Without the codes, films, music and pictures stored in ‘cloud’ services would be lost..
Logging on to a computer to collect your inheritance is set to become common as internet passwords are being left in increasing numbers of wills, research suggests.
The study comes as many of us have valuable films, video and music stored in ‘cloud’ services such as Hotmail, Facebook, iCloud and Flickr.
The poll of 2,000 adults found 25 per cent had more than £200 worth of treasured possessions stored online.
Nearly a third considered the sum valuable enough to be passed on to loved ones and 11 per cent have already put internet passwords in their wills. Without the passwords being included in wills they would all be lost.
The research, by cloud computing company Rackspace, found that 53 per cent of those polled held ‘treasured possessions’ in such services. It estimates Britons have amassed a £2.3billion digital inheritance. This number was reached by multiplying 24 per cent of the UK over-18 population, which is 11,568,000, by £200, which is the average value of files held online.
A quarter said they had ‘special photos’ stored online, one in 10 had treasured videos and the same number kept sentimental emails from loved ones.
‘With more photos, books, music and so on being stored online and in digital format, the question of what happens to these when people are gone becomes more important every day’
Lawyers described the passing on of valuable passwords as a major change to the traditional way wills have been drawn up.
Matthew Strain, partner at London law firm Strain Keville, said: ‘With more photos, books, music and so on being stored online and in digital format, the question of what happens to these when people are gone becomes more important every day.
‘Online possessions – from digital photos and videos to music and apps – have monetary and emotional value to their owners, and potentially their loved ones.
‘People have not yet come to grips with the value of these digital possessions and the risk is that they may be lost if the owner dies, or even that their estate may be liable for ongoing subscriptions to online magazines or newspapers, for instance.
‘E-hoarders’: Britons store a staggering £2.3billion worth of files online and are increasingly leaving internet passwords behind in wills
Britons are believed to have stored a staggering £2.3billion worth of files online and are increasingly leaving internet passwords behind in wills
‘We have started to advise clients on the topic of digital inheritance as it is something people should be thinking and doing something about as part of the provisions in their will.
‘Making provisions for digital inheritance in a will or codicil is relatively straightforward.’
Kelly Harmer, 27, a chef from Hitchin, north Hertfordshire, said her digital assets were worth close to £10,000 and she was including them in her will.
‘I store many of my most treasured memories online as digital photos and often don’t have printed copies,’ she said.
‘I also have things online which are worth money, such as my music collection and digital magazine subscriptions.
‘I wanted to make sure that, if something happens to me, my family and friends would be able to access these digital possessions.’
Fabio Torlini, of Rackspace, said: ‘The cloud is increasingly becoming part of our everyday work and personal lives.
‘With an estimated £2.3billion invested in digital treasures, it’s imperative that people consider the associated security and legacy implications.’
The study also revealed 66 per cent relied on cloud computing services every day without realising it.
Almost one in 10 hoard thousands of emails and photos online and are loathe to delete any of them.
By 2020, a third are expected to store all music online while a quarter said all their photos will be kept online.
One in seven also said they would no longer own books and will instead read e-books.
Psychologist professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster University, expects more and more people to hoard possessions online rather than at home.
He said: ‘People hoard things and fear throwing things away for three main reasons.
‘For some, it makes them feel secure; others do it simply because they are disorganised, and don’t know how to store things in an orderly way; and hoarding gives certain people a sense of belonging or involvement.
‘An e-hoarder is like any other hoarder; they are just moving this habit from the physical world to the cloud, taking advantage of the limitless storage space it offers to store things and then often to forget about them.’