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When planning for including digital items in your will, there are several points to consider.

Aside from the monetary value of the electronic property, the continued virtual presence of a person may carry huge sentimental value, as today’s technology allows their memory to live on in new ways.

What counts as a digital asset?

To ensure nothing of value is forgotten, you should consider all of the following:

  • Stored electronic files such as photos, videos, audio, documents, creative projects or other information records.
  • Social media profiles
  • Online financial accounts including banks, stock trading and cryptocurrencies
  • Online betting accounts
  • Online shopping accounts
  • Government accounts
  • Loyalty accounts
  • Cloud storage platform accounts
  • Domain names and websites

What does not count as a digital asset (for the purposes of an estate) is licensed media for streaming or download. This includes purchased ebooks, films, TV shows, music, audiobooks, video games and software applications. As intellectual property items, these are usually sold as licences, meaning that you do not own them. The terms of the licences do not usually allow for transfer to another person. They may also be attached to an online account for which the sharing of login details might be a breach of the terms and conditions. While it may be a common practice for people to share access to these media items with someone else while the intellectual property holder is unaware, these would not be valid to include as owned assets in a will. (Though the hardware on which downloaded media is stored would be valid.)

Giving usernames and passwords

Most digital assets will have an associated login and password. Your executor will need to know this information in order to manage these assets on your behalf. If it is more important that the executor knows how to reset the password (for example, the email account where that password reset link would be sent) since your passwords should be changed frequently.

Some people keep a physical listing of passwords or use a password manager as an electronic master key which can be shared with your executor under the ‘terms of service’ (TOS) agreement for that provider. Bear in mind that many TOS arrangements may not allow for access by anyone other than the account user and if then only with clear authorisation.

Provide authorisation to your executor to access these assets. Specific language should be included in all of your estate planning documents and any medical or healthcare proxies that clearly and expressly give your executor the ability to access and manage your digital assets.

How to include digital assets in your will

Once you have determined what your digital assets are, you should prepare an inventory of them so that your executors will know what they are and where to find them.

  • Start by listing the hardware (your personal computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, storage devices, backup disks or memory sticks etc).
  • Provide a summary of the important information stored on, or accessed through these devices.
  • Create a list of the computer programs which your executors will need to operate in order to access the important information and give directions on how to access it and what should be done with the information.
  • Make a list of all of your online accounts grouping these by category.

Note which assets must be preserved and which can be deleted or destroyed at your death or if you become mentally incapacitated. This will help your executors to focus on the items which are the most important (for example you might direct that your financial files are deleted once your tax and final bills have been settled, but you may not wish for digital photographs to be deleted, but instead perhaps copied and distributed to other members of the family).

You should state your wishes with regard to any social media accounts, for example, Facebook can be changed to an ‘in memorium’ page after your death but you may wish your PayPal or eBay accounts or similar accounts to be closed once any invoices have been settled.

Avoid problems with your digital estate

Common problems involving digital assets during the probate process include:

  • Licensed property not being valid for transfer within the estate
  • Usernames and passwords not being correctly given to the executor
  • The executor not having the correct locations for stored files
  • The will having its validity challenged (contentious probate)

To avoid these problems, you should have the instructions in your will written or checked by a qualified professional.

The suggestions outlined in this article are for guidance only and relate to current practice.

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