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What Happens to your Digital Legacy?

The digital revolution which has taken place during the last decade means that many of us own a new form of asset which might be described as “digital estate”. This can include: (i) digital assets such as data, photos, videos, on-line purchased music, films and audio-books, Bitcoins, computer game characters, internet domains, YouTube videos, social media and networking content, computer programmes, software, and software licences; (ii) digital accounts such as email, social networking, online bank accounts, store accounts, iTunes, Kindle or Audible accounts and (iii) digital devices such as laptops, desktop computers, tablets, smartphones and iPods.

A report from Co-operative Funeral Care published in February 2015 found that 75% of adults with an online presence had made no arrangements for their digital assets on their death. More worryingly 78% of the bereaved experienced difficulty in dealing with their loved one’s online accounts and 20% found it so difficult that they simply couldn’t manage it at all. So what can be done?

Dealing effectively with the ownership of digital estate in the event of death presents quite a challenge, not least because there is no universal solution available as the various digital service providers all have their own procedures. For example:-

As can be seen it is a bit of a minefield. There are, however, a number of steps which can be taken to make things easier:

  1. An up-to-date record of all online accounts, email addresses and passwords should be kept. This information should not be included in any Will (as a Will normally becomes a public document) but a record of the location of this information can be placed with the Will.
  2. Along with these details should be included information of any online assets which have financial value. Do you run an online business? Do you have valuable work online, for example if you are a writer or professional photographer? Can you sell your online gaming currency? Do you have a popular YouTube video which generates advertising revenue? Do you hold Bitcoins? Do you have Tesco Clubcard vouchers online?
  3. Liaise with service providers now to appoint legacy contacts or similar if the system allows it.
  4. Consider carefully what you would wish to be done. Do you wish computers or devices to be cleared of content? You may wish copies of some content to be shared – family photos for example. Are there valuable online assets which must be preserved?
  5. Make sure that you provide for your digital assets in your Will. Although some service agreements try to restrict others from accessing a deceased’s account, if you specifically provide for this in your Will then it is more likely that an online service provider will react positively.
  6. When drafting your Will it is important to consider who will be best able to manage digital assets. In many cases the executors or residuary beneficiary may not have the technical skills to deal with this.

With more and more of daily life conducted online (in December 2014 Facebook reported a staggering 2.39 billion users), the issue of digital assets and their succession on death is likely to become more and more important so it is well worth making sure you have it covered.

At ELP Arbuthnott McClanachan we offer a personal service providing expert advice tailored to your own specific circumstances. Barbara Watson is a member of STEP – the Society of Trust and Executry Practitioners – and has many years of experience advising clients on Wills, Powers of Attorney and Asset Protection. If you have any queries on any of these matters then please do not hesitate to contact Barbara Watson by phone on 0131 312 7276, or by e-mail to bw@elpamsolicitors.co.uk.

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