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  • Published:
    08 March
  • Area of Law:
    Family Wealth Preservation & Planning, Financial Matters, Wills

How to protect your digital assets

As the volume of digital assets we own continues to rise, protecting, controlling and preserving your digital legacy has never been more important. A lack of guidance surrounding how this is achieved can lead to confusion and potentially even sentimental and monetary loss. With no one really providing guidance on digital assets, here at Shakespeare Martineau we aim to answer some questions that might have you confused. 

What is a digital asset? 

The exact definition of digital assets is relatively ambiguous at present and this is causing more confusion for people who are trying to ensure that their digital assets are catered for in a will. The best way to describe a digital asset is in the form of information or assets that exist, are created and / or are stored online. Examples of these can include iTunes, PayPal or Amazon accounts, blogs, social media profiles, IP, photographs, online gaming avatars and digital currencies such as Bitcoin. 

Why do I need to protect my digital assets? 

Some digital assets hold a great deal of sentimental and financial value and ensuring that this is incorporated in a will guarantees that the whole estate can be distributed appropriately and the value (whether monetary or not) is realised at the time of distribution. 

How do I include digital assets in my will? 

Outlining what, who and where your digital assets go can be approached in the same way as any other element of your will. Clear instructions and supporting documents should be left within or with a will regarding your digital assets to ensure the full estate is distributed effectively. 

What supporting documents do I need? 

It is more common than ever to have to evidence the instructions in your will. For example, if you wish to leave assets, digital or otherwise, to a charity, you should do your best to prove that you have had a connection with that charity before your death - this may, for example, be in the form of a longstanding series of prior donations. 

Additionally, it is sensible to securely store a digital asset log that is also included with the will. 

What is a digital asset log? 

A digital asset log is designed to help store access details, such as passwords, for all accounts – this could either be done by securely storing the details in the will or by using a third-party password genie. To ensure that your wishes are carried out, those writing the will should leave clear instruction with it, on what to do with each account and who has responsibility for carrying out such action against each of the access details for the accounts.

Is there any danger for executors? 

Those individuals carrying out the digital asset instructions ought to exercise caution in doing so to ensure that they are not breaching the terms and conditions of the service provider. 

Can any family member, friend or individual access my digital assets? 

Anyone over the age of 18 can be appointed to be an executor; however accessing online accounts without formal written permission in the will could mean that they are in breach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This makes it all the more important for those writing a will to leave clear guidance for their executors. 

Can I still leave my digital assets to someone if they have no financial value?

Digital assets, such as gaining access to a Facebook page to extract the photographs, often have no monetary value, but huge amounts of sentimental worth. Facebook for example has recently changed its regulations to allow users to appoint a representative to decide what will happen to their profile after their death. For example to download the images, write a final post or delete the profile. 

How do I choose an executor to manage my digital assets? 

If an executor doesn’t have the correct skill set to manage digital assets, it can cause huge amounts of stress and in turn, digital assets could be lost completely. It is best to choose a ‘tech-savvy’ executor to manage the distribution of the digital asset element of a will. It is also not uncommon to have more than one executor, who could be chosen for specific tasks based on their proficiency.

If you have any queries or would like further advice please don't hesitate to contact Lorna Payne.

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