Wills and Digital Assets – What to Consider
When you consider what you’re leaving to your family members after your death, have you ever thought about your online assets? Increasingly, people are making arrangements to pass on online photos, emails, social media accounts and other property in the digital world.
What is a digital asset?
Any file or content created and stored online is a digital asset. These include anything that you might keep on a laptop or PC, your smartphone and other digital devices, or keep in cloud storage. For example, email accounts, social networking profiles, digital photos, electronic documents and any other property you create or store digitally.
Now that we live in such an online world, these digital assets are often meaningful and important to our loved ones, however most online accounts are password protected and in some cases only you may be aware they exist
With so much financial information held in online accounts today, it can also be difficult to assess the extent of your estate. By making provision in your will you can ensure nothing gets missed.
Why should I make plans for digital assets in my will?
When you die, your real-world assets such as a car, jewellery and other possessions pass to your beneficiaries in accordance with your will.
Unsurprisingly, people presume that their digital assets will pass to their spouse or children, just as a photo album or a file of bank statements would, however such laws do not extend to all types of digital assets and as yet, no new laws have been implemented to cover this area.
If you haven’t left instructions, getting access to digital assets can prove complicated. For example, if your family wants to access your email account or online banking information they will have to go through the service owner. It is then the provider’s decision whether to release the details – and they can refuse.
By setting out in your will the types of digital assets you have, and what you want to happen with them, you will make life much easier for those you leave behind.
Why are digital assets so complicated for wills?
The main issue is that the rules around estates and inheritance have not changed to embrace digital assets. They still focus on traditional assets such as cars and offline bank accounts.
How or whether you can pass ownership of your digital assets depends on the policy of the provider. There is no legal requirement at present for online service providers to look at how people can access deceased people’s information, and every company has their own policies and procedures.
While banks and other financial institutions will accept the will, death certificate and grant of probate to release funds, some online providers may only accept a court order. This can create a lot of hassle and expense for the family members seeking access.
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privacy and data protection
Part of the challenge is that online providers are bound by privacy laws. Unless you make a statement in your will, they cannot know whether you are happy for your spouse or children to see your emails or online photo library.
General Data Protection Regulation rules govern what information can be shared about an individual, but these rules only apply to living people, and are not relevant to the deceased. Meanwhile, it’s relatively common for online providers to put something in the terms and conditions of your contract with them. Some even state that your account is non-transferable and may be deleted on receipt of a death certificate.
Clearly, there are numerous challenges to overcome if you want to pass on your digital assets, and it is important to consider this as part of your estate and succession planning.
how should i plan to leave my digital assets?
The specific approach you should take around leaving your digital assets will depend on the assets themselves and what you want to do. Talk to your family members to understand what will be important to them.
Don’t share online passwords in your will – this is both a security risk and very challenging to keep up to date. Instead, you could consider a password manager system, so that a nominated person can access all the details via a single password when the time comes.
Including digital assets in your will is a complex area and it is best to seek professional advice.
how can expression wills help?
Here at Expression Wills it’s our job as qualified professionals to help you create a clear and thorough will. We’ll spend time with you to explore all the assets – traditional and digital – that you want to leave to your family and recommend ways to do this efficiently. We’re here to help make sure that the people you leave behind understand clearly all your wishes and how to act on them.
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