Your Digital Assets

14 Nov 2016

Our increasing concern about security, privacy and protecting our identities online means that people are taking more care securing their digital assets, including making passwords more complex, not writing them down and changing them regularly. Whilst this is great when you are alive, it can make the task almost impossible for those left dealing with your estate when you die.

Each minute there are around 701,389 Facebook logins, 150 million emails sent, 51,000 downloads from Apple and £156,865 in sales on Amazon. On a digital device; the average person owns 2,678 songs, 42 ebooks and 28 films. This is only going to increase over time. In 2016, UK digital assets were estimated at an astonishing value of £25 billion.

Digital assets can include online bank accounts, online share trading, online auction accounts, items on social media sites, email accounts, gambling accounts, photo sharing accounts, blogs, loyalty card accounts, cloud storage and digital music. You would be hard placed to find an individual without at least one of these items.

As a Personal Representative (PR) of a deceased, there is a duty to present these assets to HMRC as they are found. Legitimate detective work must be done to establish what is held by the deceased and the value of such items. In the digital world we live in, this is not always a straightforward task.

It is also worthwhile considering the legal position: for example, an iTunes collection dies with the person who bought it. This is because in paying for a music track, you do not actually buy the music itself. You obtain a licence to listen to that music and the licence is not transferable.

As part of our future planning service, we advise our clients to consider their digital assets and do what they can to assist their PRs with this task now.

Your digital assets, as a starting point, would be treated the same as we would treat chattels (your personal belongings). You can either make an outright gift of the digital assets or a gift to your executors to distribute in accordance with a Memorandum of Wishes. The questions to be considered are:-

• Do you have online bank accounts?

• Do you access social networking sites and have personal pages?

• What email accounts are registered to you?

A suggestion could be that these details and a list of any digital assets can be kept securely in the form of a note with your Will.

We would strongly advise not to include any passwords in your Will itself as once the Will has been proven it becomes a public document. Also, bear in mind that if a PR logs in as the deceased they could be committing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. To understand post-death access, a PR would be best advised to refer to the relevant terms of the service agreements.

Facebook have recently announced a new Legacy Contact Feature. The feature allows the Facebook user to designate a person who will receive limited access post-death to the account. This has now arrived in the UK and roll-out is expected soon.

Generally PRs will need to supply a Death Certificate or Grant of Probate and identification to gain access to online accounts.