What happens to my digital assets on death?

by Kidd Rapinet on May 31, 2018
Gemma Hughes

There are now very few people who do not have some form of digital asset. Digital assets take many forms – from online photo and music libraries to social media and email accounts. While many of these are of sentimental value to the deceased’s family, there are some that are also of monetary value.

It is important to consider your digital assets carefully and to investigate what happens to the various assets on death.

Digital Accounts

Dependent on the type of account concerned, assets can be bequeathed, memorialised, taken down or deactivated.

Virtual Currency

Virtual currency or cryptocurrencies (e.g. bitcoin) are pseudo-currencies that are traded from virtual or digital wallets and stored in a virtual world. In order for the currency to be used, the digital wallet must be accessed and the transaction approved. Access is obtained via two keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is a series of characters and is visible to anyone as an address for sending and receiving currency. The private key is what allows the owner to access the contents of the wallet securely. After your death, the contents of the wallet will be inaccessible if you do not provide the details of both keys to your executors.

It is important to deal with cryptocurrency in your will to ensure that it is inherited by an individual or individuals you would wish to benefit. It is also important for your executors to note that any cryptocurrency is recoverable and identifiable and, as such, your virtual wallet is subject to inheritance tax on your death. The value of an individual bitcoin on the date of publication was £7,464 and so cryptocurrency can have a significant effect on the value of the estate.

Intellectual Property

It is possible that some digital assets have valuable intellectual property rights which can be used after death to benefit the beneficiaries of the estate.

Individuals with their own domain names or videos posted online that have been monetised through being linked to advertising would be examples of digital assets that have an intellectual property element. Individuals who publish or store books online should consider the intellectual property rights attributable to books.

These assets may need to be dealt with separately from other online assets and an intellectual property expert may need to be consulted.

Cloud Storage

Many of us store our data in the cloud rather than on physical devices. The right to access these accounts is dependent on the specific terms of the provider.

Typically, data held in the cloud will be deleted when the holder dies. If the storage is subject to a monthly payment then the right to access would cease and the contents be deleted when the payment stops. You are usually able to give access rights to another individual and so it would be prudent to investigate how to go about this.

Reward Cards

Many of us have reward cards for a number of stores and supermarkets. It is important to look at the terms and conditions to see whether the rewards can be transferred on death or whether they are cancelled and membership ended.

iTunes and Amazon Kindle

Many of us have a significant collection of music and eBooks stored online. As these are usually subscription accounts we generally have a limited licence to the music or book rather than actual ownership. This means that often the asset is non-transferrable on death.

It is important to investigate whether you hold a licence and see whether this can be transferred on death or whether the account and its contents will be closed.

Privacy

It may seem that the most sensible solution would be to include your passwords in your will. However, we would advise that setting out a list of account and passwords in a separate document kept with your will would be more sensible. A will becomes a public document once probate has been obtained, which means that anyone can pay a fee and see the contents of the will, but not associated documents. By including the passwords for your accounts in the body of your will you would be, potentially, placing sensitive and personal information in the public domain.

It is also important to consider whether providing your passwords and usernames would breach the terms and conditions of use on the digital account.

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Disclaimer: While we do all that is possible in terms of ensuring its accuracy, this blog contains general information only.  Nothing in these pages constitutes legal advice.  You need to consult a suitably qualified lawyer from the firm on any specific legal problem or matter.