Wills and Digital Assets

In a world that's becoming more and more digital, you need to start thinking about what happens to your stuff online once you've popped your clogs.

I saw an article a while back and it proper broke my heart. This little old woman’s husband had just died. On his iPad, locked behind his Apple account, there were hundreds of photos of the two of them together – photos of holidays, of them with their kids and grandkids, of daft selfies he’d taken with ridiculous filters on. A whole treasure trove of memories.

But she couldn’t see them. She didn’t have access to his digital assets. She didn’t know his password, I don’t even think she knew his username. Apple couldn’t do anything for her – ‘cos of privacy and data protection laws, as the account wasn’t in her name, they couldn’t let her in.

I’d love to tell you there was a happy ending and Apple decided to let her in, but I don’t think they did. She was locked out of a lifetime full of memories. I’m telling you this depressing story because it demonstrates how important digital assets are, and why you need to make sure you cover them in your Will.

Whether we like it or not, a massive chunk of our lives are digital, now. Everything’s online. And in a world that’s becoming more digital, it’s becoming more important to think about what happens to your online assets when you die.

A man sat on a sofa, using a laptop. He's wearing glasses and looking into his digital assets.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets are things you own that’re digital, not physical. If it’s on a computer, or phone, or any sort of electronic device, it’s digital. So, might be stuff like:

  • Cryptocurrency
  • Social media accounts
  • Photos & Videos
  • Loyalty Points
  • E-Books
  • Graphic / Digital Artwork
  • Websites
  • Emails
  • Documents
  • Software

That’s not even an exhaustive list. You’ve got gambling accounts, eBay accounts, and, most importantly of all, Runescape accounts. It’s all stuff you could pass on. You need to treat ’em like you’d treat physical assets.

Types of digital assets

I like to think of digital assets in two categories – sentimental and monetary.

That little old woman I spoke about in the opening paragraph explains sentimental assets pretty well. Photos and videos of you can be worth their weight in gold to your loved ones once you’ve gone. Even those really awful ones where you’re a sweaty mess at a house party. Especially those really awful ones where you’re a sweaty mess at a house party. Don’t let your nearest and dearest lose those reminders of you.

Monetary digital assets are anything you’ve got money tied up in. Maybe you’re a Crypto-bro. You might be a streamer, or a Youtuber, you might have an OnlyFans. You might be an online seller on Etsy or eBay. Dunno. But if you’ve got money in your online accounts, it’s money that could be passed on to those you care about.

For both sentimental and monetary digital assets, you need to plan what happens to ’em when you pop your clogs.

A picture of a woman's hands as she types on a laptop. She is looking up her digital assets.

How do digital assets work legally?

They’re treated the same as physical ones – they pass on down with the rest of your estate. If you haven’t mentioned them specifically in your Will, they fall under your ‘residual estate‘ – which is just a fancy way of saying ‘things that you own that haven’t been mentioned in your Will’.

If you haven’t accounted for them in your Will, it falls to the Executor to sort them out for you. If you’ve got monetary assets, this can get pretty messy, and it might be worth the Executor calling in an expert in digital assets. For sentimental assets, they’ll have to decide if there’s anything of interest to the friends and family, and delete or close any accounts that aren’t.

If you don’t have a Will, they just pass on with the rest of your estate following the rules of intestacy, and go wherever the rules decide.

Accessing digital assets

But passing them down is only half of the battle. Pretty much all of your digital assets will be password protected, and literally the whole point of a password is that no one but you knows it.

This is where it gets a bit awkward, ‘cos you probably (understandably) won’t want to give your passwords out. You could use an online safety deposit box service to store your usernames and passwords. These let you nominate someone to have access once you’ve died. If you still feel iffy about doing that (it’d give them access to every single private message you’ve ever sent) there are some ways around it.

Different online companies and organisations have different policies about what happens with your account when you’re gone. Facebook, for example, lets you name a ‘legacy manager‘ who can run your account when you’ve croaked it, but they can’t check your messages. Instagram lets your loved ones memorialise the account. The only option Twitter offers is to request the account is deleted. Good ol’ Twitter, eh?

A group of young adults stood against a wall, all on their phones, checking out digital assets.

I’m obviously not gonna sit here and type out every single company’s policy on deaths. I’m not made of time. Just think about where your digital assets are and have a Google what that company’s policy is.

Then you can start planning. Do you want your assets to pass down, or do you want ’em deleted? It’s your call. But if you do want to pass them down, you’ll need to think about who they’re going to, and how they’re going to get access.

So you might want to make a set of instructions to go along with your Will. In it, set out what you want to happen, where you want ’em to go (if anywhere at all) and how to access them.

The most important thing, though, is to make a Will. It’s the sure-fire way to make sure that your stuff’ll go where you want it to go. Take control now before it’s too late. Get everything in order, then you know that stuff’s gonna go smoothly once you’ve kicked the bucket. Give us a shout today – ring us on +44 (0)330 229 0331 or visit our site below!

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Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Documents! He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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