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Digital Assets – what happens after death?

29th July 2019

Digital assets are becoming increasingly prominent in our day-to-day lives. We bank with them, shop with them, and even share our lives on them – but a survey by YouGov revealed a rather worrying statistic: 52 per cent of those surveyed said that nobody would be able to access their digital assets when they die because they had not provided any arrangements about what should happen.

These assets have financial, social and sentimental values that mean so much to us during our lives, so why are we risking losing them on our death?

Is it because we are detached from them due to their ‘digital’ nature so we do not prioritise protecting them? Are the tech companies at fault for failing to introduce ways of protecting their users? Or does the fault lie with the law? This rapidly evolving area poses difficult questions about privacy, ownership and copyright that we seem reluctant to legislate on, perhaps because of the difficulties in making them conform to our centuries-old legal system.

Whatever the reason, executors of estates that include digital assets are often left in limbo, unable to cash-in their loved one’s assets and in some cases unable to even find out what they had or where the assets are located. We have not even mentioned (nor will we go into) the debacle of administering crypto-currencies or multi-jurisdiction digital assets.

Therefore, the onus is quite clearly on the holders of these digital assets to put procedures in place whilst still alive. Some may perceive this only as a domain of the young. However, research by Ofcom in 2018 found internet usage was at 65 per cent among the 65-74 year olds and 53 per cent among those aged 75 and above.

There are ways to safeguard your financial assets:

  • Incorporate details in your will (This is acceptable only so far as identifying what the assets are. User IDs, passwords and answers to security questions should never be included – remember wills become public documents after probate has been granted.)
  • Place a list of assets with your will
  • Online companies can keep details of your assets safe
  • Give a list to a trusted third-party for safekeeping

What is clear, however, is that the above recommendations will only work if they are updated regularly. Setting time aside in our fast-paced life for ‘life admin’ is often not a priority, but our advice to you is to ensure your record is kept up to date and reviewed at the end of every financial year.

For further advice please contact the private client department at George Ide LLP, on 01243 786668 or at info@georgeide.co.uk

Leanne McGauley. Solicitor, Private Client department.

George Ide
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