When writing your Will, you will naturally consider your assets such as your property and valuables; however you should also be considering those online assets that you will invariably use every day that your Executors will need access to. Samantha O’Sullivan, Associate in our Wills, Probate and Estate Planning department, explains more here about digital assets, the accounts that would be included under this and why the details should be listed alongside your Will.
A Which? survey conducted in August 2021 showed that of the 722 surveyed people who had a Will, only 5% had included a reference to their digital assets. This is despite the fact that 77% said they had sentimental digital assets, such as email, social media accounts or online storage containing photos, and 35% said they had assets of monetary value, such as PayPal.
A digital asset would refer to those assets that are in a digital or online format and come with a right to use. This would include, but is not limited to, the following examples:
As these online tools will be personal to you, only you may have the login details to access them, and only you may know that they exist. This could leave your Executors open to financial risk in the future should payments fall due and they are unaware of the debt that could follow.
There are several reasons why your Will should contain details of your digital assets:
There can be some confusion over digital assets and where those should be included in future planning. For example, a laptop, computer or mobile phone would be a tangible asset under your Will and so inherited by the relevant beneficiary. However, the digital assets stored on the device are intangible and so would not be passed on with the device. You would need to include a specific gift within your Will or Letter of Wishes for the intangible assets.
Without a Will at all, your digital assets will pass along with the rest of your estate to the person entitled under intestacy rules. Your Personal Representatives will be faced with closing the accounts themselves following the company procedures, if they are able to, or tracking down the accounts in the first place. The company policies may mean that while an account can be closed, the items within the account cannot be retrieved before this happens.
While it is important to include details about the management of digital assets, you should proceed with caution as to the information included within your Will, as once the Grant of Probate has been applied for, your Will would become a public document. You can make reference as to the beneficiary of the assets but keep login details or passwords stored alongside your Will as a separate document in a Letter of Wishes or similar document.
Prior to including the details of these assets, you should refer to the relevant terms and conditions as to the process. Social media accounts, for example, are not owned by the user but instead are licensed and therefore you are not permitted to share your login details as this would risk confidentiality and would breach the agreement of the websites in question.
We would recommend that you keep an inventory of your digital assets with the accompanying instructions as to how they are to be managed or closed down.
The Executor or Personal Representative is responsible for administering your estate following your death, either according to your Will or the rules of intestacy should there be no Will present. Your estate will include your digital assets and therefore should be included within the value of the estate when making the application for the Grant of Probate, particularly for those with monetary value as mentioned earlier.
As you can see, making arrangements for your digital assets is a vital part of making a Will and is one that we can advise on as part of the Will writing process. If you would like to discuss your digital assets or writing a Will, you can contact Samantha or a member of the team on 01722 412000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice. All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.