Whilst physical and monetary assets are regularly considered, there are no specific laws which provide guidance as to how our digital and online assets will be dealt with following death.
This issue has come before the Courts in the US where the Executor of an Estate based in the UK sought access to the deceased’s Facebook account in an attempt to prove that the deceased did not commit suicide but was in fact murdered. Facebook successfully prevented the Executor from gaining access to the deceased’s account due to US based privacy laws.
What are my digital assets?
Digital assets may be broadly defined to include online accounts and files stored on computers or servers.
Almost all of us have a collection of digital assets, which may take the following forms:
- Social networking accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), personal email accounts (Hotmail, Yahoo!) and photo-sharing sites (Instagram, Flickr). Most of these websites have privacy clauses in their terms of service that may prevent your family from accessing them following your death.
- Online bank accounts, eBay, PayPal, B-Pay and AdSense accounts, all of which may be of monetary value.
- Files stored on a personal computer, smartphone, tablet, hard drive or stored on an online server. Commonly, these files can include family photos, business documents and personal projects which you want passed onto family and friends.
- Information or data of value which you wish to gift to certain people, for example designs, artistic or literary works and other forms of intellectual property.
What if my digital assets aren’t protected?
As digital and online activities increasingly play a role in our daily lives, you should carefully consider the personal value of your digital assets and how you wish for them to be treated after your death.
Adequately providing for your digital assets in your estate plan will allow you to control who accesses these sensitive records following your death and means that you can stipulate how they are to be distributed. Failure to do so will inevitably give rise to disputes with services providers over access to your digital assets, not to mention possible arguments between your family members.
What do I need to do?
Due to the uncertainty surrounding the treatment of digital assets, you must be proactive in ensuring that your digital assets are provided for in your estate plan.
This can be accomplished by:
- Taking an inventory of your digital assets and accounts so that the Executors of your Estate know their location and potential value.
- Recording a list of all relevant usernames and passwords for each account – this should be securely stored (e.g. a secured envelope or safe deposit box) and kept separate from your Will so that the list can be updated as required.
- Ensuring you have a comprehensive estate plan in place that deals with control and disposal of your digital assets.
For more information
To ensure you have fully provided for your digital assets after your death you should seek legal advice from a specialist Estate Planning lawyer. Redchip’s Estate Planning Team are up to date with the latest laws and technologies and are available to discuss your needs and find the best solution for you.
To arrange an obligation free discussion about amending your Will or other Estate Planning needs, please contact Ian Tindale at firstname.lastname@example.org or Emily O’Brien at email@example.com, or please phone our office on (07) 3223 6100.