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Making a will in an increasingly digital world

View profile for Lisa Kingston
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It has never been more important to consider our digital assets when planning for the future. In a world where we are increasingly reliant on cloud accounts to store our data and information and where our transactions and interactions are increasingly digital, how many of us have considered what happens to this information on our death?

The majority of us have digital assets in some shape or form, whether we realise it or not, and it is every individual’s responsibility to ensure that there is a plan for when you are no longer here.

What Are Digital Assets?

In general terms, digital assets are anything that we own that exist in a digital format rather than physically.

Common examples include: - 

  • Digital photos and videos
  • Digital music files
  • Social media accounts
  • E-Books
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Loyalty points
  • Documents stored in a cloud account or on a computer.
  • Websites and domains
  • Online buying and selling accounts

For most of us these types of assets don’t hold a particularly large financial value, however in terms of sentimental value they can be huge.

Effect of a Will on Digital Assets

Digital assets will become part of your estate when you die and these assets will pass to your Executors or Personal Representatives to deal with and distribute to your beneficiaries. Of course, this is entirely dependent on whether they have access to these assets.

If the person who has died has not left instructions on how to access these assets then the personal representatives are reliant on the policies and contracts of each company with whom the person who has died had an account. These policies will not necessarily allow access to loved ones to obtain digital assets such as photographs or emails.

What can I do?

It is important to plan for this eventuality when considering making your Will. Is it something you need to include instructions for? Or would you prefer your digital assets to be destroyed on your death?  There is only one way for a personal representative to be sure and that is for you to plan for it now. The following points provide a helpful outline of what can be done: -

  1. As a starting point, create an inventory of your “digital estate” including online accounts where information or assets are stored on your behalf.
  1. Research Legacy Manager features for your accounts. Some digital accounts allow you to add what is known as a “legacy contact” or have the availability of legacy tools to allow you to specify someone who would take control on your death. If you are a user of Facebook or Instagram for example, you can opt to memorialise your profile or to have it removed entirely on your death. The only way to do this is for the user to select a legacy contact who would deal with this on your death.
  1. Prepare a plan for access i.e. Crypto assets have complicated password arrangements and owners are often solely responsible for managing their private keys and therefore if the private key is lost, frequently so are the assets.
  1. Create a back up in hard copy form where possible. i.e. use a hard drive to store sentimental photographs or print them.
  1. And finally…make a Will; this is important even if you have no particular preferences for your digital estate.

How do I make a will?

It’s important to always seek advice in accordance with your own personal circumstances.

Drafting your will can be both simple and straightforward, and it need not cost a fortune. For absolute peace of mind, use a solicitor.

At SH&Co., Emma Stride (Head of Wills, Trust & Probate, TEP) and Lisa Kingston can provide you with further information and legal advice on protecting your digital assets and wills options available - contact the office on 01606 48777 to make an enquiry or a telephone appointment.

This article has been written for your general information only and is not a detailed statement of the law. It should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice. If you require specific legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01606 48777.