Now, more than ever before, life is captured and stored in and across various digital assets – from social media accounts to email accounts, photo storage accounts and more. But what happens to those digital files and assets when you die?
For more information on the importance of planning the succession of your digital assets get in touch with our Private Client team on 01284 767766 – but for now, keep reading to find out exactly what you need to know about what happens to digital assets after death UK.
What is a digital asset?
There is currently no legal definition of a ‘digital asset’, with the term broadly used to refer to any content, account or media created and stored either online or on a digital device, such as your smartphone or computer.
With financial and sentimental assets contained under this heading, these assets can range from music files, family photos, crypto currency and online bank accounts, to content you have on websites such as Apple’s iTunes, eBay, Amazon, PayPal or Google.
Other examples include Facebook posts; photos and videos uploaded to ‘cloud’ storage; and emails.
What this means for most us is that we have more digital assets that we realise – and our life is stored and memorialised across a series of accounts and logins. Keep reading to ensure that upon your death, those assets with both monetary value and sentimental value are not lost.
What happens to my online accounts and digital assets when I die?
The idea of digital assets is relatively new, so it is often unclear as to how those assets are owned. The best advice is to plan ahead to avoid loss of any sentimental value or financial data.
Digital assets on the internet are owned by those individual online service providers, so accessing them can prove difficult for your loved ones. For example, you may be paying Apple or Google to store your digital photos in their cloud services – which means you own the account and the digital photos, but you don’t own the storage facility.
Let’s be honest. Succession to your digital assets was probably not on your mind when you set up your accounts. This means that one day, your family members will need to decide whether those accounts should be shut down or, as with some social media sites such as Facebook, ‘memorialised’ – which is when online posts can continue to be made post-death.
While digital devices such as an mp3 player or Kindle can be gifted to beneficiaries through your Will, you can’t, in theory, leave them your account details to access the content.
Since an online service provider may not allow access to your account by third parties, you’ll need another way to back things up. In that case, where possible, you should keep hard copies of your digital assets, including putting them on a disc/USB stick if appropriate so that family members do not lose their items of sentimental value.
Will, Letter or both?
You may wish to include information in your Will which gives your Executors the power to decide who should inherit your digital assets. Alternatively, you could be more specific and name particular people to receive certain assets – for example, while your iTunes account may not have any monetary value, you might want a particular member of your family to have the benefit of your music collection through access to the account.
Similarly, you may have a more ‘tech savvy’ family member who might be better suited to dealing with your digital content than your other Executors – in which case you may wish to appoint a ‘digital Executor’, who handles only the digital assets accumulated during your lifetime.
Any private details about your accounts should go into a letter to be sealed and kept with your Will.
When to make a list
The first step in preserving your digital assets and ensuring that others can access them after your death is to clearly identify them. What are they? Where are they? How can they be found and accessed through passwords and login details?
A good starting point for this would be a written list, to be kept in a safe place. This list shouldn’t be included in the Will since it becomes a public document and your digital information is likely to be very personal.
As with a Will, a regular review of the list and/or letter should be put in place to keep important account details up to date, such as the social media accounts you use and how to log into them.
Passwords need to be kept separately and securely.
What if I don’t mention my digital assets at all?
If you’ve not left any instructions, while it’s possible that your family and/or Executors may be aware of more obvious digital assets, such as shared family photos or a music collection, this is not always the case.
Some examples of digital assets which others may not know about or understand are crypto currency (Like ‘Bitcoin’), Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or YouTube and TikTok accounts. A YouTube or TikTok account for example, may contain original content which could be ‘monetised’ to bring in significant value, based on how many ‘views’ the content creator receives. If you don’t leave the right details behind which instruct family members or friends on how to access these assets, you cannot be certain that they will be found.
Equally, your Executors could just as easily overlook small amounts of money in digital form such as lottery or online shopping accounts – these may contain money which has simply been forgotten about. If you want to be sure that these digital assets are passed on to the right people, you need to be sure that those individuals are aware of the assets’ existence and are able to access them after your death.
With so many digital assets and online accounts out there, it’s unlikely your Executors will know how to find all of your digital assets unless you’ve provided clear instructions for them. Because of this, our main recommendation is to make available a digital inventory in the event of your death.
Remember that digital assets can take many forms and are not always linked to monetary value – sometimes holding more sentimental value than anything else. But, as more people than ever now own and rely heavily on their mobile phones, personal computers and tablets, there is an increasing need to think about what should happen to these digital assets on death.
Digital assets like crypto currency, non-fungible tokens and social media accounts are relatively new considerations to have to make when thinking about the succession of your assets. But they are just as important to consider as those social media logins and other digital assets. For more information on how to manage the handover of online accounts upon your death, contact our Private Client team today on 01284 767766.
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© Atkins Dellow LLP 2022
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