30 Apr Dying with Digital Assets – What will happen to your digital assets?
Technology is more important than ever before, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of us who can work from home, are doing so in accordance with government guidance, thus relying almost entirely on our ability to communicate virtually. But it’s not just working professionals who are heavily reliant on computers. Internet use amongst the over 65’s has increased substantially over the past few years, and figures are expected to rise over the next decade as an increasingly tech savvy population ages.
The question of what happens to our Digital Assets when we die has never been so important.
What are Digital Assets?
Most of us keep or access music, photos and documents online. We use email, social media, and cryptocurrencies such as PayPal and participate in online shopping. You may have your own website, use auction sites such as eBay or even trade shares online. All these things can be considered Digital Assets.
Why are Digital Assets important?
Our Digital Assets may carry value, whether it be financial or sentimental.
Website domain names are some of the most expensive assets in the world. For example, the domain name www.cars.com was valued at a record-breaking $872 million, which serves as a reminder of just how valuable some Digital Assets can be!
For many of us, our Digital Assets will hold great sentimental value. Precious family photos are all too often lost when they have not been backed up properly.
It’s for these reasons that it is important to plan for what happens to these assets when we die, or when we lose mental capacity, not only because of the financial and sentimental value involved, but also to ensure that our private and confidential information is not misused.
Can I pass my Digital Assets to my loved ones in my Will?
It depends on the type of Digital Asset in question.
Those Digital Assets which carry financial value, such as online bank accounts, reward points and cryptocurrencies such as PayPal accounts, can be left to your loved ones in your Will.
Gary Rycroft, Chair of the Law Society’s Digital-Assets Working Group advises that ‘you have the legal right to manage the deactivation, memorialisation or removal of your digital social life, but you need to take steps to exercise your rights by making a Will.’
However, it’s not so easy when it comes to social media and online libraries. This is because more often than not, the use of online services grants us nothing more than a licence. Facebook and Twitter have policies in place, allowing user accounts to be ‘memorialised’, but for the majority of sites, accounts will remain dormant until they are deleted due to inactivity. Media which you may have purchased online through sites or applications and store on an online library such as iTunes, cannot be passed onto a loved one through your Will. This is because iTunes simply grants its users a licence to use the music, thus you have no ownership rights.
Time for action
For the reasons discussed, it is increasingly important to plan ahead, and to think about your Digital Assets.
The first step is to make a Will. We strongly advise that everyone should have a Will in place regardless of whether they have Digital Assets or not!
While there are security issues in doing so, advice from the Law Society and STEP Digital Assets Global Special Interest Group is to make sure your personal representatives know how to access your accounts and passwords. This might include storing a sealed envelope with your will or in another secure place, to be opened only upon your death.
Specific wishes, for instance regarding your social media accounts, can be expressed in a letter of wishes to accompany your will (again, this can be stored with your will, and updated regularly as needed).
Article by Leanna Haskell who is a Chartered Legal Executive in our Private Client Department. To find out more about making a Will or discuss changing an existing will please contact us to make an appointment on 01747 852377 and confirm which of our offices is more convenient for you. You have a choice between Shaftesbury, Gillingham, Dorset and Sturminster Newton.
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