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How do you deal with digital assets in a Will?

Recent research by Canada Life has revealed only 12 per cent of UK adults have included any digital assets in their Will.  Given how much of our life is now held digitally, it is important people become more aware of how to deal with digital assets in a Will.

Canada Life’s study highlights the imbalance between the volume of digital assets currently in play and the amount of consideration regarding what should happen to them when we die.

For example, 92% of those aged 55 and over have a smartphone, laptop, or tablet but only 7% have included them in their Wills.  Meanwhile, 69% of UK adults have social media accounts but only 9% mention then in their Wills.  This is despite the fact these accounts are likely to hold an enormous wealth of sentimentally valuable memories.

In the same study 37% of respondents said they had not considered any digital assets when drafting their Will while 29% said they didn’t even think these assets held any real value.  It is important therefore to think about what counts as a digital asset and where their value lies.

What is a digital asset?

A digital asset can be any asset owned by a person that is stored digitally and has value.  This value of the asset can be defined in four ways:

  1. Financial value (cryptocurrency or online trading accounts)
  2. Sentimental value (emails, letters, photos, videos and text messages)
  3. Intellectual value (domain names, websites, digital arts, blogs).
  4. Social value (social media and gaming accounts)

Why should you include digital assets in your Will?

Digital assets are now just as much a part of your estate as the more traditional assets.  They are also treated in the same way.  This means that if your instructions for them are not specified in your Will,  digital assets may not pass to the person you want them and instead pass to the person deemed most entitled to inherit them via the intestacy rules.

The higher the value of your digital assets, the more important it is that you confirm your instructions as to how your digital assets should be dealt with in your Will.

With social media, you might want your accounts to be discontinued and removed or you might like your Facebook account to be memorialised so that tributes can be left.   However, if you have commercial assets – for example, an online business, monetised social media channels, or digital art – these will need to be more carefully managed because they will represent a financial value.

Alternatively, you may prefer it if all your digital records are simply destroyed when you pass.  This would also need to be specified in your Will.

You also need to remember that wherever the value lies in your digital assets and however you would like them to be managed after your death, you also need to leave the requisite usernames and passwords to those concerned.  They also need to be aware they will need to follow the terms and conditions of the companies these accesses relate to.  These policies can vary massively from site to site.  They could even preclude other people from accessing the assets in them in some circumstances which also needs to be considered while you set out your wishes for them.

Personal representatives and digital executors

If you do think you have digital assets that hold particular financial, sentimental, intellectual, or social value and would like to afford their management an additional layer of security  you could consider appointing a digital executor in your Will to assist your personal representative.

A personal representative (PR) is the person you have named as responsible for dealing with all aspects of your estate in your Will.  Your digital assets along with everything else in your estate will automatically transfer to your PR when you die so they can collate all your assets and make sure they pass to the beneficiaries named in your Will.

A digital executor would be someone who has a strong understanding of the digital environment.

They act as an expert (therefore saving the need to appoint and pay for an external expert) alongside your PR to ensure your digital assets are managed in exactly the way you have set out.  If necessary, they can also provide any additional technical knowledge required to expedite the process.  It is not a paid role unless you specifically say you’d like them to receive a fee for their services in your Will.

If you would like to discuss how best to deal with digital assets in your Will or would simply like to talk to one of our experienced Wills, Tax, Trusts, and Probate lawyers to make sure you have everything in place, please contact us today.