Digital Wills: How to look after your virtual assets
Virtual Assets – What are they?
How many of us have dared to google ourselves? Were you pleasantly surprised by what you saw or did the past come back to haunt you? Over the last decade, the way we use technology has evolved. Very few of us now reach for a pen and paper when writing a letter; we simply log on to our email accounts and click send.
Nearly all of us overlook our digital life when writing a Will. What happens to your Facebook page, your email accounts, or your beloved Pokémon? Each day we spend a considerable amount of time building our online lives, by posting pictures to social media, creating videos or using professional websites to build businesses. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that the value of our online assets can go into the thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
So what happens to this wealth of information once we’re gone? It is wrong to assume that your family or friends will know where to look online or even know how to access your accounts. Unless you’ve provided an inventory of your digital assets how can you be certain that they won’t become discarded, or worse, used for the wrong reasons?
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners has published a guide on digital assets for the public and professionals. This outline is a good starting point for anyone who wants to protect more than just their physical assets.
So how should I plan my digital legacy?
1. Appoint someone who you can trust to deal with your estate when you die, or if you
were to become mentally incapable.
2. Make an inventory of your digital assets and provide the person dealing with your
estate with details of these assets and where to find them.
3. Tell them what you want them to do and achieve with your digital assets. For example,
deleting or managing your social media profile. You should be specific about each
4. Make sure that they know your passwords and how to access your accounts.
5. It is important to look at the terms of service for each different provider. Some
websites may or may not allow account access by a third party, so make sure you have
done your research.
The best method for leaving instructions about your digital assets is in a separate Letter of Wishes. As nobody can predict the future, you won’t know how many new online accounts you will set up during your lifetime, or how many times your passwords will change. Rather than rewriting your Will, your Letter of Wishes can be updated at any time with ease. Furthermore, because your Will becomes a public document after your death, it is not wise to include your account names and passwords in the Will itself as the information could potentially end up in the wrong hands.
Although some providers do not recognise Letters of Wishes or even Grants of Probate, by setting out clear instructions in a Letter of Wishes, you will give your loved ones a greater chance of inheriting your digital effects.