When it comes to digital assets, there is a common misconception that this only relates to assets such as Bitcoin or other online currency, however as there is no definitive definition of what is constitutes a 'digital asset', it could include online banking, images or videos stored on smartphone to presentations and designs.
So what happens to these digital assets and online accounts when we die and what is the value of these digital assets? Some will have little or no value, but some items, in particular photos and videos may have huge sentimental value as they will charter large portions of your life and the lives of your friends and family – you would never want to lose those, would you?
With wedding season upon us, it is standard practice now that the photographer who is hired will take digital photographs, which will be available to the happy couple via a memory stick after a few weeks.
It is also not uncommon that the day following the ceremony a few pictures are sent by email to the couple, and in this day and age they will most likely share these on Facebook.
So what would happen if the photographer was to pass away?
The photographs are the property of the photographer and if they were to die, it could mean that their executors are unable to access them if they have not been given, or do not know the password to the computer, or email account. If the photographer had been hired for many weddings and the pictures could not be accessed, this could cause a loss to the estate, not to mention the happy couple may not be as happy with having no photographic memories of their special day.
What about the happy couple?
A lot of us often agree to the T&C's without reading them. When it comes to social media accounts it is usually the case that the data on our account is not owned by us, and rather is licenced.
With the case of the happy couple who have shared their wedding pictures online, this means that if they were to pass away, their executors may not have the right to gain access to their social media accounts after they have died - so they have no way to access and store the pictures.
Pictures you post to social media sites are more likely than not to then be the property of the site, rather than you. It is important to back up these pictures to a disc or print out hard copies if they are of sentimental value. This way others have easy access to the pictures on your death.
Some social media sites, like Facebook, have activated a 'Facebook Legacy' button so that the account holder can 'will' their account to another person, such as their executor. This is an alternative to sharing your account login details with your executor whilst you are alive, especially when we are continually told not to share passwords.
It should be noted that each social media site has their own process for notifying that someone has passed away, therefore the executor should check the privacy statement/T&C's of the site.
How do you share your passwords whilst protecting your passwords?
If you have made a Will through a solicitors firm, they usually offer to store the document in a strong room. In with your Will you can include a document which provides the account login details and passwords for all of your digital assets, such as online bank accounts, Paypal, Netflix and emails.
Considering your digital assets when making a Will
Given that we are living in the digital age and the phenomenon of digital assets is likely to continue, it is good practice when making a Will to have a think about your assets and if any of these are digital assets. As mentioned above, an inventory should be left with your Will which sets out all of the accounts you have, along with the account login details.
At Clapham & Collinge we recommended that you review your Will every 5 years, or when you have a life changing event, such as marriage or children. This includes reviewing any document which is held with your Will or incorporated into it, such as a list of your digital assets.
And remember to always read the T&C's when creating or updating your online account! Establishing if you own the digital content or if it is licenced can be the difference between it being able to pass in accordance with your Will or not. A helpful way to remember is that digital records, such as social media accounts, do not pass with your Will or Intestacy, whereas digital property rights and interests, sometimes referred to as intellectual property, do pass.
It is extremely important that you receive legal advice when making a Will, particularly when it comes to digital assets as this is a fairly new area when it comes to the law of Wills and Succession. At Clapham & Collinge we have a dedicated team of experts who are able to provide you with all of the necessary information, support and legal advice when making a Will.
We pride ourselves on providing Wills that give you complete peace of mind and legal assurance that your wishes will be carried out once you are gone so you know your family will be taken care of.
Contact our Client Relations Team today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, and Sheringham offices.
*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.