What happens to my online accounts and digital assets when I die?
1 February, 2021
Most of us now have online accounts and digital assets, whether that be passwords for Amazon, our Facebook and ITunes accounts or investments like Bitcoin.
Historically, when making a Will, clients have considered standard assets such as houses, bank accounts and shares. In England and Wales the law states that all of your assets vest in your Executors on death and therefore will be covered by your Will (if you have made a Will).
Ownership of a deceased persons so called digital assets and online accounts is far less certain. For example, during your lifetime your rights in relation to social media and other online accounts are defined by the terms of the licence agreement but the picture is a lot less clear on death. Many of the big providers freeze accounts and deny access to a deceased person’s family. The writer has seen a case where a widow was told to obtain a Grant of Probate in California to deal with an ITunes playlist of her late husband.
It appears that some platforms refuse to accept any Grant of Probate and instead insist on specific Court Orders leading to more expense and delay. Many of these platforms are run by offshore organisations which can lead to uncertainties in respect of which law to apply and difficulties in communicating with customer service helplines who may not know the relevant processes, in addition to problems with time zone differences.
When a Will is submitted to Probate, in England and Wales the Will becomes a matter of public record therefore it is not in the interests of security or privacy to include passwords and usernames in a Will document itself. One suggestion could be for including in your Will the appointment of a “Digital Manager” with authority to specifically deal with those digital assets. This person needs to be someone you trust implicitly.
The area of digital assets is one where the law is in development, however certainty in this area may not happen quickly. Protocols need to be developed to cover what rights the family or Executor of a deceased person has over their digital accounts. Until further laws and protocols are developed clients need to take a practical approach.
- Keeping a note of all online accounts and passwords in a digital wallet or with your chosen Digital Manager (without writing bank details anywhere).
- Backing up IPhoto’s and other online documents on a portable hard drive.
- Any important emails or documents should be downloaded and saved.
At Storrar Cowdry our office remains open for those clients who wish to meet face to face (subject to local lockdown restrictions in force). We have social distancing and PPE procedures in place. We can visit you at home if that is your best option. We are also meeting with many of our clients via technology platforms such as zoom.
For further information about Wills please contact Gill Knowles on 01244 400567 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org