Death and your digital assets

An increasing number of us are beginning to live a paper-free existence online. As our reliance on the internet expands, so does our portfolio of digital assets. But what is a digital asset? The most obvious examples are online bank accounts but others might include a Paypal account, a business, websites (particularly with valuable domain names), online share dealing accounts and social networking sites (SNS).

In the event of your death problems can arise for your Personal Representatives (PR’s) if details of your digital assets are not kept in order. For instance your PR’s may be unaware that such assets exist making the job of valuing your estate even more onerous. Even when the full extent of your digital assets is known to your PR’s they may not be able to access them if passwords and access details are not readily available.

A lot of personal data can be found on SNS which, for reasons of security, your PR’s, friends and family will want to protect. Consideration should be given as to who you want to be able to access this information when you are gone.

A place to start when considering these issues is to make a full list of your digital assets. Also ensure a full list of passwords and access details are compiled and kept safe. A paper list can be placed with your Will (but not in your Will as this may become open to public inspection on your death) or the information could otherwise be stored on a USB stick as a password protected document and then placed with your Will. It is essential to keep these lists up to date as and when your passwords are changed or new digital assets are acquired.

The problems created by digital assets have given rise to the emergence of a number of software companies each offering their own solutions. These ‘digital legacy’ companies often allow you to control and access all of your confidential data by use of a master password. Some may find this a daunting prospect and security is obviously of paramount consideration.

This is a new area for a lot of professional estate planners and one that is filled with uncertainty. For now the best approach is to stay aware of the potential pitfalls and have a discussion with your legal advisor when making your Will.

by Kieren Cross from the Wisbech office