Most people do not include their digital assets when they make a Will, meaning that anything of value will end up being included in the residue of the estate.
There is also a risk that some assets will simply be lost if they are not listed or if there is no way for them to be accessed. With the increase of digital platforms, there is a need to make proper provision for anything of value.
As well as financially valuable assets, you should also consider other items that may be emotionally important to your loved ones. This could include photos, online content and emails.
What are digital assets?
Digital assets with monetary value could include cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, money held in online accounts or with bodies such as Paypal, intellectual property such as ebooks, professional photos that could be sold and domain names.
Assets cannot always be passed on. For example, content purchased from Kindle or iTunes is leased and cannot be left in a Will. Apple’s iCloud terms and conditions state that the account is non-transferable and any rights terminate upon death. Similarly, Microsoft prohibits account credentials being passed to another user.
Making provisions for your digital assets
The first step is to make a list of your digital assets so that your executor is aware of exactly what you hold.
Subject to the terms and conditions of each platform, you can consider writing down details of how to access the assets, but be aware that some platforms do not permit the sharing of security information.
In any event, you should not include sensitive information within your Will itself, and this document will become publicly available following the Grant of Probate.
Different internet service Providers have different requirements for dealing with information following a death and with other countries also involved, it is often not straightforward.
Case law does exist in some jurisdictions, for example, American cases requiring a Will before electronic communications could be passed to beneficiaries and where Yahoo requiring a court order before it would release a digital diary of a deceased Marine to his family.
Passing on passwords
Giving a list of passwords to your future executors or leaving it with your Will is problematic. Firstly, passwords are frequently updated and secondly, it is a security risk for you and onerous for anyone who has access to the passwords.
An alternative is using an encrypted password manager. Details can be left with the Will (not in it) so that those dealing with your affairs have a good chance of managing your digital estate once you have gone.
It is still important to regularly check your list of assets and ensure it is up to date. As well as digital assets, it will be helpful to include all other assets so that your executor’s job is made a lot easier and they can be sure that nothing is missed.