When people envisage what the term ‘digital asset’ actually means, they are likely to imagine crypto-currency and feel that it is not something that they personally need to consider when planning their Will. However, the term covers a vast array of ‘assets’ that many people now own and would not even consider an asset, as it is not something that is tangible.
When planning your will, you must reach past all that is tangible and that can be physically given to a person, for digital assets are now important not only for ensuring any actual value, but also sentimental value is transferred to those you leave behind.
What exactly is a digital asset?
The term is quite a wide one and covers anything you possess that you access on a digital device. This could be anything from the photographs on your phone, downloaded music, online databases, emails, social media accounts, etc.
As with any planning for what happens when you pass, you need to ensure that your loved ones, and those with the need to access your digital assets, have the means to access everything they require. This not only allows those who have the need to download or transfer what is required, but also to stop what could be vital information being permanently deleted.
The first thing you must do is make a note of all the accounts you have that have personal information or assets that have any importance. Below are some examples, but this is by no means exhaustive.
• Laptop or computer passwords
• Online banking information
• Shopping or subscription accounts
• Social media account information
• Cloud storage
• Music or video streaming
• Utilities (water, gas, electricity, council)
• Loyalty schemes
• Government services such as self-assessment or corporate tax)
• Online hosting or servers
• Mobile phone password
• Ancestry information
• Subscription services
• Mobile phone
The list could be endless and may seem daunting at first, but you must remember that it would be worse for loved ones with no idea of the accounts you have or how to access them.
The next step
Once you have your list, you must ensure that you have a place that you keep it, securely. You may choose to do this as a hardcopy, however, remember that this information needs to be kept extremely safe as it could be very valuable in the wrong hands.
One option is to use a reputable commercial password manager. This allows all your information to be kept in one place, behind the security of one password, which can then be kept secure alongside your Will, so that your executors may access it only when necessary. Many of these services also allow a two-step verification option so that you may feel more secure that the information is only being accessed by those who require it.
It is also wise to tell your executors the existence of the list so they are aware to ask for the information when given your Will.
Once you have your list, make sure that you keep it up to date at least every six months.
Leaving digital assets as gifts
In most cases, a digital asset will have no actual value, only sentimental. Photos and videos tend to be of everyday events, friends and family. These can still be left to particular people in your Will as they are a personal possession. You should ensure however that any media you do not want your family seeing should either be kept somewhere that access information is not given, or you destroy these in your lifetime. Your executors may not be allowed or able to destroy any items, as it could lead to a perceived reduction in the value of the estate, and lead to legal action by your family.
There are cases where digital media does have a copyright attached that has monetary value, such as professional photographers, videographers and musicians. It may be worth dealing with these through a specialist executor who can deal with succession to and exploitation of these rights.
There are other digital assets that may have some value that need to be dealt with accordingly for example, loyalty points. Many of us have loyalty cards for supermarkets that may have a small amount on them which may not be worth transferring to others. However, there are some loyalty schemes, such as Air Miles, that could be beneficial to your loved ones. For any loyalty schemes, you should check with the provider whether the points can be passed on following your death, if they do, these can be included in your will.
When dealing with emails, you need to consider whether there is any confidential or sensitive information that you do not want others to see. As with some media, you should look to either store this information where it cannot be accessed or you delete them through your lifetime, as executors may not be allowed to delete anything as per any instructions.
Any emails that contain information that has some value, it may be worth printing these off and keeping in a secure place.
Allowing executors access to emails will also allow them to set up any diverts, reply to or manage important emails following your death. This can be particularly important if you run a business.
If you do run a business with digital assets, such as emails, websites and online accounts, it is vital that you plan for what happens following your death, so that it may be handled carefully, to carry on the business whilst the estate is distributed. You should also discuss with business partners and executors your wishes of what should happen following your death if you have any particular wishes.
If you hold crypto-currency such as Bitcoin, 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. As crypto-currency is becoming more common and valuable, you may want to include a specific legacy in your will to deal with your holdings. It may be worth using a separate executor to deal with any holdings who has the relevant knowledge to deal with the holdings and ensuring they are dealt with correctly, in the best interests of your estate.
Our private client team can go through all your assets, including those that are digital, and make sure they are dealt with securely and that executors are appointed to best deal with particular assets. Our team also has detailed knowledge of what is needed to manage a business during probate, as well as specialist knowledge in intellectual property.