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Dealing with Digital Assets after Death

Life Matters for Lymington from Lester Aldridge: What will happen to smartphones, tablets, computers and your 'digital footprint'?

Because of the numbers of people who have access to smartphones, tablets or computers, many people have some form of ‘digital footprint’ and own digital assets. Digital assets are often overlooked as being a part of someone’s estate and this can cause problems for executors or relatives. Anyone making a will should, therefore, consider whether they have any digital assets and, if so, what will happen to these after their death?

what will happen to your digital assets after death?This month in Life Matters we feature an article by Victoria Jones in the Lester Aldridge Disputed Tax, Trust Wills and Probate team. As always, please share this article with anyone you know who might find it useful.

What Are Digital Assets?

Digital assets are assets which have some value and are held in a digital form. This may include:

  • multimedia content e.g. online music/film/book/game libraries
  • social media accounts e.g. a Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account
  • email accounts
  • online financial accounts e.g. an online bank account or cryptocurrency wallet
  • other digitally stored documents and content

Why Should I Deal with My Digital Assets?

Failing to consider your digital assets when making a will can create the following problems:

  • executors may not be aware of the existence of online accounts
  • executors may not be being able to access online accounts or assets after your death, because they do not have the account password
  • some social media websites allow deceased member’s pages to be ‘memorialized’ or for information to be accessed by a nominated third party after death. Relatives may, therefore, face either seeing information or images that the deceased did not want to share with them, or that they would not want to be shared with others after loved one’s death
  • ownership of some online assets and data sometimes is not always transferrable to someone else after death
  • some online accounts send automatic ‘reminders’ and emails to account holders, which relatives may find upsetting to receive, for example, an email wishing the person who has died a ‘Happy Birthday’ 
  • numerous online account providers may need to be notified about a death and this can be an added burden for relatives or executors

Do your digital assets belong to you?

Online companies have terms and conditions which will dictate what will happen to your account after your die and these can vary greatly. This means that when you purchase films, music, games and books from online providers, you will often not own them. Instead, you are purchasing a right to access this content and, this may not transferable to your beneficiaries after your death.

Some providers offer alternatives, e.g. Apple offers their users the chance to share their online purchases with friends and family during their lifetime. It is therefore important to identify what assets may not pass to your estate after you die.

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What action can you take?

It is vital to mention your digital assets to your solicitor when you prepare your will so that they can confirm how you wish for them to be dealt with them after your death. Solicitors are obliged to keep client information confidential, they are regulated and insured. Your solicitor can also notify online account providers about your death and this might lessen the burden involved in dealing with digital assets for your loved ones.

We are often told not to write down or share account passwords during our lifetime and rightly so. However, you should consider leaving details of your digital assets with someone you trust. For example, with your solicitor when you make your will, together with details of how your securely stored passwords can be located.

People may store incredibly sensitive information online (especially in social media accounts) believing that only they will be able to view this. It is therefore important to also consider who may be granted access to this data in the event of your death. For example, Facebook offers relatives the option to appoint a ‘legacy contact’.

However, some people may not appreciate that the legacy contact can download an archive of certain information which you have shared, including any photographs and videos which you have uploaded and also a list of your friends. If you want others to be able to access this information, that is fine, but what if that is not the case?

Given the above, when making or updating your will, it is important to consider your digital assets as part of your future estate and also to deal with these as part of the will and estate planning process.

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lester aldridge Life Matters

Lester Aldridge Solicitors offer a free initial consultation; by clicking this link to the Lester Aldridge Family Law team you can contact them and also can view details of all the Lester Aldridge Partners in the Family Law team.

Or simply call 01202 786161 and ask for a member of the Family Law team.

Life Matters for Lymington and the New Forest 

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About Lester Aldridge

Lester Aldridge Solicitors are based in London and Bournemouth where the office covering the New Forest is situated conveniently close to the main Bournemouth train station. Their specialist teams in the various fields of law will be happy to advise and assist you, starting with a completely free initial consultation during which you can decide whether you feel able to trust them with your confidential information.  For more information please click here.

November 2019