Estate planning refers to the process of developing methods and strategies to deal with your assets and interests after your death or in the event you lose capacity to deal with them yourself. Increasingly, both assets and information about those assets are entirely digital. Consideration should be given to what digital assets you own and how they may be dealt with in accordance with your wishes.
Examples of digital assets can include those with financial or sentimental value, like:
- Social media accounts
- Blog posts and articles
- Photos and videos – family, friends and commercial movies
- Websites or ad revenue
- E-books, Apps
- Share registries and investment/trading accounts
- Online accounts – PayPal, TAB, mobile wallets
- Games and gaming accounts – online gambling, rare skins or items
It is often the case that subscription services or music bought online is not owned by a person, but is only licensed to them for their use during their lifetime. This issue was at least given some attention, even if it was not true, when it was reported that Bruce Willis was going to sue Apple over his rights to leave his Apple Music collection to his children (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2012/sep/03/no-apple-bruce-willis).
Methods and strategies
Discovering the existence and verifying the details of digital assets can be problematic for anyone seeking to look after them on your behalf, either because you have lost capacity, or after your death. Passwords, lock screens, biometric protections and privacy/confidentiality issues can prevent anyone who has a legitimate reason from gaining access to your digital assets.
It is not recommended, however, to write your passwords etc down where they may be easily accessed; as tempting as that may be. Achieving a balance between security and the convenience of allowing others to legitimately deal with your digital assets is not easy.
Many digital providers now allow a form of access or have policies to resolve the issues associated with managing digital assets when the owner is unable to deal with them directly. Some people also choose to nominate who may have access to their information and accounts after their death or incapacity. Others may choose to employ a form of password manager to prepare an inventory or list of digital assets and accounts with a master password that may be kept in a secure and safe location.
Although there is a good environmental argument for avoiding printing documents and receipts unnecessarily if they are to be stored digitally anyway, it can be difficult for an executor or a power of attorney to be able to locate or identify assets without clues to assist them find and access them. For example, traditionally speaking, passbooks, bank statements, debit cards and hardcopies of paperwork have allowed executors to discover assets simply by accessing a person’s desk or filing cabinet. Some people no longer keep any paper records or physical representations of their assets. It is not difficult to envisage your executor or power of attorney staring blankly at a bright login screen with no further means of gaining access to your information.
How you choose to manage your digital assets requires some thought and careful planning. If you are making a will or power of attorney, you should discuss your wishes with your solicitor so that you may have a discussion about appropriate methods of implementing your intentions for your digital assets. Adapting to the changes in our modern world is essential if you have any specific plans or would like to avoid difficulties in your estate arising.