In a digital world where technology manages most of our data, it is important to consider what happens to our digital assets when we die. Will they be lost, or can they be inherited or accessed by our loved ones?
What are digital assets?
A ‘digital asset’ is anything that is created and stored digitally and is identifiable and has or provides value. Examples include but are not limited to:
- Media: music, videos etc
- Written documents: websites, emails, electronic documents
- Data stored in the cloud e.g. digital photos
- Designs: logos or graphics
- Social Media
- Financial e.g., PayPal, eBay etc
Including your digital assets in a Will
If you have a Will, your Executor is responsible for dealing with all of your assets including digital ones. You will need to consider if your choice of Executor understands such assets, or you can appoint an additional Executor who is well versed in such areas.
You should also consider who you would like to inherit your digital assets where possible. You will need to be specific about who you want to inherit these assets, as if no decision is made, it will fall into your residuary estate. If there are multiple residuary beneficiaries, it could prove difficult to divide digital assets.
How can you help your loved ones inherit/access your digital assets?
It can be very difficult to trace your digital assets after death, especially if no one knows they exist.
Some digital service accounts can be accessed after death, for example, Microsoft is content for anyone with login details to access and download emails or close the account. Social media accounts with Facebook and Instagram can be memorialised so friends and family can continue to access and share memories after a loved one has passed. However, you would need to decide this during your lifetime and appoint a legacy contact who will manage the account.
The best thing to do to help is to keep track of your digital assets with a log, detailing what they are and how they can be accessed. This is especially important where the assets have a financial value, such as PayPal accounts, intellectual property such as royalties, or cryptocurrencies. This will make your Executor’s job less difficult particularly if your digital assets are of high value and an inheritance tax liability arises. We recommend that you review your log regularly, at the very least annually, and place a copy with your original Will.
It is important however, that you do not provide information to compromise the security of your asset for example, do not provide any PIN numbers or passwords. Instead, you can explain how to access a safe deposit box or password manager which a nominated person can access upon death. Under the Computer Misuse Act, Executors and Personal Representatives can be found guilty of committing an offence if they access digital assets before death or after if not for the purpose for which access was granted. It could also be classified as money laundering under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
If you would have any questions regarding this article, please contact our specialist Wills, Trusts and Probate team.