A lawyer who specialises in estate planning has warned that thousands of people across Kent may be failing to protect their digital assets, locking value in online accounts that are not easily accessible to family members after death.
There is no definitive legal rule stating what happens to digital assets on death, because online assets vary in nature and they will have value in different ways. Digital assets can include cash balances, including cryptocurrencies, gambling or gaming accounts; income, such as online advertising revenues, or income from licensing multimedia (photos, music, sound effects etc); an online shop or products on a marketplace such as Etsy; and intellectual property, such as valuable domain names.
In addition, personal memorabilia such as social media accounts, photo sharing accounts and music; or digital documents stored online, can have significant sentimental or practical value.
Joshua Williams, Senior Associate with law firm Furley Page, said: “The law has not caught up with technology when it comes to the inheritance of digital assets. For example, digital assets with monetary value will form part of your estate and will pass legally to any beneficiaries, whereas services like iTunes are licensed to an individual; the licences will terminate upon death and are not transferrable.
“As our use of online services continues to grow, it remains up to individuals to ensure they have made adequate preparations for handing on their digital assets. If not, they may bequeath their loved ones an unnecessary burden of stress and red tape — and in some cases risk losing assets altogether if they cannot be traced or accessed.
“Consideration of digital assets is an increasingly important but often overlooked area of estate planning. Individuals need to think about the digital assets they own and how they want to deal with them in a will. For example, a will can specify who can deactivate, remove or even memorialise a social media account after your death.
“Meanwhile, digital assets with financial value can be left to whoever one chooses, but consideration also needs to be given to online accounts with a sentimental value, such as an iTunes account or YouTube channel, as the right to bequeath such accounts will depend on the terms and conditions of the software provider. Simply logging in with the deceased’s password to access an account may even constitute a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, unless suitable provision has been made to grant posthumous access in the will.
“Making a list of all your digital assets to discuss with your solicitor will help you to decide which ones you can include in your Will and how to do it most effectively.”
For more information about Furley Page’s estate planning services, contact Joshua Williams, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01227 274241.
You can also follow the firm on Twitter @furleypage and on LinkedIn.