What are digital assets?
We live in a digitalised society with most of us owning laptops, notebooks and smart phones which give us access to third party digital platforms and applications such as Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Apple to name a few. These platforms store our personalised collections of digital products such as music, photos, movies, games and books. Most of these types of digital assets may be considered to have more sentimental than monetary value in some cases.
However, the ever growing use and value of cryptocurrencies; such as Bitcoin and Ethereum which are stored within virtual decentralised encrypted computer platforms, highlight the need for individual’s to ensure that their digital assets are included as part of their estate assets.
Transferring digital assets on death
It is important to make any specific gifts of digital assets in your Will. This is particularly relevant for assets of monetary value such as cryptocurrencies.
The ownership is primarily governed by the online asset holder’s terms and conditions. Therefore, it may be difficult for an individual’s personal representatives to enforce proprietary rights on death. For example, the licence to use online music, books and games often terminates on death. So, a person’s account dies with them.
The personal representatives are then left with limited options such as memorialisation or account closer. A country court order many be required to gain access to information stored within the virtual (cloud) storage. This could mean that even after obtaining a court order, personal representatives may not have access to photos, videos and personal data not stored on a virtual hard drive, as these may not fall within the remit of the digital asset holder.
Organising your digital assets
There are ways of organising your digital assets and providing access on death to ensure that they are distributed according to your wishes.
- Appoint a Digital Asset Executor
It is recommended that the person appointed is a legal professional such as a Solicitor. This will ensure that your information is handled sensitively, confidentiality and that only pre-selected information is made accessible to specified individuals in accordance with your wishes. Similarly, if a county court order is required in order to release them this is something your Solicitor can assist with.
- Create an inventory of digital accounts
It is important to keep a log of passwords and usernames as these are required in order to access digital assets. It may also be useful to set up a password manager account and provide this information to your Digital Asset Executor to be stored with your Will and accessed only at your request or on death.
- Share certain digital assets during your lifetime
It may be particularly useful to share digital assets of sentimental value during your life time. One can send photos, videos and voice messages to loved ones or save these on external hardware such as USB sticks for easier access to this information on death.