These days a lot of our daily lives take place online and, in the coming years, it is unlikely there will be anyone who doesn’t own some form of digital asset. Despite the rise in popularity of all things digital, the majority of people still don’t make provisions in their will for them.
What classes as a digital asset?
In UK law there is no official definition of a digital asset making it very difficult to define what should be included in a will. However; digital assets could include:
- Online bank accounts,
- Social media accounts,
- Betting/gaming accounts,
- Online storage/cloud accounts
- Virtual currency (Bitcoins etc.)
- Documents and other content stored on smartphones, computers, digital cameras etc.
- Websites and/or blogs
Which digital assets can be passed down in a will?
It’s not as easy as thinking that all digital assets are owned by you and can therefore be passed down to whoever you want on your death. Some digital platforms, such as iTunes and Amazon Kindle, lease their content to users as opposed to you owning it in the way you would own a physical copy of a book or record. As a result, your beneficiaries will have no claim to content included in these accounts.
In order to make sure you include the correct digital assets within your will, it is important to read the license agreements or terms and conditions within your online accounts to ensure they are able to be used or accessed by your beneficiaries.
Social media account Facebook, allows you to define a ‘legacy contact’ who is able to access your account on your death and either close it down or memorialise the page.
What happens when you don’t create a plan for your digital assets?
Recently, a woman won a court ruling against tech giant Apple for access to her deceased husband’s iPhone. Following her husband’s death, it was discovered that he had not specified who could access his account in the event of his death. In UK law, there is no legal right for anyone to have access to the online accounts of a deceased person. Apple also stipulates in its terms and conditions:
“Unless otherwise required by law, You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted.”
As the phone contained hundreds of photos and videos of her and their daughter, the woman went to court to obtain an order to access them. The process took 2 years and thousands of pounds to complete with a ruling eventually going in her favour and the judge calling for a change in the law regarding digital legacies.
In this case, it may have perhaps been easier had the husband stored his photos and videos somewhere that could be accessed by his family and provided details of how to access them in a will.
What should I be doing?
Firstly, you should write a list of all of the digital assets/ online accounts you own as a clear inventory.
Next, consider what is held in these accounts and how you would want them to be administered on your death.
Read the terms and conditions of these accounts to ensure they allow for the method of administering you would prefer.
Consider setting up a password bank with details of your log in details for all of these accounts – remember to ensure this is secure and that details can be accessed when you die.
Create a will which includes your wishes for the distribution of your digital assets as well as your physical ones.
By drafting a will and including provisions for digital assets, you will ensure a smoother process for your family and friends and reduce the risk of stress or arguments resulting from confusion around the wishes for your digital assets.
For advice on drafting a will or to get started with yours, please contact Farleys private client team on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our online contact form.