Protecting your Digital Assets in life and death
- AuthorLeah Vincent
With our lives getting increasingly entwined with digital technologies and the online world, digital assets are fast becoming impossible to ignore.
From social media and email accounts to cryptocurrency and photographs, digital assets are now an important part of people’s lives.
When someone dies without making provision for access to their digital assets after death, it can pose a difficult challenge to loved ones and your Executors.
Therefore, the need for people to manage their online life so that it can be administered after their death is becoming increasingly important.
So, how can you make this easier in your lifetime at an already distressing time for those that you leave behind?
One of your first considerations will be whether or not you actually want to pass on any of your digital assets. You may not want your emails, photographs or digital works to be accessed by anyone else once you’ve died. Assuming that you do, you need to plan for this now.
Think about the accounts you have and if there is a function whereby you can nominate a trusted individual to take over on your death.
Consider your Will in the context of your digital assets. Do any changes need to be made? Are you happy for the people you have appointed as your Executors to access your online accounts?
Make an inventory or log of your ‘digital’ life – you will probably be surprised by the extent of your digital footprint!
Although we are discouraged from recording our passwords, many people do because the number we now have to remember makes it difficult not to.
It is important to strike a balance between the security of your accounts during your lifetime with the need for your Executors to have knowledge of your digital assets upon your death.
Whilst being mindful of breaching your Internet Service Provider agreements, keep a secure list of your online accounts. Consider keeping usernames and passwords separately or using a digital password manager.
Your Executors will want to access this information, but only in the event of your death. This is particularly critical for online financial accounts, such as cryptocurrency which cannot be retrieved without the ‘key’ to your cryptowallet.
However, your Executors will need to be careful not to break the law in accessing your accounts after your death and so we recommend they seek legal advice when the time comes.
You may wish to leave your Executors instructions in your Will as to how you want your digital assets to be distributed, for instance you may want to bequeath your cryptocurrency to a friend rather than it being swept up into your residuary estate.
You could also state to your Executors how you would like your social media accounts to be dealt with; for example, you might want your Facebook account to be deleted after your death or memorialised. Each social media platform has a different approach to dealing with accounts of deceased people and it is worth checking their terms and conditions.
There is currently no legislation in England & Wales specifically governing the succession of digital assets. There have been calls on the government to provide urgent and much needed clarity on this, but until such time, we recommend reviewing your Will regularly, to remind you to keep up to date with all your assets, both tangible and digital, so that you leave your affairs in line with your wishes.
Please contact a member of the Private Client department if you would like further advice on making or reviewing your Will.