Will your digital assets die with you?
The term ‘digital asset’ is used to describe a relatively new type of property and broadly includes all content or accounts online, or stored on devices such as computers or smartphones, that someone may own or have a right to use. With the rise in use of digital platforms such as social media, online banking and online gaming accounts, the ownership of digital assets is on the rise but unfortunately English law has not yet caught up with modern times. This means there is often confusion as to what happens to such assets on death.
Exactly how digital assets are treated on death largely depends on the type of asset. For example, online bank accounts are usually fairly easy for executors to trace and on death are dealt with in the same way as a traditional bank account. However, other assets such as photos on social media, virtual currencies, music on iTunes or ebooks on Amazon Kindle may cause more of a problem.
For example, often in the case of subscription accounts such as iTunes, the digital assets are not owned by the individual but rather the individual has bought a non-transferable license from the Internet Service Provider (ISA). This means that the music purchased by the individual cannot be bequeathed under a Will or transferred on death because the ISA considers that the individual only ever had a license to access the asset. Virtual currencies such as bitcoin are stored online in a virtual wallet but a “private key” is needed to access the content of the wallet. If a bitcoin owner therefore dies without passing on the private key to his executors, his executors and beneficiaries may well discover that they will never be able to gain access to what may be substantial wealth inside the virtual wallet.
What can you do?
Regularly review and keep a record of all your digital assets to store with your Will. This will help your executors to identify such assets on death. It is not advisable to create a list of passwords to store with your Will, although there are a number of service providers who for a fee will store such information for you in a virtual safe. This type of service is of course not without its risks.
Review whether you can nominate someone to download some or all of the data on your death on any of the websites you use. For example Google Inactive Account Manager and Facebook Legacy Contact allow you to nominate such people.
Print off or store copies of key documents on your computer as opposed to storing them online. Similarly, remember that photos or videos may have sentimental value so downloading these or printing them off to store in an album will mean that your family and friends are able to access them more easily.
For more information on how you can best protect your digital assets on death, please contact Anna Ridley on 01892 506 151 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.