Research has found that millennials have less in savings than older generations. They also own fewer homes, invest less in the stock market, and are buying fewer cars. As a will writer, questions about who gets which assets after they die are met with a simple, curt response: “What assets?”
It’s a valid query, but as the current generation matures, enters the workplace, starts businesses, and accumulates more capital, it also accumulates more to leave behind. Digital assets aren’t always considered valuable, but they’re often highly treasured.
Sometimes these assets have clear financial worth: the password to a Paypal account that collects the revenues of an online business; a domain name that suddenly becomes highly sought after; produced music or unpublished articles.
Sometimes the value is less concrete: a LinkedIn profile, for example, may have no direct monetary worth, but the indirect worth of a large network of thousands of contacts can be considerable – assuming, of course, that you actually own the account. And sometimes, of course, assets have less tangible value: cherished photos, social media accounts, and videos that provide access to sentimentally precious memories – things that could prove a source of comfort for grieving families.
The problem is that even when people do think to draw up a will, they often won’t include these things in their estate.
This can lead to confusion for those left behind: as family life drifts away from tradition and becomes more fragmented – with separated cohabiting parents, second marriages, and any number of complicated, idiosyncratic arrangements – the range of potential claimants to an asset only widens.
To prevent misuse or misappropriation, it’s best to take decisive action early.
Having a will drafted is the best way to safeguard the future of your digital assets – whether they have cash value, business value, or emotional value. Consider these three key steps before you do.
Conduct an asset audit
What do you consider a valuable digital asset?
This naturally varies from person to person, so a better question might be: What qualifies as a valuable digital asset?
For example, you might naturally assume that your online film, video, or game collections can be bequeathed to your loved ones in the event of your untimely passing, but this often isn’t the case. Why? Because when you buy these items, you aren’t really ‘buying’ them: you’re buying a non-transferable license for personal use.
This has been very controversial – none other than the actor Bruce Willis kicked up quite a fuss about it some years ago – but for the moment, your collection of songs isn’t likely to outlive you.
Contact Valve about transferring the Steam library of a dead person and, according to some sources, they’ll simply deactivate the account. So if you’re set on starting a collection and passing it on to future generations, it may be better to invest in physical media.
However, things like domain names, funds held in online corporate accounts, photos, and videos that you’ve personally taken – you can determine the afterlives of these digital assets.
Decide what you want to outlive you and what you don’t as soon as possible. You often have more power over this than you might think.
Read the fine print
Every company has a different policy for digital assets. While some are less permissive – Apple and Steam being two examples already cited – some allow you to have rather more control.
For instance, your Google account can be a repository of all kinds of digital assets: Gmail hosts correspondence between you and your loved ones and Google Drive can host many important files.
Fortunately, Google’s policies allow you to control what happens to this information. The Inactive Account Manager permits you to leave instructions in case your account goes dormant: you can decide for data to be shared with friends and family, you can arrange for your account to be deactivated, and you can arrange for key contacts to be notified of the deletion.
On Facebook, you can appoint a friend or family member to serve as a “Legacy Contact”. If you don’t appoint such a contact, the options available to your loved ones are to have it memorialised – where content you’ve shared stays live, but nobody is able to control the account – or deleted entirely.
It’s best to avoid this situation and make plans in accordance with site policy. If a site policy doesn’t allow you to control how your digital assets are handled after death, consider moving them to a different platform.
Appoint an executor
The surest way to ensure your will is carried out is to appoint an executor and leave them very detailed instructions for your digital and physical assets alike.
“Very detailed” means “comprehensive”: leave nothing out. Because digital assets are easily forgotten or written off, they can be easily overlooked when the time comes to manage your estate.
Make sure this doesn’t happen. Complete a thorough personal assets log documenting all your assets and the passwords to your assorted accounts and profiles. This will make it much easier to ensure your assets go where they’re supposed to go.
Young people need to be conscious of their digital presence – and of what becomes of it once they’re physically absent.
Whether it’s a matter of holding onto assets that could comfort your family, or getting rid of online content that you’d rather didn’t outlive you, it’s important to have a plan in place before you go. None of us know the hour – and when it comes, it’s better to be prepared than not.
Sourced by Sherron Alexander-Bedingfield, will writer at Sable International