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Making a Will? Don’t forget your digital assets

Have you ever thought about what will happen to your Facebook photographs, your digital music and film collections not to mention your on-line bank accounts when you die?

If you haven't, you are not alone - research by the Law Society has revealed that more than 70 per cent of people have never given the issue even a second's consideration.

But in a world where we all increasingly live our lives online, protecting your digital legacy is something which experts now say should be taken into account when making or updating your Will to avoid potential confusion and possible conflict for your loved ones after you've gone.

Why is it important?

We are creating more digital data than ever before with an increasing number of assets and personal information held online including social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram, email accounts, online-only bank accounts and investments as well as music, film and book collections.

But if you die without giving any consideration as to what will happen to all this, your family could lose not only access to assets with a sentimental value, like photographs, but those of a financial value too.

What are the issues?

Your digital footprint can be divided into two categories - your digital assets and your digital presence.

The term digital assets covers any online-only bank accounts and investments and virtual currency like Bitcoin as well as things like points built up in frequent flyer schemes and unspent balances on media stores and other shopping sites, all of which form part of your estate.

It also covers music, film or book collections that are held digitally and on which people have often invested hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds.

And here things get a little more complicated. With most digital content, when you download it you only pay a licence to use it during your lifetime and cannot transfer ownership when you die. One way around this can be to create shared access to your digital library, but again, this is not always straightforward.

Your digital presence

This covers social media accounts, particularly photographs often of huge sentimental value, and email accounts and here it's crucial to leave a record for your family not only of their existence but how to access them.

How to protect your digital legacy

The Law Society recommends that you leave clear instructions about what should happen to your digital assets after your death especially as there is currently very little inheritance law in place in relation to this.

What you want to ensure is that your loved ones, and the executors of your Will, know not only of the existence of all your accounts, collections and assets, but also have the legal authority to access them.

Just allowing your accounts to be left open but dormant is also unsafe as identity fraudsters could hack into them and hijack personal details for their own use.

Key points to consider include:

  • Leaving a list of all your digital assets, everything from online shopping accounts to social media, and where to find them;
  • Remembering to mention any digital assets to your legal professional when making or updating your Will;
  • Keeping an up-to-date list of your usernames and passwords, written out and kept ideally with the latest copy of your Will;
  • Making it clear what you would like to happen to your digital assets after your death. For example, Facebook now allows members' profiles to be memorialised when they die. Is this something you want or not?
  • Checking your online providers' policies so you know what their terms and conditions are when you die. This means you can not only take steps to preserve content for your loved ones, if that's what you want, but also to pass this information on to the executors of your Will.

Here at Wards Solicitors, we ask people to complete asset record sheets which means we get to know of any paperless accounts. We ask for pins and passwords to these accounts which are then sealed in an envelope to be placed with the Will.

We contact you periodically to review your Will and this also acts as a reminder for you to update your asset record sheet.

For advice on making or updating a Will, please contact our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.

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