So much of our lives is online nowadays and many of us organise aspects of our lives in a digital format – but what happens to our online life and digital data when we die?
It’s natural to plan ahead for physical assets and express your wishes for your estate in your Will, however you may not have considered what happens to your digital assets after you die – and it’s important to do so.
What are Digital Assets?
Legally, digital assets are hard to define and there is no set definition.
As a guide, digital assets usually encompass the following:
- Internet accounts
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts
- Photos and videos stored online
- Music libraries
- Any virtual currencies
In terms of value, some digital assets are valuable whereas others hold a high sentimental value only. You may be able to gift certain digital assets to loved ones when you die.
Who owns your Digital Assets when you die?
The challenge with digital assets and what happens to them after you die, is ownership – who owns the digital data? It may not necessarily be you who owns the digital assets.
This is because when you sign up to services online, from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), you usually have to agree to the company’s terms and conditions. You enter into a contract with the company and normally are given a licence to use the service for the duration of the contract.
Certain companies retain ultimate control, however. For example, iTunes – Apple has the control and any downloaded music is only licensed to the account holder.
Each social media site has its own terms and conditions, which determine whether uploaded photos still belong to you or the company.
Photos and music kept on a device you own are yours, but it may not be straightforward for your personal representatives to access this digital data when you die.
How can you gift Digital Assets when you die?
If you want loved ones to access your digital data when you die, you can leave passwords for the accounts – although this is not always possible as most ISPs include in their terms and conditions that you cannot give out this information, sometimes even making it illegal under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
To help ensure access is gained in the most straightforward and legal way possible, your personal representatives should speak to a solicitor first.
If you want to gift any digital assets or leave access to digital data, there are things you can do to help your personal representatives to action this after you die.
Within an ISP’s terms and conditions, there are options on what happens when you die and these can include the following:
- All account content is removed. For this to happen on Facebook, the company asks for a copy of the death certificate and Will, if there is one.
- The account can then remain active after your death. However, no one can login to your account or accept new friend requests.
- Create a legacy contact – this is someone who can access your account after you die if this ever needs to happen.
How a Solicitor can help with Digital Assets after your Death
A solicitor can help by providing support and guidance to your chosen personal representatives – as every digital asset is different, different rules apply and a solicitor can simplify the whole process to ensure the right outcome is achieved in the easiest possible way.
Making Digital Assets part of your Estate when you die
Our Wills and probate solicitors are here to help with every aspect of administering an estate after an individual’s death – and this includes helping to ensure the person’s digital assets are handled in the most sensitive and effective way possible.
It’s important you plan ahead and keep your digital information updated and back up digital assets like photos by saving them onto a memory stick or printing the photos.
Leave detailed and clear instructions to your chosen personal representatives on what should happen to your digital assets when you die. By keeping social media accounts updated to reflect your wishes after you die, you’ll be ensuring your digital assets are handled in the right way.
For legal advice and guidance on the best way to plan ahead for your digital assets, our solicitors are here to help and have the experience and knowledge to make sure your online presence is protected according to your wishes after you die.
To speak to one of our professional Wills and probate solicitors about digital assets, please contact us at our Chorlton office on 0161 860 7123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or at our Failsworth office on 0161 681 4005 or email email@example.com