What happens to a person’s digital assets on their death?

When people consider what their assets are, they tend to think of tangible items such as their home or their car, as well as any savings or investments they might have. Whilst many of us spend a considerable portion of our lives engaging with the digital world on our smartphones, and other devices, digital assets are almost always overlooked when making a Will.

First things first, what are digital assets?

Although there is not yet any legal definition of what constitutes a digital asset reference to them usually includes:

  • Social media accounts (ranging from Twitter and Tiktok to LinkedIn and Instagram)
  • Any Documents stored on the cloud such as personal photographs and videos (including Google Drive, Drop-box or similar)
  • Music libraries (such as Apple Music, Spotify)
  • Cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin)
  • Website Domains 
  • Professional and personal blogs/vlogs

This list isn’t exhaustive and as technology advances and more of our lives are lived in (or at least affected by) the digital world it will only grow longer.

So why do digital assets matter?

Despite most of us owning many of the types of assets listed above, most people don’t make preparations for how those assets should be dealt with after they are gone. They are often as valuable as your tangible assets and photos stored online are likely to be just as important to your loved ones as pictures framed around your home.

What if they are lost? 

Dealing with financial assets after someone has passed away is always a difficult task for bereaved families, and a further difficulty with digital assets is that families may not even know that these assets exist making it extremely difficult for digital assets to be identified.

Although this is especially important when dealing with assets of a financial value (such as money held in online accounts like PayPal Top Cashback, Robinhood, and Coinbase) there may be a wealth of sentimental value stored in online photo galleries or unread blogs.

Social media accounts

With most social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter it is likely that the right to operate these accounts will expire on the death of the account holder. However, you may have views about how you wish your personal representatives to deal with these accounts, which are likely to hold personal and private information.

For example Facebook allows individual users to decide in advance whether, following their death, they would like their account to be permanently deleted or memorialised. If an account is memorialised, content the individual shared will remain visible, and the word ‘Remembering’ will be shown next to the deceased’s name.

So what can be done for your loved ones in advance?

We recommend leaving clear instructions of what digital assets you own and how they would like these assets to be dealt with after your death. That can be done when making a Will. You assemble a list of digital assets and accounts you may hold including any usernames required to identify these. We recommend that store the list in a safe place and providing a copy to your executors (assuming of course that you are content to provide this to your executors pre-death).

These lists should be reviewed frequently and never stored in an unsecure physical or digital location.