The link between your digital assets and your will

Year Published: 2013

So you’ve made your will and done some estate planning but did you consider and include your digital assets in the process?

I write wills and admittedly the answer to my own question, was no. It wasn’t until I found my late friend’s profile on LinkedIn that it made me think!

Since the mid 1990’s the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate, how we access information and how we shop and bank. These days everyone is striving to become paperless for various reasons and all this information is stored somewhere in cyber space, but what happens to our assets when we are gone?

Firstly what are digital assets?

Digital assets are any digital files or photographs, online banking or shopping accounts, online subscriptions, email accounts, social networks and the list goes on. For each of those digital assets, we would have been asked to set up an account with the provider by entering our personal details and creating a password.

Why should I bother to keep a record of these?

If you have a will, your digital assets will form part of your estate. The people whom you have appointed as executors are required to ascertain full details of your assets and liabilities before obtaining probate and distributing your assets in accordance with your instructions, so it would make their job a lot easier if they have access to this information. As well as assets, you may also have ‘digital debts’ which need to be discharged quickly to avoid further interest accruing. There is also the risk of un-accessed accounts being hacked easily and used for fraud. Credit cards could be opened in your name and loans could be taken out so this needs to be avoided at all costs..

What about using a trust?

I recently came across a matter where a husband had an online account containing in excess of £100,000 which he used to pay bills and school fees for a child from a previous relationship which his current wife knew nothing about. He wanted to ensure that this money was not lost but at the same time wanted to keep it secret so he set up a trust with his younger brother as a trustee to manage the account.

Can I use an online afterlife company?

There are numerous companies online which will allow you to store details of all your digital assets, passwords and usernames. You can also assign beneficiaries to these assets and update your details easily. The company will probably still require a death certificate and a copy of your will. There may be a charge involved and as with all online providers, it is possible that the security could be breached and the details of all those accounts could be accessed in one go, so make sure you do your homework first.

Providing details in a will

You can of course include details of your digital assets in your will to include user names and passwords but as time passes, they will change. You will have new digital assets and will probably be asked to change your password for existing assets every so often which would mean your will would be out of date very quickly. One solution to the problem would be to make reference to your digital assets in your will and refer to a separate document containing the information to access those assets. That way the details can be updated regularly without having to change your will. Regardless of whether you have digital assets, it is always useful to keep a list of all your assets which your executors could access easily in the event of your death.

For further information on wills or wealth planning, please contact  our wills and wealth planning team on 01625 442148.


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