What happens to digital assets after someones death?

In the modern world use of the internet and electronic devices has become a staple of our daily routines. We can do almost everything online, through digital platforms we share our memories, through photos and videos, our interests through social media and even our bank details with online shops. As great and convenient as that is, having so much of our lives and personal data online has created new challenges for executors and administrators. Which raises the question, what happens to our digital assets when we die?

What is a digital asset?

With the online world getting bigger every day and the amount of time we spend there ever increasing a lot of us are moving assets, which were once physical, online. In this context, anything you “own” online or have stored on digital devices like your mobile phone, tablet or computer could be considered a digital asset. Whatever a person does online creates a digital footprint which will form part of their digital legacy after their death.

The most common “digital assets” that executors/administrators are faced with once a person dies include;

  • Photos, Videos, Audio files
  • Social Media Accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Media streaming Accounts such as Netflix, amazon prime and now tv.
  • Online Banking accounts.
  • Online stocks and shares.

What happens to digital assets after you die?

Once online a photo, a document or account could be there forever and although they exist sometimes there is little to no effect if nothing is done with them. However in some cases digital assets can have a physical result offline and will need to be, to some extent, administered.

How should you manage your digital assets? 

You can take some precautionary action to help your loved ones handle your digital assets when you pass.

Online Financial assets

Create a list of all your online financial assets, for example, your online banking accounts or online shares and stocks. With online only banking apps like Monzo and Opal becoming more popular, giving your loved ones the details of these accounts is vital. This will help the person handling your estate gather information about what financial assets you have and who they need to contact as part of the administration of your estate.

Online Storage

Create a list of all your online storage for example Cloud accounts, Google drives or dropboxes etc. Being able to recover your photos and videos could mean a lot to your loved ones so make sure they know where they are kept and how to get access to them.

If, like most people now days, you keep all your “memories” like photos and videos digitally you might want to consider transferring it all to one place that you and your loved ones have access to. You could even transfer the most important memories onto a USB stick that you keep with your Will and other important documents. You can’t put a value on these types of digital assets and they are often forgotten during the estate planning process but they hold huge sentimental value to your family and friends so making them easily locatable and accessible could mean a lot to those you love.

Emails and other online accounts

Create a list of your email addresses, passwords and the digital assets they are linked to. You don’t need to provide a password to all of your social media accounts, online storage accounts or media subscriptions if the person handling your digital assets has access to your email addresses. If necessary, they can reset the passwords in order to access the accounts. Having access to your emails can be really useful when trying to establish a list of what physical assets you have and where. With the amount of businesses and services available online or using online communication as a tool having easy access to this information could prove invaluable.

Digital Devices

Create a list of the passwords to your digital devices like your phone, tablet or computer. This can be helpful if your executors or administrators need to gain access to your devices to retrieve photos, videos or messages, or even to wipe the device of personal data before being repurposed or sold. There are ways around passwords and security on personal devices so you don’t have to leave a list for these but it can be troublesome and frustrating working around them, hence why we use passwords in the first place, but if you want to make the process a little easier a list could be helpful.

Online Subscriptions or payments

Create a list of all the online services you pay for, for example, if you have subscriptions to online media services like Netflix, Spotify or YouTube. This makes it’s easier for the person handling your affairs to locate what services you are using, access your account, close it down and cancel future payments or transfer the account to someone else’s name and provide new payment details.

If the service isn’t cancelled, they will continue to take payments until the bank account or payment method is frozen or closed. Some services may attempt to contact the deceased to see why payments have stopped and this can sometimes be distressing for your loved ones.

If you create physical lists of this personal information you must ensure you keep them somewhere safe and secure, for example with your Will or other important documents. You don’t want to make it easy for just anyone to find these details so be careful with how you store it. Alternatively, if you don’t want to keep a physical copy you could share the details or give secondary access to someone you trust so when the time comes they can take action.