Will your digital legacy live on? Tips on dealing with your virtual assets
Writing a Will has traditionally been about who will inherit your tangible assets – your money, property and personal possessions. Today, the chances are you’ll also need to consider what should happen to your digital legacy.
Many of us now rely heavily on technology to maintain our day-to-day affairs. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, PayPal, online banking, cryptocurrencies and email – these are just a few of the services that increasingly form part of our digital lives. Even the most casual computer user has a surprising amount of electronic information stored online or in the cloud, on laptops, tablets, hard drives or flash drives, digital cameras, smartphones and other devices.
Why you need to think seriously about your digital assets
A digital asset is defined as personal property owned by an individual that is stored in digital form, and can include images, multimedia, and text files. With more people earning money from posting blogs, these are also classed as a digital asset.
Some of these assets you own, others are services you use under licence. For instance, with online music files what you buy is the right to download, store and use the song, but as you don’t own it, you wouldn’t be able to leave your digital music collection to your heirs.
Digital assets with a financial value
You have the legal right to pass these assets on to your chosen beneficiaries, so these should be included in the terms of your Will. With PayPal and other online accounts, these can be closed on the presentation of a death certificate and grant of probate. A cheque will be issued to executors for any leftover funds.
The challenge for executors can often be knowing what digital assets you held. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could pose a special challenge, as these are not held in an individual’s name. The accounts can be accessed, but require a code or private key, or need to be held by a commercial wallet service.
Putting a digital plan in place
With digital assets becoming more commonplace, when we talk to clients about their Will, we automatically ask them how they want these dealt with. We also explain why a Letter of Wishes addressed to their executors detailing how their digital assets should be administered might be appropriate.
Service providers like Facebook have an option to memorialise your account. If you’d like this to happen, you should ensure that your executors know, and inform them of any particular message you’d like to leave for friends or followers. In order to deactivate your account, your Executor will need to provide a copy of the Will and the death certificate.
Creating a digital directory
We’d recommend compiling a digital directory that contains details of all the digital assets you hold including financial, subscription and social media accounts, and keep it regularly updated. For security reasons, you shouldn’t include your passwords. However, your executors may need your passwords and logins for your devices to gain access to information when administering your estate, so you will need to inform them separately. There are also several online digital inheritance accounts which could be used to pass on logins and passwords to your executors on your death.
It also helps if you compile a list of all your computers, laptops, smartphones and external storage drives. This information should be kept in a safe place which cannot be accessed until it’s needed by your executors and beneficiaries.
To protect any digital assets such as photographs, files or emails that are stored solely in the cloud, it makes sense to back them up onto an external hard drive.
How we can help
The digital world is growing and changing, so too is our reliance on it in our daily lives. If you haven’t thought about your digital legacy, but would like to ensure that this increasingly-important part of your estate is dealt with according to your wishes, then do get in touch. We can help you put appropriate plans in place that will help your executors locate and deal with your digital assets appropriately.