Property, possessions, money in the bank, shares and investments.
Those are the standard types of assets that most of us will think about protecting during our lifetime and passing on to loved ones after our death. You may have set out in your Will that your share of the family home should pass to your partner; your jewellery to your son or daughter; your investments to family members. But what about your digital assets?
Most people have an online presence of some sort, whether it’s a Twitter account, Facebook page, or music playlist. We have online bank accounts, shopping accounts, perhaps a website and a blog. Maybe even cryptocurrency like Bitcoins. We store our photos online. However, not all of these things are considered to be ‘assets’ in the sense that they hold value or that arrangements should be made for others to benefit from them once we’re no longer around.
Strict rules about passwords mean that people are frequently unable to access the online accounts held by a loved one who has passed away. It means that they can’t easily take ownership of family photos held on that person’s Apple account, for example. It can be an extremely distressing experience for those who simply want to hold onto memories. There is also the potential for financially valuable digital assets to fall into a black hole.
One way of avoiding those situations is for a person making a Will to factor in arrangements for the handling of their digital assets post-death. This is something we routinely encourage clients to do as a way of tying up all loose ends. We’ll talk to them about the tangible assets that are easily recognised as valuable, and we’ll also help them compile details of the ones they’re less likely to have considered. It’s great to see that while there was once scepticism about the value that digital assets hold, there is increasing recognition that these things really are worthy of a place in a Will.
So, what should you be doing now? Putting together a neat list of your digital assets is a really good starting point. Think about the things you do online – buying, storing, creating, posting. Remember that the value in some of these things may be sentimental but it can also be financial – you may hold intellectual property in things you’ve designed, for example.
It will be straightforward enough for your solicitor to add digital assets to your existing Will, or to incorporate them into a new Will if you haven’t yet made one. And it’s something worth doing not only to enable people you care about to benefit from the things you own, but also to make it easier for them to handle the practical things that will need to be sorted out after you have died. That might sound a little morbid. But these things have to be dealt with, and the more straightforward you can make that for loved ones, the better.
As part of the process of getting to grips with their digital assets (and clients are frequently surprised by just how many they own), some people choose to store things in a different format so that they’re more easily transferrable. Family photos are an example. If, like me, you have thousands stored on your phone, now may be the time to sift through and print the favourites. That’s not legal advice, by the way! It’s a practical step that ties in neatly with the process of collating digital assets, and it’s one that could serve your beneficiaries well.