Downloads, Data and Death
Most people think about whatwill happen to their visible assets, such as their house orantiques, on their death and prepare a Will leaving these assets tothe desired beneficiary. Less people consider what willhappen to their digital assets, and therefore do not adequatelyprepare for the passing of such assets on theirdeath.
- Assets with monetary value -these include electronic music, books, films and apps together withonline bank accounts and money held on gambling and gamingwebsites;
- Assets with sentimental value- these include digitally stored photographs and videos, emails,social media sites, and information collated on ancestry websites;and
- Business assets - theseinclude emails, websites, accounts, stockists, documents and filesstored online, business plans, photographs, and domain and brandnames.
Failing to plan ahead canleave an executor with two key problems. One of the key rolesof an executor is to ascertain what assets and liabilities thedeceased owned at the time of death. The executors need thisinformation to be able to calculate the inheritance tax due on theEstate and distribute the assets in accordance with the deceased'sWill. Unless the deceased leaves some indication of thedigital assets owned, the executors will have to try to discoverwhat digital assets form part of the Estate. This could beextremely difficult due to the wide range of digital assetsavailable.
Once the executors haveovercome the hurdle of identifying the assets, they will then needto access the accounts and deal with them in accordance with thedeceased's wishes. Unless the deceased has spoken to theexecutors and informed them of his passwords and wishes, this willbe almost impossible. Online companies each have their ownrules and formalities for allowing executors access to theiraccounts, and these are often cumbersome.
There are a number of optionsto help your executors and ensure that all your digital assets arelocated following your death. Firstly you can create a listof digital assets and associated passwords, either in a letter oron a storage device, and a list of instructions for your executorsof how you would like your digital assets to be administered. This information should always be stored in a safe place andshould ideally be placed in a sealed envelope with your Will. The Will itself should not include details of any digital assets orpasswords, as Wills usually become a public document following yourdeath.
This option, however, doesrequire some time and effort. The list will need to beupdated regularly, for example on a yearly basis, to ensure thatany new digital assets are included and to ensure any passwordchanges are recorded.
Alternatively, you could use adigital legacy site. Digital legacy sites vary in theirformat, but most allow you to store information such as passwordsand instructions on their site for an annual fee or lump sumpayment. On production of a death certificate, they willallow your nominated guardian to access your information andinstructions. Some sites will also delete informationfollowing your death which you do not want your family tosee. There is however a risk that the company may not existat the time of your death, or that the security of the site may becompromised.
Both of these options are notideal and each has its own disadvantages. However, eachoption ensures that on your death your digital assets can belocated by your executors and distributed to your family andfriends in accordance with your wishes.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.