Digital Assets on Death – What would happen to yours?Pepperells
The majority of the population now have access to online accounts, whether it be smartphone, social media, music library or photographs. Where would you be without a photo or song to remind you of a particular time or memory? Some people invest a great deal of time and emotion into their music collection or photo library, but what would happen to it if you passed away?
Its not something a lot of people want to discuss, but with technology becoming an ever present part of our everyday lives, its imperative that we do so. Who would you want to have access to your online materials when you pass away? Who would you want to access your social media profiles? This topic has been pushed into the headlines recently with many cases of businesses such as Facebook and Apple refusing access to loved one’s digital assets without a court order.
When dealing with a person’s estate, we are commonly finding ourselves asking the same questions:
- Who is able to legitimately access social media accounts?
- Who inherits a catalogue of online books or a music library on iTunes?
- How can family members access the cloud to get hold of people’s photographs?
As a result, we encourage people to make provisions in a Will for electronic and digital assets. A simple definition of a digital asset is personal property stored in digital form e.g. electronic or online. It is commonly assumed that loved ones would have an automatic right to access and organize electronic assets after death, however this is not always the case. A great deal of online content is not actually owned by the user, but by the provider companies e.g. iTunes. This means it becomes more difficult to access these after death. Indeed, on Facebook you are required to actively nominate a person to be able to control your account after death (a legacy contact), however this is not made publicly clear.
So what should we be doing to combat this increasingly occurring issue?
- Create a Will to deal with a gift personal possessions;
- Make a list of login in details and passwords and make your executors aware of this list;
- Leaving guidance to our executors and trustees as to what we would want to happen to these assets on death. This could be done through a Will, or by Letter of Wishes (a side letter accompanying a Will) explaining how your digital assets should be dealt with;
- Reviewing terms and conditions when creating an online account or profile, to ascertain what will happen on your death;
- Be aware of any procedure as to nominating somebody to access accounts after your death, and keep this updated e.g. memorializing social network accounts;
- Creating back up hard copies so that the executors may be able to have access to a copy of the digital asset, if not the real thing;
- Trust your nominated executor with your passwords and log in information in your lifetime. With people’s ever changing passwords and terms and conditions advising against sharing confidential information with a third party, this could prove difficult.
If you choose to do nothing, you will be more than likely faced with a scenario in which your loved ones are not able to access any online information. This could be particularly difficult for people who have a business which may be primarily run online e.g. photography, or for more sentimental reasons with people’s personal accounts. Whereas it is understandably not a nice topic to think about, it is important that precautions are put in to place well in advance of needing them.
With the world increasingly becoming more reliant on technology, the discussion regarding digital assets is going to become more important and more widely discussed. Currently, there is not enough existing practical examples to provide a concise solution, but hopefully as our technological knowledge increases, so will our ability to control where we leave it.
If you would like any further information regarding digital assets, or about Wills in general, please do not hesitate to contact our Private Client team.