We live in an increasingly technology dependent society as more of our assets are stored, accessed, and managed electronically. It is estimated that 70% of 65-74 year olds are now online. In 2014, as much as 40% of 45-54 year olds regularly used social media, with 22% of those aged 65 or over owning a tablet. This embracement of technology amongst older generations is only likely to increase in future years.
Unlike physical possessions, digital assets may not be apparent at first sight. For many of us, there will be no formal list or recording of our digital assets, and we may even be uncertain as to the true extent of them. For others, we may be unsure of what could be classed as a “digital asset”. The classification of such assets is an area in which the law itself is still developing, but could include: online bank accounts, social media networks, funds held in online payment providers such as Paypal, or files stored on your personal computer. Some of your digital assets may be of no economic value, but could possess great sentimental value.
Identifying and recording your digital assets is the first step in ensuring they are dealt with in accordance with your wishes at the time of your death. It will be important to review and update this list as your digital assets accumulate.
The next step is to consider the information that will be required to allow your executors or attorneys to access your digital assets. The majority of your digital assets will require a username or password before access can be granted. A note of all your usernames and passwords should be made and stored separately from your Will.
It will also be crucial to clearly outline who should be granted access to your digital assets, and which digital assets should be recovered or destroyed upon your death. This intention can be accurately conveyed in your Will along with a Letter of Wishes.
There have been a host of recent examples illustrating the difficulties family members, executors, or attorneys can face when trying to access a deceased’s digital assets without the required information, or where there has been no clear instruction on the part of the deceased. The majority of online service providers will be unwilling to grant such access, valuing the deceased’s right to privacy over arguments for rights of access. It is worthwhile putting your digital assets in order now, to avoid such complications arising on your death.