We’re living in an increasingly digital world, and while this can provide us with many benefits during our lifetime, it can cause uncertainty in death. Who has the right to our digital assets and how can they obtain them?
It’s probably something you’ve not really given much thought to but, as we’ll discuss, it is important you look into ways to pass on your digital legacy after you pass away.
What are your digital assets?
We usually think of digital assets in three main forms…
- Personal material -- This includes emails, social media pages, photos, videos and online diaries.
- Financial information -- This provides us with access to our assets and includes online bank accounts, savings and investments, PayPal, eBay, utility bills and shopping accounts.
- Digital assets with value in their own right -- This includes assets such as music downloads, your Kindle library and a character in World of Warcraft of Second Life.
What are the problems surrounding digital assets?
Digital assets are exactly that: digital situated in the virtual world. This causes issues surrounding access, valuation and location. Who has the right to access these assets apart from you? How do you value a digital asset? And where are they stored?
The location of assets is a particular issue, as it can limit who is entitled to gain access after your death. If a person is a British national, but lives elsewhere, are the assets located in the home country, in the service provider’s home country, or where the server is located?
What can happen to online accounts after you die?
For the majority of internet and digital service providers, the service is a lifetime service and so digital legacy is not thought of. It is common practice for the terms and conditions to state that when an account becomes permanently inactive, for example for 12 months, the service provider will delete the account.
So let’s take a look at what happens on some of the most popular accounts…
- Streaming accounts like Spotify and Netflix give you the the licence to use the content during your lifetime. Upon your death, the licence and your access will end so they will delete your account upon notification.
- Similarly, iTunes only gives you the licence to use songs or films, even though you purchase them. This means the right expires when you die. However, as Huffington Post reports, there are numerous stories of Apple allowing relatives to gain control of an account after their death.
- Amazon is another account that will close upon notification of your death. While you might lose access to your e-book library, your Kindle itself can be passed along.
- Yahoo’s terms state no content in a user’s email account is transferable, even on death of the user.
- Google and Microsoft have brought in ways to transfer data. Google allows users to set up an Inactive Account manager which lets users choose up to 10 people to take control of your account following a set period of inactivity. Microsoft’s Next of Kin process allows the release of all emails of Outlook.com account. All the data is provided on a DVD, instead of giving access to the account.
Importance of passing passwords to family
While Google provides an Inactive Account Manager service for users to outline their wishes for what should happen to their account after their death, many other service providers do not. Without passwords, relatives can lose out on sentimental and financial assets.
The chief executive of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), Terry Tennens, believes people should be encouraged to “leave clear instructions about what should happen to their emails, social networking sites and other online accounts”. A good way to store this information is to record “login details or passwords in a separate document alongside their will”.
It is vital that permission to use the passwords and login details is left with the information otherwise, as Today’s Wills & Probate explains, relatives who obtain the passwords without appropriate authority could be found guilty under section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
When you prepare a will, you must fully consider your online assets, too, or risk disappointment, loss or, at worst, litigation for your family at an already emotional time.
In addition, you may want to review your home insurance. Protecting your physical assets like your tablet, laptop and phone under your home insurance also helps protect the digital assets stored within them. Computerquote can provide a quick and easy quote today.