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Digital Life after Death - What happens to your assets when you're gone?

In the past, many people may have left a gift of their CDs, vinyl records or books to friends or family members, and you might assume that you can still leave music, books and films you have downloaded in the same way. Generally speaking, you can’t actually do this as you do not own the digital copies that you have downloaded, instead you are more likely to have purchased a licence which means you can listen, watch or read the material, but when you die the licence expires.

In an increasingly digital age and with the popularity of social media, more assets and personal information are now being held online.  This includes online bank accounts and cryptocurrency, online shopping and payment options, social networking profiles, photographs and music.

Few of us will have thought about what will happen to our Facebook or Instagram accounts after our death; however family members may want to access the accounts, make contact with friends and view or use the information and photographs stored.  In this case, there is no obvious monetary value to these types of online accounts, but they have sentimental value (increasingly, you might see family members turning these types of account into memorial pages).

In other cases, you may have digital assets with financial value which can be inherited by family members, such as online bank accounts, frequent flyer miles, unspent balances on media stores and other retailer sites.

Too often, digital assets with both financial and sentimental value can be lost as your family members may not be aware of the existence of the accounts or they are not able to access them.

There are some simple steps you can take to avoid this happening:

  • Prepare an inventory of all digital assets so that on your death your executor knows what they are and where to find them
  • Keep an up to date list of your usernames and passwords, either this list can be kept in hard-copy and stored somewhere secure (ideally with a copy of your Will) or alternatively you can use an online password management service which securely stores user names and passwords
  • Prepare a note of what you would like to happen to your digital assets – for example, you may prefer for your social media pages to be deleted and other assets to be preserved and inherited by specific people
  • Check what the providers of your digital assets will need your executor to do in the event of your death

In order to avoid confusion or conflict after your death, it is important that any note setting out your wishes in relation to digital assets is consistent with your Will, especially in relation to items which have particular sentimental or monetary value.  

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