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15th January 2018
Digital Assets

Digital assets are a growing part of many people’s lives but can often be a forgotten part of estate planning.

Digital assets can include everyday matters such as online investment and bank accounts through to downloaded apps and media content (music, films, photographs and so on) as well as social media.  Also included are electronic rights (i.e. royalties from publishing an e-book and so on) and other electronic ownership (such as website domain names and crypto currencies like bitcoin).

When dealing with a person’s estate, either in terms of general assistance or as a result of death or incapacity, it is common to go through the individual’s paperwork to establish their assets.  However, digital assets typically do not leave a paper trail.  Communication is generally by email, but unless the password to the individual’s email account is known, it will often not be possible to access their emails. 

Physical devices such as laptops, phones and tablets can also be inaccessible without the appropriate passwords; and the policies of software providers and hardware manufacturers vary.  It is important to remember that many are not UK based companies (for instance Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook) and so operate under different legal jurisdictions. 

There have been cases where sentimental digital assets such as family photos have been lost because the hardware provider will not override passwords to grant access to the device and may only offer to reset the device to factory settings (which wipes everything off the device).

Sharing or recording your passwords for digital devices and software presents its own risk and in some cases can be in breach of the relevant agreement, meaning that any normal protections might be lost (particularly in relation to online banking).

It is also worth checking the status of your digital assets.  In some cases the software agreement can be more like a lifelong lease rather than actual ownership, which means that access to the software (e-books, music downloads and so on) can cease on notification of death.

Writing down a list of digital assets is a good start and allows consideration to then be given to how these can and should be dealt with by others in the event of something happening to you.  The inclusion of appropriate instructions in Wills should also be considered.