Imagine the scene. Sober solicitor, probably with half-rim glasses, surrounded by grieving relatives about to read out the last will and testament of Great-Uncle Johnny: “And to my beloved niece, I leave access to my online poker and bingo account and to my great-nephew Frankie, all my iTunes credits.”
It might seem far-fetched but as more and more of us amass digital assets, it is exactly the kind of will we might need to consider drawing up.
Real-life solicitor Matthew Strain is already advising clients about digital inheritances and says making provision for these things in a will or codicil is “relatively straightforward” (see our template for a digital asset will).
“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,” he said.
“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 who do not take care of their digital possessions risk losing them when they die and they could leave relatives with unpaid bills.
“Their estate may be liable for ongoing subscriptions to online magazines or newspapers,” said Mr Strain.
The bluntly-named iCroak is an online service aiming to help people plan how their digital assets are managed after their death.
For an annual fee of between £10 to £15 or a one-off membership of £150, the user can categorise their assets and create “Guardian” accounts for those assets they want to preserve or bequeath.
The “Guardian” will receive an email with a unique username and password and link to iCroak. When the person who has nominated them dies – and a death certificate must be verified first – they will be able to see what has been left to them.
Of course some people will have accounts of a more questionable or embarrassing nature that they would not particularly want anyone to access so there is also an option to mark them for deletion upon death.
Cloud hosting firm RackSpace is convinced that, as we store more of our online stuff remotely, we face a real dilemma about what to do with it after we’ve gone.
It commissioned a study in association with the centre for Creative and Social Technology at London’s Goldsmiths University and found that we are sitting on a goldmine of digital assets.
According to the survey, Britons are storing £2.3bn worth of music, film, applications and subscriptions online.
It found that one in 10 have already put their passwords in their wills so that relatives can access their digital treasures.
Nearly a third of the 2,000 respondents to the study said that they have considered their digital inheritance while over half believed some of their treasure possessions were in services such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.One of those surveyed, Kelly Harmer, said she had been forced to think about her digital assets following a recent car accident.
“I store many of my most treasured memories online, as digital photos and often don’t have printed copies. 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,” she said.
She has now written down all of her relevant login details and passwords in a document.
“I’ve given this to my mother for safe keeping and I’m now looking to take this a step further and put instructions in my will regarding my digital assets,” she said.
It is advice we could all do with following. Now I just have to work out who to leave my vast collection of armour sets from World of Warcraft to.