When thinking about what will happen after death, considering both physical and digital assets is very important. Planning what will happen to our physical estates after we die has been commonplace practice for hundreds of years. However, today’s world is increasingly digital, with many people enjoying a significant online presence.
Lockdown taught us how to upskill digitally and use video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We relied more heavily on social media to keep in touch with friends and family, share photos and upload content. So, what happens to all that content, not to mention our log-ins, photos and data when we die? Is organising digital assets something that we need to plan with specialist probate solicitors to ensure that our wishes are followed?
Here are some questions about the whole issue. Just like making a Will and thinking about what you want to happen to your physical assets and estate, it is well worth making plans for your digital assets now. You should set aside some time to decide what you want to happen to them after your death, while you are still in a position to do so.
What are digital assets?
All of the above can be described as our ‘digital assets’ – pieces of information about us that belong to us and exist in digital form, as opposed to something tangible such as a house or vehicle. We normally access them through websites and services such as Facebook or Apple. As well as photographs and social media messages, they can include videos, music tracks, emails and cryptocurrencies. We usually have dedicated usernames and passwords to keep this type of information private and secure.
Why do you need to do anything about them now?
While some digital assets will only have sentimental value for those we leave behind, others will have real-world financial worth attached to them. These can include cryptocurrencies, online bank accounts and digital intellectual property like music or videos we have created and uploaded. A key problem that many executors face when handling someone’s estate is being able to gain access to their assets in order to plan what to do with them.
While probate solicitors can be of some help in sorting this out, it is better to leave clear instructions and details to help your executor carry out your wishes regarding digital data and assets. Instructions can be included in your Will or written in a separate letter – or even a legal document that a probate specialist can help you create.
Can you nominate someone to access your passwords and data after you die?
You may also wish to leave passwords and log-in details somewhere safe to help your appointed executors to access your various assets. There is no blanket approach to this across internet services, social media platforms etc. Each company has its own arrangements when it comes to dealing with account details and data belonging to someone who has passed away.
However, some of the larger providers have now put clear processes in place, including:
- Apple/iCloud (users can add a ‘Legacy Contact’ to their account with the power to access their digital assets after their death)
- Facebook (named ‘Legacy Contacts’ can be granted permission on your passing to delete, add memorial posts or memorialise your account as appropriate)
- Google (someone can be appointed by the user to download their data – or selected parts of it – after they die)
What about financially valuable assets?
Cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin are becoming increasingly significant parts of many people’s wealth portfolios. As such, it is essential to leave instructions and log-in details to assist your executor and probate solicitor in finding and liquidating them at the appropriate time. This is often facilitated by the holding company issuing your nominated person with a passkey or unique code. How to access codes, plus account details and links to trading platforms should be included in your Will or passed on to your executor or probate lawyer well in advance of your death.
Finally, writing a list of all your digital assets – both sentimentally important and financially valuable – and adding instructions, log-in details and web links next to each one is the most effective way to ensure that your digital presence can be updated, memorialised, deleted or liquidated according to your express wishes. It will also help your executor get this increasingly important aspect of life sorted out for you, at what will be a difficult time for them, both emotionally and logistically.