5 min read

What happens to your digital assets when you die?

Those planning for the future may have written a will or arranged a lasting power of attorney, but few will likely have considered what will happen to their digital assets.

Man and woman looking at something on the laptop screen

With so much of our lives now lived online, making arrangements for your digital assets is just as important as deciding who will inherit your house.

It is estimated that around two-thirds of people do not have a will in place, and even fewer have made plans for their digital legacy.

How do you check what digital assets you have?

You might think at first that you don’t have any digital assets to pass on, but the chances are you do. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month while online retailer Amazon has more than 300 million active customers. It’s estimated that the average person in the UK has an incredible 118 accounts associated with their email address.

Digital assets include everything from books on a Kindle and songs in an iTunes music library. Photos stored on your computer, social media accounts and passwords for payment sites such as Paypal also count.

Emily Deane, technical counsel at succession planning organisation STEP, says:

“Many of us run so much of our lives online, there can be huge problems for our families if they cannot gain access to our digital assets if we die.”

The first step you should take is to make a list of everything you have access to digitally. This includes:

  • Anything with monetary value such as films, books and music.
  • Also assets with emotional value such as photos stored on your computer and emails.
  • You might have accounts holding digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which could potentially be worth a lot of money.
  • Websites and apps you’re signed up to such as Twitter or Instagram, detailing your username and passwords.

Decide what you want to happen with them

You should also consider what you would like to happen to each account after you die. This is whether you would like the accounts to remain active or be deleted, for example. Or if there is money associated with the account, who you would like to be the beneficiary.

Ms Deane adds:

“You will also need to ensure someone knows how to access your accounts and passwords. These should be kept in a separate list, stored safely or on a password manager website – and you should remember to keep it up to date.”

It’s important to realise that the list you’ve created contains sensitive personal information, which you may not feel comfortable sharing. It’s been drummed into us time and again that we should never write down or reveal our passwords to anyone. In fact, 30 per cent of Brits are so security-conscious they won’t even share their mobile phone password with their partner.

If you’re not comfortable writing all of your passwords down one alternative is to sign up to a website such as LastPass. This allows you to store your passwords for a small monthly fee. And it can also generate secure passwords for you if you prefer not to come up with them yourself. In any event, passwords should not be included in your actual will because when a will goes to probate it becomes a public record.

A solicitor can help you make a digital estate plan or dedicated websites could also assist you in compiling the details you need to pass on. You can assign a digital executor for your estate, who doesn’t have to be the same person as the executor of your will if you would prefer to share out the responsibilities or choose a tech-savvy acquaintance for this job.

Certainly, it can be tricky as different companies have different policies. Facebook, for example, has now introduced a feature whereby you can nominate someone to inherit control of your account in the event of your death. But not all companies are so forward thinking.

Check the terms and conditions

Terms and conditions used by many online companies mean that if you don’t specifically name someone to take care of your digital assets after you die, it could be incredibly difficult for your family to close accounts associated to your name. And many of these accounts will hold personal information such as your address or bank details.

Some websites will require a copy of the death certificate or even evidence of an obituary before they agree to cancel the account.

Independent financial adviser Peter Chadborn says: “When making a will, you would be expected to appoint at least one executor and, if assets are left to a minor, at least two trustees. These trustees or executors are obviously highly respected and trusted people, often a close family member, and as such could be ideal candidates to share key online passwords with.”

Written by Holly Black – Financial Journalist


Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decision. The opinions expressed within this blog are those of the author and not necessarily of OneFamily.