What happens to your digital assets after death?
‘Digital assets’ are the possessions you access on a digital device such as a laptop, mobile phone, tablet or personal computer. They are normally accessed via an online account and include things such as digital photos, digital music tracks or videos that are stored online and accessed by logging into a personal account with the provider. Other examples are emails, conversations in social media and online games.
Most people also access actual assets and services via online accounts, such as bank accounts, credit cards, pension funds, investment portfolios and utilities. Although these are not digital assets as such, access is controlled via a digital portal by typing in a username and password.
Maintaining access to online accounts is essential for either financial or sentimental reasons, and if you were to die, your loved ones may not be able to access your accounts, documents and photographs.
It would be sensible to make a list of all digital assets and liabilities you hold in online accounts together with a list of logins and passwords. Make sure you store the list securely as a hard copy and keep it up to date. You should make your executors aware of the list and where it is stored, for example with a secure password manager and/or securely and confidentially with your Will at your solicitors. Many solicitors, including Coffin Mew, do not charge for this service. You should never share with other people your PIN numbers or other information relating to your bank accounts.
Once you have reviewed your digital assets, you should clarify what happens to them if you die. For each online account, review the terms and conditions. Some Internet Service Providers (ISP), such as Facebook and Google, allow you to appoint a contact to take control of the account and to memorialise it following the death of the account holder. You should contact the ISP during your lifetime to nominate a person. Other ISPs will automatically delete inactive accounts after so many days and if you do not make provision, all of your digital assets held with them could be lost including documents, photos and other sentimental or valuable assets. Therefore, it is sensible to make plans to enable your executors to access the assets after your death.
It is equally important to secure access to your laptops, PCs, mobile phones and any household devices. Make a note of login details and passwords; your executors may need to access information held on your devices to complete things like tax returns. Apple has particularly strong safeguards to protect data from falling into the wrong hands, which could mean that it is impossible for your executors to unlock an Apple device without the login and password.
Consider whether any sensitive or confidential information is stored in your emails or on devices and whether access to these by your family will cause distress. If so, you should consider deleting such information in your lifetime.
If you run your own business, consider printing off or sharing essential information with trusted colleagues. This important succession planning may be vital to ensure business continuity. You should discuss with your business partners what happens on death and make provisions in your Will.
If any assets you hold online have intellectual property rights attached to them, consider including them as a legacy in your Will.
If you hold crypto-currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, you should note down details of the public and private keys held in any digital wallets and arrange for the details to be stored securely. You may want to include them in a legacy in your Will. You should make your executors aware of your holding so that they can secure control following your death.
Remember it is not just after your death that a third party may need access to your accounts. If you lose capacity, for example because of an accident, illness or dementia, or simply just need a little help as you get older, then you should make Lasting Powers of Attorney, appointing a trusted family member, friend or professional as your attorney to help manage your affairs.
Trying to make a Will without legal assistance can lead to mistakes or lack of clarity and could mean that your Will is invalid or your wishes are not met. This also applies to Lasting Powers of Attorney where professional legal advice can make sure you are fully protected. For more information contact Deanne Ferguson Associate Solicitor in Brighton in our Wills, Trusts & Probate team on 01273 069992.