Author
Kate Buchanan

Kate Buchanan

Senior associate

Read More
Author
Kate Buchanan

Kate Buchanan

Senior associate

Read More

27 October 2020

Private client - October 2020 – 2 of 4 Insights

Digital afterlife: thinking about your digital estate

  • Quick read

You get up in the morning, check your emails on your laptop, scroll through social media whilst making a coffee, take photos on your phone of your family on a trip to the park, log onto your online bank account to pay a bill and later earn credit card points from an online purchase.

We would wager that this sounds familiar to everyone reading this, but how many have considered what would happen to this digital presence on their death? Perhaps not the cheeriest of topics but certainly an important one given the way in which we are all living our lives increasingly online.

Here are the key facts to be aware of – plus some practical hints and tips to bear in mind.

Digital assets

There is no statutory definition of a "digital asset" but it is generally taken to mean:

  • digital records that exist on computer devices (such as texts, photos and videos)
  • digital accounts (such as social media accounts, email accounts and other online accounts), digital property with a financial value (such as cryptocurrecy)
  • intellectual property rights associated with digital information.

In many cases, although the digital assets have no financial value, they do have huge sentimental value and a deceased's family would have a strong wish to retain access to the assets following a death.

What happens to your digital assets when you die?

The answer ultimately depends on how much planning has gone into your online presence prior to your death and the terms and conditions of the third-party providers with whom accounts are held. For example, some third-party providers may delete accounts, but some may give access to a nominated contact or to personal representatives provided certain documentation is produced.

Planning ahead: tips for clients

  • Make a list of all devices owned – mobile phones, tablets, laptops etc. A list of the login details for each device should be kept in hard copy and stored securely.
  • Review online presence and catalogue all online accounts. Again, make (and maintain) a list of all log in details for these accounts and store this list securely.
  • Review the terms and conditions of each online account to determine what happens to the accounts if no action is taken. If necessary, take the steps allowed by the third-party provider to protect the account on your death e.g. by nominating an individual to take control of the account on your death.
  • Consider downloading, creating hard copies and/or sharing copies of all sentimental or other important records. Also consider whether any confidential or sensitive information should be destroyed.
  • Consider whether any digital asset held has a monetary value (e.g. assets with intellectual property rights attached) and take legal advice on how to best provide for these assets in your overall estate plan.

Proactivity is key

Grappling with an individual's digital estate invariably throws up many thorny issues for personal representatives and family members, which we can assist with.

However we would urge all to take a proactive approach to keeping their digital affairs in order.

If you would like to take control of your digital legacy and reduce the burden on your family, contact us for advice and assistance on both the 'here and now' measures.

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