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Are you dealing with your digital legacy?

06 February 2015

£25 billion. That is the current reported figure of unclaimed digital assets in the UK alone.

What are digital assets?

There is no precise legal definition but commonly they include:

  • online bank accounts
  • photographs and videos stored online
  • blogs and e-books
  • social media statuses and tweets
  • information contained in documents, such as emails.

Each internet service provider may have different policies for dealing with online assets on death. These policies will have been accepted when the online account was created. A few examples are:

  • Facebook – since 2009 Facebook has allowed accounts to be memorialised so that family and friends can continue to post photographs and comments on a deceased account holder’s timeline. However, logging into or editing a memorialised account is not permitted.
  • Google – since April 2013 Google’s inactive account manager allows account holders to decide how their stored data should be dealt with once they have died.
  • Apple/iTunes – this is a licence only and there are no rights to reproduce content. Account holders are prohibited from passing on details of ID and passwords to others.
  • Apple/iCloud – these accounts are personal to the account holder and cannot be transferred on death.
  • Twitter – accounts terminate immediately on death.

What should I do?

Most wills contain a clause dealing with personal chattels. Computer hardware (eg the computer itself) is a tangible asset and falls within the definition of personal chattels, but digital assets are intangible ones and therefore are not covered by the definition.

We suggest you consider amending the usual personal chattels clause in the will to include digital assets, or make a separate provision or leave them to be dealt with as part of your general residuary estate.

To summarise, there are a number of important points to bear in mind regarding digital assets to ensure that they do not add to that £25 billion:

  • Make a list of digital assets that have financial or sentimental value.
  • Choose who should deal with the digital assets. Remember this could include access to emails so privacy may be an issue.
  • Keep records of online accounts, usernames and passwords regularly updated and separate from the will. Consider using a third party provider, such as an online password protection programme, to help.
  • Make a will and consider digital assets carefully.

For more information about how to protect your digital assets in your will please speak to any of our lawyers in our wills, probate & trusts department on 01242 514000.

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Disclaimer: All legal information is correct at the time of publication but please be aware that laws may change over time. This article contains general legal information but should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please seek professional legal advice about your specific situation - contact us; we’d be delighted to help.
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Simon Cook LLB (Hons), TEP
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