What Happens to your Online Assets After your Death?

John A Sinnott Solicitors, online regulation

As part of the process of making your will with John A Sinnott Solicitors, we ask you to make a list of everything you own i.e. your assets.  So, for example, your house, your car, money in the bank etc.  But many people forget about their online assets. You should consider this important element of your life.

Your digital assets can be categorised broadly under 3 headings:

  • Digital Assets with Financial Value
    Examples – online banking, PayPal, online shopping accounts, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, cloud-based storage such as Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox.
  • Digital Assets with Social Value
    Examples – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Digital Assets with Sentimental Value
    Examples – YouTube, iTunes, Flickr, Spotify

What steps can you take to safeguard these assets and ensure they don’t end up in the wrong hands after your death?

  1. Make a digital directory that contains details of all of your online assets and social media accounts.  Include logins and passwords for all accounts. This will allow your executors to be able to trace your assets and pass them on to your beneficiaries. This can be held securely with your will by your solicitor.  Update the list if passwords change or if new accounts are added.
  2. In relation to digital assets with financial value, you have the legal right to pass these on to your chosen beneficiaries.  Choose your beneficiaries and name them in your will.  For example, if you decide to leave your PayPal account to your spouse, you could specify that they have the right to claim any credit and then shut down the account.
  3. Do you own the content of your social media? This is where it starts to get a bit murky in terms of your legal rights.  You may have written much of it or taken the photos uploaded, but the use of it is controlled by the service provider.  What would you like to happen to your social media – should it be closed down or memorialised? Who should sort that out or control it?  You have the legal right to manage the deactivation, memorialisation or removal of your digital social life, but you need to specify your wishes in your will so that your executors can implement your wishes.  Most social media applications have a function to allow you specify these instructions within them.
  4. Digital assets with sentimental value can be the most difficult to sort out.  Many online applications such as Flickr, YouTube and iTunes are accessed under licence agreements, so you do not have the legal right to pass them on to your chosen beneficiaries.  They are not tangible assets you can pass on like photographs or CDs would be.  So, make sure you have back-ups or hard copies of items you want beneficiaries to view after your death.  You should also list them in a digital directory.

In summary, the concept of a legacy of online assets is very new. Can your executors deal with it?  Contact us to discuss further.