What Are Digital Assets And Digital Legacies?

  • 20th May 2021
  • Michelle Pace
  • Technology
What Are Digital Assets And Digital Legacies?

What Are Digital Assets and Digital Legacies?

Millions of us around the world have some manner of information stored digitally, whether on our personal devices, a hard drive or in the cloud. Simply put - any property that exists in a digital format is a digital asset and the amount of digital assets per individual varies widely. 

We are progressively spending more time online, whether streaming media (such as TV, films and music), reading, connecting with friends and family via profiles online, shopping and also banking, to name but a few. Any online account is also a digital asset, and this can include documents, presentations, photographs and videos, even art or handwritten notes that have been scanned and uploaded. You may even possess digital currency, such as bitcoin or dogecoin.

What may happen to these digital assets and, in particular, when we pass? This is where the need for a digital executor arises, alongside writing your will, to decide what you want to do with your digital legacy. 

Digital Assets

Elements included under the umbrella of digital assets are wide-ranging and include items such as: 

  • Social media accounts
  • Email accounts
  • Photo and video libraries
  • Bank accounts and other financial statements
  • E-book accounts, eg Kindle
  • Streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • Digital music, like Amazon, Spotify, or iTunes
  • Cloud storage, eg., Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud
  • Digital currency
  • Online subscriptions 
  • Online gaming
  • Reward points, such as your local supermarket or air miles
  • Financial documents
  • Websites and domains that you own
  • Online businesses, including eBay, Etsy and many others. 
  • Online investments

Digital Legacy

A digital legacy is all of the information of ours that is left after death. When we pass, what happens to all of the above accounts? As we move into a paperless society, we all need to learn to manage our digital assets as adequately as we would our physical assets. Contemplate the physical cost of what you own digitally, eg., music and films you have paid for, digital currency, important documents and e-commerce etc. You may be surprised at what it adds up to. These online accounts don’t simply disappear upon death and the majority can be passed through your estate.

Some considerations to make are:

  • What, if anything, would you like to leave to someone in your will, just as you would with a physical asset?
  • Would you prefer your social media accounts to be closed, or continued as a memorial?
  • Your photos and video galleries may be of importance and sentimentality to a loved one, so they would need access to them.
  • If you can pass reward points onto somebody, who would you like that to be?
  • If there is any money left in an online business such as eBay or in a PayPal account, who would you like to receive it?
  • Is your executor or trustee likely to need access to your email accounts in order to progress the administration of your estate? This could include finalising any bills online and eventually closing any accounts. 

It is vital that you leave details for access to your important digital assets with your executor, trustee or power of attorney, in order to enable them to carry out whatever is necessary. This could be a simple list of accounts, usernames and passwords, left in a sealed envelope alongside, but not part of, your will. Wills can be made public after death, so you don’t want your sensitive information where anyone can read it!

How do you start?

It will feel extremely overwhelming when you begin to think about everything you do and utilise online. Firstly, begin to make an inventory of what you own and are signed up to. Be mindful that some online activities are merely services that you use and don’t own and therefore cannot be passed along. Once that is complete, you will have a clearer idea of what you can or cannot pass through your estate.

Social media accounts and email accounts are two of the largest ‘assets’ that you cannot pass on because effectively you ‘borrow’ their services, ie. they are licensed to you. You need to issue specific instructions about how to handle these after your passing or you can face significant repercussions. 

With regards to social media, you may wish your account to continue as a memorial for family and friends to post to and this can be a source of comfort for many, but be mindful that each social media platform has different regulations. 

The Digital Legacy Association has a wealth of information to help guide you in these areas and more. They have an extremely useful free download to use to leave your details and express your wishes going forward, click here to see the page. 

The Digital Legacy Association offers this guidance regarding your social media profiles and accounts -

  • Facebook will allow an account to continue as a memorial if you assign a Legacy Contact. This will give that person certain rights to manage your account, but also has features that maintain your privacy, such as old messages not being accessible. You can also download all of your photos and videos if you wish to keep them but close the account later.
  • Twitter has nothing official in place to transfer an account to a next of kin, or a nominated individual. There is an option to download your Tweets, but once the account has been closed, no one will be able to view them on the platform. You can leave your account and its connected details in your will to a trustee and your wishes on what you would like to be done if you’d like a trustee to continue to run the account.
  • LinkedIn does not allow for an account to be transferred but you can leave any details with your trustee in order to send out a farewell, funeral details or any other messages you would like to be posted on your behalf. 
  • Google will allow you to sign over your data to the next of kin etc when the account becomes inactive by setting up ‘Inactive Account Manager’ in advance.

It is prudent to note down as many accounts as you can remember - if you don’t make any notes, your executor and family may never know about them. When considering planning your funeral, this can run parallel with any of your other wishes. 

It’s also a good time to become familiar with the terms and conditions of each organisation and what you can or cannot do with your accounts. This will remove tremendous pressure from your family at an extremely stressful time. Dyingmatters.org has a simple download to help with leaving contact details of those appointed to help. 

Remember to make a record of any passwords and/or PINs that allow someone accesses to any of your devices should you wish to. Many of us store sentimental photographs, videos and other important files on such items and it would be a shame if our loved ones knew they were there but forever locked behind a PIN or password that you would have liked them to have. Your loved ones are not automatically entitled to gain access to your libraries after you pass, so they could be lost forever. 

The Digital Death Survey 2018 shows some startling results concerning our digital lives and may help jog your memory about accounts that you have not considered or forgotten about. This will go quite some way to ensure you are not one of the uninformed statistics.

Once you understand just how crucial your digital legacy is, only then you can begin taking steps to preserve your legacy if you wish. Because you own the accounts and content (eg photos, videos etc), only you can do this but any hard work done now will be an immense help for your loved ones later on. 

Although it is not something any of us want to think about, planning ahead with a will, a funeral plan and your digital legacy all helps your family.