Digital Assets – leaving them in your Will

Have you thought about what happens to your digital assets when you die?

Yesterday (Sunday 12th May) it was reported in the newspapers that a widow has won a legal fight against Apple to have access to her late husbands iPhone photos and videos. Apple argued that her husband hadn’t left a Will with instructions on access to his online accounts.

There’s no escaping the fact that the digital revolution has impacted on virtually all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Examples include, websites, email accounts, online banking, social media accounts, iTunes, online gaming, digital contracts and receipts (think EBay and Frequent Flyer miles), even tax statements. Most would agree these advances have enhanced our lives, not least by providing the tools to help us run our affairs more efficiently.

Most of us tend to value our digital assets in terms of the convenience and entertainment they provide without realising that many have a monetary value.

Protecting digital assets after death

The digital revolution has come about so quickly that the law is struggling to keep up – in fact, no statute or case law exists to deal with the ownership of these assets.

The question of ownership (and the transfer) of these digital assets is fraught with complexities and means it is up to the content providers such as Apple and Amazon to decide what we, the consumers, are allowed to do with our more intangible assets.

This is often determined by ticking the box that so few of us read, entitled ‘Terms of Use’.

Did you know, for example, that music you have purchased on iTunes can’t be inherited by your family or friends (no matter how long you spent organising those playlists) as under the terms and conditions of the account, you have only purchased the right to listen to those songs until your death?

The reality is we don’t protect our digital assets in the same way as we protect our physical property. Accessing and/or retrieving data from accounts held online after someone’s death is getting progressively more difficult and may become impossible. Your loved ones, for instance, might never be able to recover precious memories stored on your Facebook account.

So what can you do?

If you are the owner of ‘virtual’ property and want to successfully protect your digital assets when you die for beneficiaries and future generations, it is essential that they are taken into account in your Will.

Some of this – bank accounts, loyalty schemes, share certificates, licences and commission agreements – may have a significant monetary value. Others might have purely sentimental value.

Whichever, by accounting for and protecting your digital assets in good time, you allow those closest to you to retain as much control as possible over them upon your death.

In the long run, a bit of digital prudence and foresight could save you and your loved ones time and money. Where digital assets are concerned, there’s a simple rule: decide who you’d like to use or manage them or risk losing them.

For more information on Wills and including your digital assets in your Will or to make an appointment call the office most suitable to you.