Including online accounts and digital assets in your will
16 June 2021
Although technology plays a huge part in most people's lives, very few people consider their digital assets when making a will. Research carried out by the Law Society earlier this year found that 93% of people hadn't included any digital assets in their will. At the same time, only 7% of people fully understood what would happen to their digital assets when they die.
Planning ahead and providing details of online accounts and digital assets can save a significant amount of time and trouble for your loved ones in the future.
Without suitable access, your loved ones may be unable to remove or update social media accounts. Of far greater concern is the risk that these social media accounts could be hacked. Also, if the people dealing with your estate aren't aware of your digital assets, these might not go to the people you have chosen.
Many of us also keep contact information online. This may add to the administrative burden for the people dealing with your estate as they try to find your beneficiaries.
Making a digital legacy
During Probate, many people will experience some or all of the above problems with managing online accounts. This is why it's becoming increasingly common to construct a digital legacy at the same time as writing your will.
It is important to know how to deal with online information, because it cannot be included in the will itself. This is because a will may become a public document upon the death of its writer. Including financial or account information in the will could clearly cause all manner of security problems. Instead, you can write a letter detailing what digital assets you own.
This should not include online banking login details. You should not provide user names, passwords or security question answers for any of your online accounts. The digital legacy should include which social media accounts you have but, again, you should not provide log-in details; Facebook now offers an option to memorialise an account, so that all photos and memories remain there but it's more secure from hackers.
Most of us also store information and photographs online. These may be lost unless you ensure that somebody else is aware that they exist and where they are located. Most cloud storage is secure and personal to you, so your loved ones will need to contact the companies managing these accounts in order to try and gain access to these. Most platforms have their own policies and processes in place, but it may be that ownership of music files for example is provided by license to the account holder. This means that only the account holder has the right to listen to the music during their lifetime so it cannot be passed on to anyone else after death.
The majority of utility services and phone contracts are now managed online, so you will need to list the companies with which you hold accounts. This will allow your personal representatives to make contact and to arrange for the accounts to be closed.
However, it will be of little value unless your personal representatives know where to find it. Given the sensitive nature of the information it will contain, it is a good idea to store this list in a secure location, possibly alongside your will.