What Happens to Our Digital Assets When We Die?.

What we do with our digital assets when we die, has become an interesting topic of conversation in recent years. The vast majority of us hold digital assets; whether that be our PayPal account, online bank accounts, cryptocurrency or indeed online photos and email accounts.

In a survey, conducted by the Law Society in 2021, it was found that nearly three quarters of those surveyed did not know what would happen to their digital assets when they died. Other research has also shown families feel that there is a lack of clarity regarding what happens to digital assets when dealing with a loved one’s estate.

It is not difficult to see how people are confused, as different asset providers have different rules and procedures, and the development of technology has surpassed that of law and policy. However, when someone dies their Personal Representative needs access to such assets in order to properly administer the estate.

What are Digital Assets?

Generally they are assets of a sentimental or financial value that exist in electronic form only.

Assets of sentimental value include photos on Facebook, Instagram, email and so on. Facebook, for example, has the right to store and display the content of someone’s account even after they die, however, you have the ability to appoint one individual who, after your death, can make decisions about your account. Similarly, Google has an “Inactive Account Manager” feature which notifies an appointed person if you have been inactive for 18 months, and you can also indicate whether you would like Google to delete your account after the inactive period.

Digital assets of financial value include Bitcoin and digital art. To make matters more complicated, each provider has different rules regarding what will happen on the death of the account holder, and access to such platforms can be highly encrypted.

As explained above, the difficulty with digital assets is that the development of technology has surpassed current laws. In fact, a Personal Representative using a password or PIN, to access an account after death, may be guilty of a criminal offence or indeed it can be against the terms and conditions of a social media account to give a password to someone else.

What Steps Can You Take to Protect Your Digital Assets on Death?

Whilst there is no clear policy regarding what you should do to protect your digital assets on death, the following provides practical steps and matters to consider:

  • Review, and keep under review, the terms and conditions of all social media accounts.
  • If you have significant electronic assets, or indeed they account for a large portion of your estate, it is important to speak with a solicitor and include within your Will your wishes in respect of those assets. In respect of cryptocurrency, for example, it can be difficult to plan without compromising the security of the investment. However, it is important that your Personal Representatives are aware of the steps they need to undertake to gain access to them.
  • You need to consider what instructions to leave your Personal Representatives so they can access your digital assets and the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners recommends keeping an inventory of your digital assets but details of how to access the assets must be kept separate.
  • It may also be helpful to include a provision in your Will providing specific authority for your Personal Representatives to deal with your digital assets.
  • You should also check with each digital asset provider what their processes and rules are when you die.

At Lanyon Bowdler we understand how important it is to think about what will happen to your digital assets on death, and we are happy to talk you through your options and help you plan for the future.

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