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While few of us are in the celebrity league, many people now have a wide variety of online accounts which create a digital presence. This includes social media profiles, blogs or vlogs, online accounts for banking, pensions and investments such as shares, peer-to-peer lending or even cryptocurrency. A great deal of value may be locked in your online accounts and may not be easily accessible to your family or your executors if you die.
To take a high-profile example, consider the case with Gerald Cotton, the chief executive of a cryptocurrency exchange, who was reported to have died in late 2018 aged 30 leaving no way of accessing nearly $150 million in digital assets. All efforts to trace and secure the digital accounts have so far proved unsuccessful.
It makes good sense to review and plan for your digital assets when making a Will. In this article we provide some guidelines on what happens to ownership and access to digital assets on death and what steps you might take to protect your position.
What is the value in digital assets?
There is no definitive legal rule stating what happens to digital assets on death, because online assets come in different forms which vary in their nature and value. For example, they may include:
- personal memorabilia such as social media accounts, photo sharing accounts, music tracks, etc.;
- digital documents you store in online accounts such as a social media content, Christmas card list or the draft of a book;
- cash balances in online savings, investment or cryptocurrency accounts and any positive balances on gambling or gaming accounts;
- income, such as advertising revenues from significant followings on a blog or vlog, or income from licensing multimedia (photos, music, sound effects etc); an online shop or products on a marketplace such as Etsy;
- intellectual property, such as valuable domain names;
The law has not caught up with technology and different internet service provider (ISP) have different policies. For example, on the one hand digital assets with monetary value will form part of your estate and will pass legally to your beneficiaries; but on the other hand, not all digital assets will be owned personally by you and so may not be transferrable. If you use iTunes, Spotify or Flickr, for instance, these services are licensed to you and the licences will terminate on your death.
If you do not specify what should happen to these online accounts in or alongside your Will, then you could store up problems for your family and executors. Not only will they have trouble tracing or accessing accounts, but there is a risk of online fraud and abuse. Where a digital asset of financial value is left dormant after death, it may become an attractive target for cybercriminals.
What I should do about my digital assets?
To start with, make a list – a secure list – of the digital assets you own and consider how you would wish them to be dealt if you die, including logins and passwords.
If you hold crypto-currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, 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.
You should tell your solicitor and executors of the existence of the list and where it is stored (but do not give it to them). Do not give this information to anyone else. In particular, never share PIN numbers or other information relating to a bank account.
Consider appropriate gifts and instructions to your executors in your Will
If you have social media accounts containing extensive personal information which you would like to be deactivated after your death, you can use your Will to govern who deactivates, removes or even memorialises your online social presence.
You can leave any digital assets with financial value to whoever you choose, so think about how you want these to be managed. Who is to gain access to the accounts and who will inherit their value? For example you may wish to include a specific legacy to deal with any cryptocurrency holdings. This will also help to alert your executors to the existence of the holding so that they can take action after you have died to secure control.
Also consider whether you have the right to leave digital assets with a sentimental value, such as your iTunes account or YouTube channel as this will depend on the terms and conditions of the ISP. What you can do is download your music library so that all is not lost when the licence terminates on death.
Our specialist Wills solicitors will take full details of your online presence and advise you.
For advice and assistance how best to ensure your digital assets are effectively managed and protected in your will contact Pardeep Bancil or one of her private client team colleagues on 0118 939 3999 or email her at email@example.com.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.comments powered by Disqus