Digital Assets: Planning for a Digital Afterlife

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Planning for a digital afterlife is becoming increasingly important; especially when the digital asset in question has a monetary value rather than a sentimental value.

The definition of a digital asset is broad, including all content, accounts and files created and stored on line or on digital devices such as computers and smart phones. Examples of digital assets include: online bank accounts, trading sites such as eBay, internet payment sites such as PayPal, online gaming accounts such as Xbox live and online social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Flickr. Digital devices such as computers, tablets and phones are also considered as digital assets.

It is therefore imperative that you are clear on how you would like each asset to be dealt with on death. Social media profiles such as Facebook or Instagram, can be either frozen and turned into an online memorial for friends and family, or taken off line. Emails may either be kept for the family or deleted as may contain sensitive information.

What would you like to happen to your photos stored online? Perhaps you would like them to be downloaded and printed out for certain beneficiaries.

It is likely that you access your digital assets using a variety of devices, phones, laptops, desktops etc. These should be identified and listed in an inventory often referred to as a digital assets log.

Once you have listed all your devices you should try to note against it the content (in particular, focusing on any device through which they access any digital asset with value e.g. internet banking).

Noting the physical location of each device is also helpful, together with that devices username and password. You should then identify the chosen beneficiary and include final wishes for that asset – i.e. to be deleted or shared.

Please also consider not only the device but the digital files on that device. These are two separate things. The files on a device are also part of your digital estate and can be shared with many people. Therefore beneficiary of the device and the digital files on that device could in fact be two different people.

Once the digital log is prepared you will need to ensure that your Will reflects your final wishes in respect of each digital asset. If on death, your estate will consist of valuable digital assets it may be advisable that you also appoint a more technologically savvy person to assist the executor in handling digital assets. This person would be known as your Digital Executor.

When administering an estate it is crucial an Internet Service Providers (ISP) terms and conditions are reviewed and this is where your executors may benefit from seeking legal advice. Even if an executor is aware of the digital asset and potentially the required passwords, it is still up for debate whether the executor has the right to access these accounts. The ISP’s terms and conditions should be reviewed and are usually instructive on whether the service prohibits the sharing of login information. Some services make exceptions for executors and attorneys but it is important to always check.

For more information on ensuring your Will disposes of your digital assets in accordance with your wishes please contact our specialist Will solicitors, Lucy Nevill or Gema West


Article by Lucy Nevill, Lucy is a Solicitor specialising in Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney and is based in our Ferring office.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.