What Happens to Your Digital Assets When You Die?

If you’re thinking about estate planning and writing a will to ensure that your hard-earned assets are protected from being passed onto the wrong people and your loved ones are protected both financially and emotionally when you pass away, there are a number of things to consider before you start.

You may have already made a will - but have you thought about what will happen to your digital assets when you die? If not, you may need to update it.

If you have photos on a laptop or computer, websites or work that you have created online, you’ll want to make sure that it is clearly stated in your will what you want to happen to them when you pass away.

In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about protecting your digital assets after death.

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What are digital assets? - Examples

When it comes to considering what to include in a will, most of us are aware that our main assets consist of property, money and personal possessions (as well as businesses and investments if this applies to you). Many people also like to include gifts in their will.

What a lot of people forget to consider, however, is what will happen to their digital property when they die, or they assume that they are all protected by the personal possessions clause in their existing will, which is not true because they are not tangible objects, like your laptop for example. 

Some assets you own will have monetary value, while others may just hold sentimental value, and this is something you will need to think about when putting plans in place to prepare for death.

Examples of digital assets can include the following:

  • Videos or photographs with the potential to be licensed or sold (i.e. high-quality photos)
  • Business-related digital assets like data
  • Websites
  • Domain names
  • Cryptocurrency/cryptoassets (e.g. Bitcoin)
  • Books, stories or poems written online by you (e-books, digital content, etc)
  • Artwork you have created digitally
  • Music libraries (itunes, etc)
  • Email accounts

As these assets are not tangible items, like jewellery or paintings, you will need to include them separately in your will as a type of ‘personal property gift’.

If these are not gifted in your will, there is the risk that they may get lost or overlooked when you pass away, as they’ll just be a part of your general estate, which may not meet your true personal wishes.

So, when writing a will, make sure you list them separately and state exactly what you want to happen to them and how you want them to be distributed when you die. This should also inform the executor (or executors) how they can access the above in order to pass them on in line with your wishes.

Is your digital asset really an ‘asset’? - legal advice

You may consider the following to be digital assets, but they are not:

  • Gaming accounts (with virtual currency)
  • Social media profiles (especially those with a high number of followers)
  • Banking apps

These are not legally classed as assets - instead, they provide you with a licence to use the software, meaning that your right to use it cannot be transferred to another person as an asset when you die. Therefore, you cannot leave them in your will.

If you’re not sure, you will need to check the terms of your social media profile or gaming account (or any other type of digital accounts you have). If the terms state that you cannot transfer it as an asset upon your death then the value of your account will probably be lost.

You can arrange a legacy contact for your Facebook account, and you can get in touch with Twitter or Instagram to enquire about a social media account belonging to someone who has passed away.

If you have digital assets and/or assets that are not legally considered to be assets, you will need to provide the necessary information (account login details, etc) in your will so that your executors can access them in the event of your death.

If you do this, your will must be stored safely and account details must not be given to anyone (i.e executors, etc) for security reasons. You should also consider backing-up all digital assets (sentimental or monetary) via cloud storage or USB - it is recommended that you have a physical copy and a copy in the cloud for extra security.

Learn more: 6 Things to Consider When Making a Will

What happens to your digital assets when you die without a will?

If you don’t have a will in place when you pass away and your loved ones have no instructions telling them how to access your digital accounts, your digital assets are likely to end up getting lost, overlooked or even deleted.

This means that any sentimental family photos, social media accounts or valuable cryptocurrencies could simply disappear, never to be seen by your loved ones, and this is unlikely to be what you want.

On top of this, your other assets will be distributed in line with the rules of intestacy, again meaning that your house, money, possessions and businesses may end up in the wrong hands.

In a study carried out by VWV (law firm in the UK), 85% of their respondents said they do not want their photographs to be deleted when they die, and 80% wanted to pass on their online documents and cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, etc) to someone when they die. Despite this, only 6% of people have included a clause in their will regarding their digital assets!

Learn more: What to do when someone dies

How do you protect your digital assets?

To make sure that your estate (consisting of all your assets, including any digital asset) is managed and distributed exactly how you want it to, we can’t stress enough how important it is to make a legally valid will that clearly states your exact wishes.

If you already have a will, you must make sure that it is up-to-date - that means updating your will (add codicil to will) when any major life events happen (marriage, divorce, children, property, etc) and also if you have digital assets that need protecting. Remember, these should be properly listed and include all relevant information via a separate digital assets clause in your will.

It’s also important that you speak to your family (and other loved ones you wish to benefit from your estate) about any specific requests you have when you pass away. While this may be difficult, it will help to make things much easier for your family and executor(s) when the time comes.

Another thing to remember is that if you are making a list of your log-in details and passwords for your loved ones to access your accounts when you die, it must be stored in a safe place - your loved ones must also be aware of this, but the document must not be handed to another person (as this could breach the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and could result in a criminal offence).

You might like: Talking to Your Family About Your Will

What to consider when putting digital assets into your will

If you have digital assets and want to protect them in a legal will, make sure you think about the following beforehand:

  • Identify whether your digital assets are really assets (by law) that can be transferred to another person and put into a will, or whether they are just licences that will expire on your death.
  • Create a list of locations, log-in details and passwords for each digital asset (hard copy) for your executors to use when you pass away - make sure this is stored in a safe place and that you do not give this to anyone.
  • Make a decision as to where you want your digital assets to go.
  • If your digital assets are located on your computer, laptop, hard drive or other type of device, you will also need to state who will inherit the physical device upon your death (computer, etc), in addition to the digital assets that are stored on it.
  • Are your digital assets highly valuable? If so, you might need to arrange to have a specialist executor to distribute them - someone who knows how to handle specific types of assets.

Protect your digital assets today with Wills.Services - Write a legally-binding will online

At Wills.Services, we offer an online will-writing service for anyone looking into estate planning and wishing to protect their hard-earned assets in the event of their death.

You can register with us now to write your will (it doesn’t need to be completed in one sitting) and you can update it whenever you need to - we recommend making sure it is up-to-date every 6 months.

Our wills experts are here to help check over your will to ensure that it is legally-binding (according to UK law), so that there won’t be any legal problems when the time comes to administer your estate.

Get started by tapping the button below or browse our useful guides for further information.

 

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Article reviewed 16th June 2021