As digital assets become a vital part of our lives, should we account for them when writing a will?
WHEN it comes to writing a will most of us think to take account of the physical assets such as your house, car, savings and perhaps even your pets. However most people don’t take into account their digital assets.
What are digital assets?
The term “Digital assets” effectively describes the grouping together of your online presence. As our lives are increasingly dictated and driven by our use of the internet, the amount of information we have online grows each day – and becomes ever more valuable each day.
If you have an email account it could be argued that it is the equivalent of a box full of correspondence – that could become valuable over time to historians or others.
If you run a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or pretty much any online social media account, it could be likened to a series of photo albums. In fact, any content you create online, whether it be inane posts about what you had for tea, images of cats doing daft things, photos of your last trip to the botanic gardens or even camera phone footage of celebrities you’ve spotted skulking around Primark are valuable and worth looking upon as such.
How are my social media posts valuable?
It is pretty much accepted now that a phone is the most personal item that a person can have. It stores your personal photos, emails, text messages and has access to all your personal details across various social networks. The value that individual users place on their privacy and right of ownership is a strong one – in fact Instagram had to apologise not too long ago for looking to gain ownership of users photos.
As well as the practical and sentimental benefit of being able to access your digital assets, there may also be a monetary value in someone’s digital assets. This can range from a set of photos that a brand or media organisation may want to purchase, to their Twitter username or even the website addresses they own. If there is not a clear line of succession in terms of who should own and maintain control of these assets, it could be one of the most expensive mistakes you ever make.
Twitter usernames and website addresses are the equivalent to car license plates; with rare and exclusive names often fetching much more money than you’d think possible. As with usernames, any photos you take and share online could later be used online without the permission of your Estate, costing the Estate the value that a user may pay for adequately protected images.
In fact, with some Instagram user charging up to £2,000 for the right to use their images Scots could be losing money hand over fist by not securing this legacy.
Another important area to be aware of is online banking. With many users keeping money in accounts online such as Paypal, it’s important to know what to do in instance that they die, so you can access these finances. Especially important in today’s digital economy, not understanding this area could harm many small businesses in terms of succession.
Accessing a Paypal account in case of death is not possible, however for the small feee of £1.50 Paypal will close an account and release funds upon receipt of identification documents and a death certificate.
So how do I secure my digital assets?
It’s becoming a well discussed issue, with social media users passing away – ownership of their social accounts has become a contested issue. In the case of a young transgender teen, their mother deleted their account which sparked a massive backlash on the internet forum, Tumblr; showing the value other users place in maintaining access to an online content when the author/owner has died.
To combat the debate around the issue, social media site Facebook has allowed users to identify a “legacy contact” who will maintain ownership of their social media channel in a time of their passing, with private messages and such being unavailable to them unless requested that they are.
However, this still doesn’t change the issue that most digital assets are not protected in this way and that the only way to do so is to adequately prepare for this in writing a Will.
When writing a will you should look to do the following:
- Identify the digital assets you currently own
- Speak with a member of your family or close circle who you would like to have ownership in event of your passing
- Identify this user as a “Facebook Legacy Contact” and also in your will.
- Discuss this matter with your solicitor to ensure it is properly recorded and taken into consideration, especially in the event you own an archive of valuable images or domain names.