When drawing up your will it is vitally important to consider your digital assets
Setting out what happens to your money, property and possessions when you die is an incredibly important task. But in today’s world, you also need to consider your digital assets when drawing up your will, and these can be wide-ranging. They can include everything from air miles to online-only pension and bank accounts and cryptocurrencies.
Digital assets consist of anything stored online or that exists electronically and holds value. So your digital footprint could also include intellectual property or computer files, for example, that you store in the cloud and form a significant and valuable part of your estate.
Gone are the days of records all being held in physical filing cabinets, therefore making account details relatively easy to find post-death – these days much of this information is held online only as we have moved towards a digital society. This can make it incredibly difficult to administer someone’s estate as executors may not have a starting point when it comes to what assets the estate comprises.
Your online assets may come with complex security requirements, or your beneficiaries may simply be unaware of them as there is not any physical evidence that they exist. A solicitor can advise on how best to include digital assets in your will when you write or update this to ensure that they are passed on in accordance with your wishes. And there are also some steps you can take to set up your digital estate that should make it easier for your beneficiaries to piece this together when you’re gone.
Drawing up your digital asset inventory
As a starting point, create a personal balance sheet that includes the basic details of your digital assets, such as names and website addresses for each account.
Consider whether you have anything stored on your computer or in cloud storage such as valuable photographic or other creative work -these may also hold sentimental value. Check the terms and conditions of the accounts and services that you use, as some may allow you to pass licences on to particular beneficiaries.
When you open or close online accounts, you should take this opportunity to review your digital wishes. You could store your digital wishes online or store them securely with your solicitor alongside your will.
However, when drawing up a list of your balances, accounts and wishes, it is important to note that you should avoid including a list of passwords, which would enable others to easily log into your accounts in your absence.
Safeguarding your digital asset passwords
Storing passwords within your will is also not a wise idea as wills are public documents once probate is granted. Instead, you can create a separate document known as a ‘letter of wishes’ that can be stored alongside your will. You may choose to include details of any digital assets in this document.
Your digital wishes inventory within a letter of wishes or similar document may include where usernames and passwords can be found, such as a digital vault or third-party password protector.
Along with your traditional executors, you can appoint a digital executor in your will (although this isn’t a legally recognised position). This can simply be someone who is relatively IT literate and trustworthy enough to deal with your online accounts in accordance with your wishes.
In the body of your will, you can state that you have appointed a digital executor, and expect the other executors to work with them so that your digital assets are administered in accordance with your wishes.
When you give different people access to a variety of assets you might want to prepare separate inventories and leave each person the appropriate details with access information.