A recent survey found that we value our digital assets at approximately £25 billion and this will only increase as more of our lives are captured and stored in digital form. Our digital footprint exists throughout our entire life however is it time to start thinking beyond that – What about after our life has finished? What about our digital legacy?
Here in the United Kingdom, a digital asset is understood to be any information that exists in digital form for example blogs, digital photos, online bank accounts, media players, online gaming accounts and social media profiles. Despite the acknowledgement of the concept of a digital asset, very few actually consider what happens to this group of assets after they die. This is contrasted to the position with more tangible assets (your house, for example) where invariably people will provide for this in a will (although not always!). A YouGov poll in 2016 found that 52% said no one would be able to access their digital accounts if they died because they had not left any arrangements about what should happen.
In the modern era, making provisions for your digital assets is a very real consideration. Some of these assets may have some financial value, such as PayPal/bank accounts and bitcoins, and others may have sentimental value, such as photos or emails. Either way however, people will no doubt want something to happen to these assets on their death.
Social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can be either frozen and turned into an online memorial, or taken offline. For instance, Facebook have a “Legacy Contract” feature so you can nominate someone to have access to your account upon death allowing friends and loved ones to leave messages and view photos. Some assets are not owned by the individual and are merely licences to use a website’s services. These, in general, are specific to an individual and will terminate on death (for example, an iTunes account).
This is a developing area of law and, as such, there is no definitive answer as to how your digital assets will be dealt with on your death. Despite this ambiguity, here are some tips for protecting your digital legacy should the worst happen:
- Make a list of all your digital assets so that, on your death, the person dealing with your estate knows what they are and where to find them;
- Decide upon a safe place to store the details of your digital assets and make sure whoever is dealing with your assets is able to access them. There is, of course, the issue of how to deal with passwords. You could quite easily leave the username, password and other login details to whomever you wish to benefit or with your Will. However, since passwords change all the time, you could keep all of your passwords in a password manager or database, so you only need to pass on one master password, and you can keep all of your other passwords updated in the database;
- Appoint someone you trust to deal with these assets on your death and make sure they know what you want them to do;
- If the service provider provides an option to memorialise your account after death, ensure that your executors know your wishes and any particular message that you would like to leave to friends or followers; and
- Update your Will (or if you don’t have a Will then make one) to include your digital assets.
For further guidance on digital assets contact our technology sector specialist Martin McKinnell.