How to plan for and to deal with your digital assets upon death?

Rutters Solicitors - Wills, Probate, Trusts and Inheritance Tax

How to plan for and to deal with your digital assets upon death?

Rutters Solicitors - Wills, Probate, Trusts and Inheritance Tax

It is now the norm for us to have various digital assets such as social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram etc), music and photos stored electronically on devices plus cloud storage, email accounts etc. Due to the ever expanding information age, how digital assets are dealt with on death is becoming an increasingly important area of consideration.

What are ‘Digital Assets’?

Digital assets can take many forms, meaning that they range from social media account profiles to email accounts, online photos or music libraries that a person has built up over a lifetime. It is likely that many of us do not have physical records of these assets, which means that the digitised assets can be of both huge emotional value but also in some cases significant monetary value also.

An increasing area of concern is the treatment of digital ‘crypto-currencies’ (such as Bitcoin) following death, with access to them potentially fraught with difficulties if the correct information has not been left easily accessible.

Can ‘digital assets’ actually be owned?

The ownership of such assets can be extremely difficult to establish. The assumption would be that our social media accounts (and the photos stored thereon) and any music or entertainment we download is ours. However, despite purchasing these assets, the actual ownership of them is difficult to quantify.

In relation to photos on social media platforms, the content uploaded may actually belong to the platform itself, not you or your estate. This is due to the terms and conditions that you agree to when you begin to use the service. Therefore, it really depends on what has been agreed to at the outset as, after death, it is unlikely that the social media behemoths would allow terms and conditions to be broken. Taking another example, it may be that rather than purchasing an asset as such, you pay for the licence to use these assets as you see fit (for example streaming websites or audiobooks). It may be that this licence is personal to you or ceases on death – again, each service will have different stipulations.

However, if you have content stored electronically on a device (such as an iPad or Android device) then these form part of your estate. Unfortunately, if the details are unknown to allow your personal representatives access, then obtaining such access will be difficult. In particular, there have been well documented instances when manufacturers have refused access following death to government agencies as they are reluctant to allow access due to privacy. As such, it is easy to imagine how they will react to a family personal request.

Do digital assets have any value on death?

On the assumption that access is obtained, the question of valuing these assets is very difficult. If they are owned by you, then there is (like any asset) an inherent value. However, whether a picture of you at the beach has any value (other than sentimental) is one that can only be answered by you!

What steps should be taken during life?

As there may be difficulties for your executors to access online content, you should back up your digital assets (i.e. using a hard drive or printing physical copies). In conjunction with backing up these assets, a properly drafted Will is important as you can leave instructions to your executors about what should happen to these assets when you die.

A final thought is that if you leave details of usernames and passwords stored with your Will, technically these should not be disclosed for confidentiality reasons and doing so is a breach of terms and conditions. Many websites now allow you to nominate a ‘legacy contact’, so we recommend that you check each website carefully to ensure all steps that you can take now have been taken.

If you have any further questions about protecting digital assets in the event of your death or making a Will generally please do not hesitate to contact Matthew Billingsley on 01258 444481. Matthew is a Private Client Solicitor at Rutters Solicitors who have offices in Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury and Gillingham.