The importance of planning for your digital assets
PUBLISHED: 14:43 26 June 2019
We’ve all been there - 11pm and you’re trying to access your online banking to make a transfer and you can’t remember your password. In a bid to satisfy the ever increasing security requirements for accounts, you know it included an uppercase, lowercase, symbol and totally random selection of characters but unfortunately you now can’t remember it
Our digital lifestyles are so ingrained in to our everyday lives that we sometimes take for granted the fact that the majority of the information needed to access these is carried around in our heads. This is an important issue - both during our lifetimes if we lose capacity and also following our death.
Whilst not being able to access your online bookstore account may be annoying, it is far more upsetting to find you are no longer able to access family photographs because a password may be lost forever. Planning for your digital assets - whether of financial or sentimental value - should be a key part of everyone's estate planning to safeguard these assets for future generations.
So the first logical question - what is a digital asset? To you and me these are essentially any asset which is accessed or held online. These can include photographs and videos stored in whatever format; be it in the cloud, on a device or on a flash drive. It can also include blogs, e-books, online only accounts such as PayPal and content created on social media and emails.
The presence of these assets poses two problems; first, knowing they exist at all and second, gaining access to them.
Sadly, these problems do not tend to come to light until the passing of a loved one, or upon their loss of capacity. Whether you're a personal representative of an estate or the attorney for someone who has lost capacity, you will have a duty to manage all of that person's financial assets - whether online or not.
There are, however, some practical steps you can take to help preserve access to these assets.
1. Create a digital assets log with a list of computing devices with access passwords, cloud accounts and all other accounts along with the usernames associated with those accounts and secure a hard copy and keep it up-to-date. Be wary of only keeping this in electronic form in case no one can access it at the relevant time. It would be sensible for this to be kept with a Will or with other important documents that would be found in the event of your death or loss of capacity.
2. Aside from the obvious security risk, care should be taken if you decide to also include the passwords to these accounts as, to do so, may be in breach of the account's terms and conditions which can lead to anyone other than you accessing the account facing criminal consequences.
3. Give consideration to the different types of digital assets you have and whether any have monetary value. If so, you may want to consider what you would like done with them following your death and take practical steps to ensure their succession. These can not only include online bank accounts but also assets such as bitcoins, online gambling accounts and domain names and websites.
4. Review terms and conditions for online providers and make them available for nominees where possible and also take note of what will happen to your information once there is a period of inactivity or in the event of death.
5. Leave a note where relevant of any memorialisation wishes (a term used by internet service providers to describe the preservation of content created by an online account holder to honour the memory of the account holder after they have died). An example of memorialisation is Facebook's policy of allowing friends and family to preserve a deceased account holder's profile page for a year after their death to enable comments to be posted before the profile is permanently removed.
6. Destroy anything you want destroyed during your lifetime, as executors may not be able to do so for you on death for example, photos, videos and email content.
7. Consider whether hard copies should be made of anything with monetary - or potential monetary - value.
8. Reflect on where business digital assets are kept and ensure a robust succession plan is in place for these. You may also want to consider the nature of the information held and whether there are any confidentiality issues.
As with all estate planning, a key part is to ensure that all of your assets, including your digital ones, are kept under review and appropriate advice sought at the relevant time. Depending on the assets involved it may be prudent to consider whether to include a specific clause in your Will or a provision in your Lasting Power of Attorney dealing with particular digital assets. Whether it is access to your children's baby photos or to your online share dealing account, preparation is key to ensuring that access to those assets does not just remain in our heads.