Wills in the digital age

7 February, 2018

This week the trainee solicitor blog team caught up with Natasha Holme. Natasha is a first seat trainee in the specialist dispute resolution team. Read on to see her thoughts on what to consider when writing a Will in a digital era.

 

“I leave my house to my boyfriend, my photo albums to my mother and I ask that my executors destroy the pictures from my university cheerleading tour immediately”

 

Due to the nature of private client work, I read a lot of Wills. Almost all of them include the following: a house, savings, a pension and some personal assets. As I drafted my own Will (hopefully unnecessarily premature at the age of 23), I couldn’t help but wonder what the Wills of people born in ‘generation rent’ will look like. It is likely that far fewer people will have properties to leave behind. However, almost everyone will have some form of digital assets to pass on. But how many people have actually given any thought to what will happen to their digital assets when they die?

 

What are digital assets?

Digital assets can include:

  • social media pages;
  • email accounts;
  • websites;
  • bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies;
  • music;
  • photos; and
  • e-books.

 

Some of the digital assets listed above are not ‘ours’ to determine what we do with them after our death. A number of social media pages only give us a licence to use their services and these are typically personal to us and not transferable on death. Nevertheless, some social media sites have implemented a policy for when users have died. Both Facebook and Instagram offer verified family members the opportunity to memorialise a deceased person’s account or remove it. Facebook has taken this one step further as it allows you to choose a legacy contact who can pin posts to your timeline. This is useful for announcing funeral arrangements or Just Giving pages.

Of the digital assets that you do own, such as your photos stored on a computer, it may be helpful to keep a digital directory, setting out the details of your digital assets and your corresponding instructions for what you want your executors to do with them after your death.

 

Summary

While an ever increasing number of people are writing Wills that give instructions on how they want their traditional assets distributed, I am yet to see any Wills that take digital assets into account. So, rather than leave your executors guessing what you would have wanted to do with your digital assets, why not leave clear instructions? The main benefits of doing this are that it can reduce the amount of stress your loved ones have to face during an already difficult time and you can have certainty about who will receive your possessions.