What happens to your digital assets on the event of death.

What are your digital assets?

The formal definition is any content that is stored digitally, and this can include music, photographs, information stored as text or a spreadsheet. It includes your social media accounts, so, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and your online banking, shopping and auction accounts, including PayPal, Ebay and other on-line store accounts.

In our increasingly technology focused and advancing society, where we are becoming  more and more reliant on our phones and devices these digital assets may well have a financial value but will certainly have a social and sentimental value which will no doubt be important for your loved ones when you are no longer here. They need to be considered as an asset of your estate and like with any asset you need to plan what will happen to them when you die.

A recent YouGov survey found that over 52% of people said that nobody would be able to access their digital assets upon their death as they had not left any clear arrangements as to what digital assets they had and how they could and should be accessed and dealt with, with the reality being that these assets may well be lost forever.

What steps can you take to protect those digital assets in the event of your death?

It is really important to leave clear instructions with your executors as to what digital assets you have and what you want to happen to them when you are no longer here, to preserve both the financial and sentimental value.

It is also important to be aware that some digital assets are subject to licences and terms and conditions that you will have agreed to when signing up to the accounts. For example, you will not own the content of your social media accounts, as it is owned by the sites themselves and therefore your executors may struggle to access and take back control of the content of those accounts when you die. Licences often expire upon death and therefore if you have purchased music under a licence agreement, you will not be able to pass it on to someone else on your death. It is therefore essential you back up your photographs and music, saving them onto your devices and printing off hard copies of photographs. Another option is to check whether you can have a family sharing account, if appropriate, for example, for sharing music, so that on your death that account continues and your family can still access the music.

Some social media sites have introduced the idea of a legacy contact, someone you name who can have access to your account and make decisions in the event of your death. Check whether this is something your social media sites offer and if it is make sure you have updated those details, as not only may it allow your family access but can protect against things like identity theft.

Whilst your digital assets may not be what initially springs to mind when you consider your estate, in these times where our digital footprints are much larger than we probably even realise it is so important to think about these issues as part of the larger picture of estate planning, as well as to help make life easier for those we love at what will already be a very difficult time.

Originally published 9 June 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.