When people consider putting a Will in place it is typical for them to think about what shall happen to their tangible assets in particular. These may include jewellery, cars, cash and any properties which they may own. Quite notably, their intangible assets (which may range from photographs stored online to cryptocurrencies i.e. digital assets) are often forgotten.
In a recent survey commissioned by the Law Society, it was established that 93% of those who have a Will have not included any digital assets.
This statistic clearly demonstrates that, in light of more and more assets being held exclusively online, it is now increasingly important for individuals to consider the entirety of their estate when having a Will prepared and for them to have a clearer understanding of what happens to their digital assets when they die.
“What are digital assets?”
Whilst there is currently no legal definition for a digital asset, such assets are more generally known to include, but are not limited to:
- Photographs and videos stored online
- Social Media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat
- Blogs containing intellectual property
- Web addresses
- Virtual Currency – Cryptocurrency e.g. Bitcoins
This list, which is by no means exhaustive, demonstrates why it can be extremely difficult for your executors to trace your online accounts and other digital assets. It is therefore important for you to take the necessary steps to ensure that your wishes in relation to your digital assets are set out as clearly as possible.
“Monetary or Sentimental value?”
A useful starting point is to distinguish your digital assets which are of monetary value from those which have sentimental value.
Monetary Digital Assets
Where your digital assets have monetary value, such as PayPal accounts or digital cryptocurrencies, you must bear in mind that these assets may be a significant addition to your estate upon your death. Similarly, you may have assets which require consideration of intellectual property issues (eg. copyright, patents etc.).
As such, it is necessary for you to keep an inventory of these assets and how they can be accessed upon your death since they may value to your estate, enable your executors to administer your estate more efficiently and assist in satisfying debts such as funeral costs and inheritance tax liability.
Sentimental Digital Assets
More often than not, assets such as your photographs and videos will predominantly be of sentimental value. These may be stored on social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter and other similar platforms.
There is not a consistent approach to how social media platforms deal with your accounts upon death, making it even more important to consider these matters during your lifetime. Twitter, for example, will liaise with your executors or with a verified immediate family member to organise the deletion of your account, whilst Facebook may allow a nominated legacy contact (who may be your executor(s)) to look after your “memorialised” account upon your death.
Although it is easy to disregard digital assets which are only of sentimental value, it is worth noting that nominating someone to deal with these accounts after you die may be of great comfort to friends and loved ones who may struggling with their loss.
“What steps should I take to protect my digital assets?”
- Review your digital assets and consider making a log of all your accounts and passwords, store it safely and keep it updated. You may consider storing this log in hard copy or securely online. You should not provide a list of your passwords to anyone else during your lifetime, however you can consider including a clause in your Will granting your executors discretion to deal with your digital assets.
- Prepare written instructions to your executors about what you would like to happen if you were to die (eg. deletion of accounts, memorialisation of accounts etc.).
- Update your Will to include gifts of specific digital assets which carry sentimental or monetary value.
If you would like to have a Will put in place then feel free to contact our Wills, Trusts and Probate Team on 01603 610911 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.