Planning for what happens to your digital assets when you die

It is essential to plan what will happen to your digital assets and online accounts when you die. Imagine if, following your death, family and friends were unable to access your documents and photographs, and that the companies running the platforms permanently deleted your digital assets. This is what could happen if you do not make plans now to enable your executors to access the assets on your death.

The term “digital assets” refers to the possessions stored online such as music and videos files, emails, social media accounts, games and family ancestry databases (which could include family photos, videos and even DNA test results). Many of us also access physical assets and services such as bank accounts, loans, credit cards, pension funds, investment portfolios, and utilities such as gas and electricity via online accounts. Although the underlying asset or service is not a digital asset, access is controlled via a digital portal.

This guide explains how you can plan now to protect your assets in the future.

How can I plan ahead to deal with my digital assets?

1) Review what you have
The first and most important step is to review what assets and information you hold digitally in online accounts.
It is very important that you store this list securely as a hard copy and keep it up to date (consider reviewing it every six months).
You should tell executors of the existence of the list and where it is stored, but do not give it to them or anyone else.

2) Find out what will happen to your digital assets when you die
The next step is to clarify what will happen to those assets when you die if you do nothing. For each online account review the terms and conditions you agreed to when creating the account.
Consider choosing an account nominee to take over control of certain aspects of your account where the provider offers this facility. For example, on Facebook (you can nominate a legacy contact), and Google (you can nominate an Inactive Account Manager).

3) Create hard copies
If you are concerned about your accounts being deleted after a period of inactivity you may want to print off hard copies, burn to a CD or download onto a USB stick
Another option may be to retain downloaded copies of key documents and information on a personally owned device (such as a laptop, tablet or personal computer), rather than storing them solely online.

4) Access to your devices
Equally important is securing access to your laptops, PCs, mobile phones and any household devices controlled remotely. Executors may need to access information held on your devices to complete tax returns or when administering your estate after you have died. This is particularly important for Apple devices because Apple implements particularly strong safeguards to protect account holders’ data from falling into the wrong hands.

What might happen to my digital assets when I die?

There are no set rules for what will happen to your digital assets, it varies between different types of assets and providers. We have listed below things you may wish to think about and actions you could take;

  • Memorialising social network accounts
    Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow the accounts of deceased account holders to be memorialised. Essentially, the account is frozen so that no one can log into it. Only verified friends and family can then see the deceased’s profile or locate it in a search. Once memorialised an account cannot be accessed or unlocked.
  • Photographs and videos
    In most cases, photographs and videos will only be of sentimental value and they may only be of interest to family and friends. Consider whether these assets should be left as part of a general gift of personal possessions or as a specific gift in your will.
    In some cases, your photographs or videos may have more than a nominal monetary value so that valuable copyright attaches to them. Any intellectual property rights may need to be the subject of a separate gift in your will with separate executors appointed to administer them.
  • Music tracks
    Control of music accessed online (either via a subscription service or paid for per track) usually rests with the ISP (such as Spotify or Apple) so that you will only have a licence to listen to your online music tracks. This means that, when you die, the licence comes to an end and the music tracks can no longer be accessed.
  • Loyalty points
    Points on loyalty schemes such as the Tesco Clubcard or Nectar card can mount up. The terms and conditions of some schemes allow these points to be passed on to others after you die either by Will or by written request to the scheme administrator. You should check the terms for each scheme to make sure.
  • Emails
    Consider printing off personal or business emails and keeping them in hard copy or store on a USB stick if they hold valuable content. This may involve consideration of intellectual property issues where the contents have a monetary value rather than a purely sentimental value. You may also wish to delete any sensitive or confidential emails during your lifetime rather than leaving it to your executors as they may have a duty not to follow instructions about destruction after your death.
  • Intellectual property
    If any assets you hold online have intellectual property rights attached to them (such as original literary or other artistic works like books or paintings) consider including them in a separate legacy in your Will with separate executors to deal with succession to and exploitation of those rights.
  • Crypto-currency
    If you hold crypto-currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, you should note down details of the public and private keys held in any digital wallets and arrange for the details to be stored securely. You may want to include a specific legacy in your will to deal with your holdings. This will also help to alert your executors to the existence of the holding.

If you need advice or have any questions on planning for your digital assets, please contact us or call us on 01803 403403.