Lifetime Planning and Wills expert, Sarah Loveless, explains the importance of considering our digital assets when making a Will. Our Lifetime Planning and Wills team, are available by email, or by calling 01225 755656. Alternatively, you can complete the contact form at the foot of this page.
What are digital assets?
Digital technology increasingly dominates our lives. Despite that, when making a Will, it’s easy to overlook our digital assets, ie those held in electronic form. Whether they are of monetary or sentimental value, you can decide what should happen to the ‘ownership’ of them when you die, in exactly the same way as tangible assets.
Examples of digital assets
There are any number of assets we might hold digitally, but common ones include:
- Family photos;
- Higher quality photographs that could be sold or licensed;
- Digitally created art;
- Domain names;
- Digital manuscripts for books, stories, poetry;
- Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
Why should I consider digital assets when making my Will?
The existence of digital assets gives rise to some important issues to consider. If you fail to do so, your Will may not accord entirely with your wishes. In particular:
- If you do not specifically gift digital assets in your Will, they will fall into the residue of your estate. The residue is everything remaining that you have not explicitly dealt with elsewhere in your Will. Most Wills make a specific gift of the residue to a person, people or charity, and you may not intend that gift to include ownership of one or more of your digital assets.
- You may assume that your digital assets are included as part of a gift of chattels (ie personal possessions). But for Wills executed (ie signed and witnessed) on or after 1 October 2014, the law defines “personal chattels” as meaning all tangible movable property owned by the testator except investments, money and business assets. Of course, digital assets are not tangible. Therefore, they should be dealt with separately or, should you wish to include them with a gift of chattels, the definition of that term will need to be extended in your Will to include them.
- By their very nature of being digital, your executors and beneficiaries may be unaware of the extent of your digital assets. If you fail to mention them, they may be overlooked or lost entirely. Do not forget to provide detailed instructions for your executors. Create a hard copy list of locations and logins and store it very securely – DO NOT hand it over. Review the list regularly.
- An important consideration is that digital assets are distinct and separate from the computer or other device on which they sit, so you might decide to leave the digital assets and the device to different people.
- If one or more of your digital assets has a value, consider whether it would be beneficial to have at least one executor with specialist knowledge and expertise of that type of asset. Good examples would be cryptocurrency, manuscripts and art.
Asset or licence?
What you might at first consider a digital asset, may in fact be a non-transferable licence, or one which terminates on your death. Common examples are social media and gaming accounts – even ones you have paid for. Remember though that some social media platforms allow you to nominate a person to assume control of your account on your death, or to request its removal.
While unlikely to be assets, consider who should have access to your email accounts when you die. Emails may contain sensitive or confidential information. You may decide to leave instructions for all emails to be deleted. If so, ensure you securely store hard copies of any emails that contain important information.
Protect your digital assets
It goes without saying that it’s crucial to protect your digital assets with regular back up to the cloud and/or portable storage devices.