seem important but remember, some of these assets may have a monetary value – such as the balance on your PayPal account, bitcoins, gaming credits and digital intellectual property – so you may wish your executor to have access to those funds.
Most of us also have social media accounts these days too, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so you may want to give some thought to how these should be dealt with after your days. These accounts usually contain a lot of personal information and so it may not be wise to allow these to remain online indefinitely after your death.
When writing your Will, you should decide who, if anyone, should have access to these accounts following your death, and for what purpose.
If you have a website, domain names can also provide particular difficulties since if you die shortly before your hosting fees become due, the domain name could be allowed to lapse unintentionally through non-payment of fees.
As part of your succession planning, you should consider who you would like to benefit from your digital assets and how you would like your online presence to be dealt with after your death.
The first step in making provision for your digital assets is to clearly identify them and keep a record of them for the benefit of your executors. Several providers now offer, for a fee, an online ‘safety deposit box’ where you can store your usernames and passwords. These details will then be made available to a nominated person following your death.
An alternative is to keep a written list of accounts and access details in a safe place.
How or whether you can pass ownership of your digital assets to your chosen beneficiaries will depend on the policy of the particular internet service provider (ISP) with whom your account is held. Unfortunately, there is no one uniform set of rules and, since succession to your digital assets is not likely to have been on your mind when you first signed up to your ISP’s terms and conditions, you will need to go back and check your rights on death and responsibilities as an account holder, particularly with regards to keeping your usernames and passwords private.
For example, with regards items such as iTunes and Kindle accounts, you are effectively leasing the content, not buying it, so although you can leave your iPod or Kindle to your chosen beneficiaries, in theory, you cannot leave them the contents of these accounts.
Practical workarounds are possible, such as sharing passwords and account details, but the risk is that you could be in breach of your ISP agreement and/or the ISP could suspend your account if they become aware of your death.
Any wishes will be subject to the terms of the online provider so to make sure there are no additional complications, check with them before leaving any digital assets to anyone.
You may wish to include a digital assets clause in your Will. This could take the form of allowing your executors the discretion to decide who should benefit from any digital assets with monetary or sentimental value, or you may wish to be more prescriptive and leave certain digital assets to named beneficiaries. You should also consider whether social media accounts should be shut down or ‘memorialised’.
You may also wish to appoint a separate ‘digital executor’ or at least ensure that one of your executors is digitally literate so that they can deal with this aspect of your estate.
Many people imagine that making a Will is a long, complicated and expensive process but it is actually a fairly simple process and costs less than you’d think. It is worth instructing a solicitor so that you can ensure your Will is valid as there are various legal formalities which need to be followed correctly, providing you with the reassurance that your wishes will be carried out.
If you would like to talk to one of our friendly team about making a Will, we have years of experience and promise to treat you with empathy and respect. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01633 244233 or 029 2267 6818.