When someone starts planning for the management of their estate, it often includes things like who will inherit property, who may care for a dependent child or what should happen with various personal belongings. One thing that often gets overlooked is what happens to their digital assets.
So many of us live significant parts of our lives in the digital world – whether using various social media accounts to store photos or videos, communicating with others via blogs, podcasts or emails, or transacting using digital currencies. It’s now a norm that shows no signs of diminishing.
Something else to consider is the growing awareness and action being taken around corporate environmental responsibility. Many industries are reducing their reliance on paper and encouraging their customers to opt for digital delivery of statements, bills and invoicing, making it more difficult to gain access to all assets that may be owned by a loved one.
These are just some of the reasons why some modern estates run into issues.
With an ever-increasing number of digital accounts and documents, it is unsurprising that there are several ways to manage digital assets and plan a digital estate. This can include everything from using a service that saves all of your passwords in one place so an Executor can gain access to a system that will send messages to loved ones after passing away, to policies in place to access, shut down or memorialise social media accounts after the account owner passes away. In all, it all comes down to making sure your digital assets are taken care of, in addition to your non-digital assets.
Here are 5 simple ways to create a digital estate plan:
1. Start with a list
A survey by the Office of National Statistics states that 87% of all adults in the UK use the internet daily or almost daily for activities such as email (86%), internet banking (73%), online shopping (82%) and social media (70%). This results in dozens of accounts per person with unique usernames, passwords and details. While some online activities are more significant than others when it comes to digital assets, it is useful to create an inventory of all important accounts, including usernames, passwords, subscription status, fees and anything else that would be useful to know.
If you’re unsure about what should be included in this digital inventory list, have a read through our blog on which digital assets should be included in a Will.
2. Next, decide what should be done with each account
It’s natural to want each type of account to be managed differently. Some accounts could be deleted, or others could be transferred to loved ones or business colleagues.
When it comes to social media accounts, some platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn offer the option to memorialise an account so that loved ones can still view the profile or leave commemorative messages. Others, like Twitter, will deactivate the account when they are notified of a member’s death. It’s worth having a read through the terms of service of any social media platforms to ensure there are no conflicts between the account holder’s wishes and company policies.
Assets with monetary value:
It’s wise to ensure these assets are included in a Will so that an Executor knows exactly what needs to be done. For example, should a revenue-generating asset be transferred to a colleague? Should loyalty points be redeemed? Should your online store be shut down? It’s advisable to think about how accounts with the ability to earn revenue need to be handled.
With the ease of storing seemingly limitless amounts of photo, video or blog content in the cloud or on various online platforms, it’s beneficial to note what should happen to your content. For example, should YouTube videos be deleted? What is the plan for the hundreds of photos in Facebook or Flickr albums? What about all other online data? These items are often not considered when someone is planning their estate.
It's worth noting that many companies offer services that allow you to manage your digital assets, including services that save all of your passwords in a digital vault, which may be helpful. If you have a significant digital presence you may also want to seek professional advice, as some laws which govern digital assets can be complex.
3. Ensure someone has access
The exercises above are a fantastic start, however, ultimately, someone needs to know that an inventory of digital assets and accounts exist and how to access them. This could be the Executor or someone else, but this individual will settle or assist in the settlement of digital elements in the estate. For ease, it is best to refer to a supplementary document that contains all relevant information and details needed to settle a digital estate in the Will.
4. Get professional advice
Speaking to a Financial Adviser or Will Writer is a great place to start to ensure everything is done correctly. They can assist with any language or clauses that need to be included in a Will, along with advice on how to store any wishes safely, securely and legally.
5. Update, update, update
It’s quite likely that account details could change, for instance, a password, or new accounts need to be added to the inventory. Often, this is something we all do without much consideration, but after creating a digital estate plan, it’s vital to keep your digital asset list updated regularly. It can give loved ones considerable peace of mind at an anxious and emotional time.