What happens to my digital assets when I die?

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As the digital age becomes more and more of the norm, many of us are accumulating significantly more digital assets. These can include social media accounts, emails, cryptocurrency, and online banking. Few of us consider these to be assets and even fewer consider what may happen to these assets when we die. Understanding how digital assets are managed and ensuring that these assets are administered in accordance with your wishes is becoming an increasingly important part of estate planning.

Digital assets can be categorised into two types

  1. Personal digital assets – these include social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email accounts, YouTube, online photographs and digital files stored on cloud services such as Dropbox.
  2. Financial digital assets – these include online banking accounts, cryptocurrency, online investments, PayPal and other digital payment systems.

What legislation exists for the management of digital assets after death?

Currently in the UK there is no specific legislation in relation to the management of digital assets after someone dies. This can often result in the handling of such assets being complex, which is often exacerbated by the terms and conditions set by the service providers not dealing with bereavement.

The terms of service agreements in digital platforms such as Facebook allow for the appointment of a legacy contact who can manage your account after you die. Google’s inactive account manager also enables you to specify what happens to your Google account after a period of inactivity.

Access and privacy laws such as the data protection regulation (GDPR) can restrict access to digital assets and complicate matters for executors and beneficiaries. Without clear instructions and proper legal authorisation this can cause problems when attempting to access a deceased person’s digital account.

Planning for digital assets

To ensure that your digital assets and online digital presence are managed according to your wishes after your death, the following steps should be considered:

  • Create a digital assets inventory – create a comprehensive list of all of your digital assets including log in details, passwords and security questions. This inventory should be updated regularly to reflect any changes and kept in a safe place.
  • Appoint a digital executor – although this is not legally recognised in the UK, appointing a digital executor within your Will can help ensure your digital assets are handled appropriately. This person can work alongside the traditional executor to manage and distribute your digital assets. Alternatively, you can make reference to your digital assets in your Will authorising your Executor specifically regarding your digital assets.
  • Specify your wishes – it is important to clearly state your wishes for your digital assets in your Will. For example, you may want certain social media accounts detailed, certain Wills archived or accounts closed, and digital financial assets transferred to beneficiaries.
  • Utilise online tools – many platforms now offer ways to manage your account posthumously for example, Facebook’s legacy contact feature and Google’s inactive account manager as mentioned above.
  • Legal provisions – consider including specific legal provisions in your Will regarding your digital assets. This can provide your executors with the authority to access and manage your digital accounts in accordance with your wishes.

As with most things, there can be challenges and further considerations when seeking to protect your digital assets. It is important not to share your password as this can pose security risks and therefore, you should consider using a password manager to securely store and share your passwords with your digital Executor.

Executors are likely to face legal hurdles when accessing digital assets, especially if they are not explicitly mentioned in your Will.

Your executors may find determining the value of digital assets, particularly cryptocurrencies complex. It is therefore helpful to regularly update the value of the assets to reflect their current worth in your estate planning documents.

Digital assets are now an integral part of modern life and planning for their management after your death is crucial. Digital assets should be considered in the same way that you would consider your personal effects or other wealth and it is important to seek professional advice when taking these into consideration for your Will.

While the legal framework around digital assets in the UK is still evolving, proactive planning can help navigate the complexities and provide peace of mind.

If you have any questions about digital assets when making a Will, or would like to speak to a Wills and Probate Solicitor, please call us on 01279 295047 or complete our enquiry form and we will be in touch.

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