As technology has developed in recent decades, increasingly it is not just physical items such as our house, jewellery or share portfolio that we have to pass on, but also intangible digital assets.
Today, most of us will have some digital assets. These can range from those with a financial value, for example, bitcoin and online bank accounts, to those with just social or sentimental value, such as photographs uploaded to the internet or a Facebook account.
You may also have intellectual property, which will mainly consist of the fruits of creative endeavours: novels that you have published or music you have created. In the past this was an issue that affected only a few but with the growth of user-generated content online, such as blogs, this is an area that is affecting increasing numbers of individuals.
The law has not managed to keep up with these developments. The statutory definition of 'personal chattels' (essentially personal possessions) currently does not include digital assets. The consequence of this is that if you die without making a Will, your spouse - who may normally receive your personal possessions - will not be given any rights over your digital assets. This is not the outcome that most would favour.
Internet service platforms (ISPs) such as Google, Facebook and Twitter all have terms of business that we have to automatically agree to when we sign up. They also have different policies in place regarding what occurs on notification of the death of a client, ranging from the memorialisation of the account after the date of death, to the complete deletion of all content. In terms of who to communicate with regarding the accounts after your death these ISPs need to know who has the relevant authority.
Regardless of whether you have an online presence or not, the way to ensure that all your assets, digital and otherwise, pass to those that matter to you is to make a Will, appoint a suitable executor and make your wishes clear.
You should consider your choice of executor carefully, as they will deal with all of the assets in your estate. If you have a large number of digital assets, a technically-savvy executor could be very important.
We can provide specific advice on how to deal with your digital assets in your Will, and also the steps you should consider taking to manage these assets during your lifetime, to ensure that you have the best protection available to both manage and pass on those of your digital assets which you treasure the most.