Managing Your Digital Estate

07/05/2014

While making your Will you normally focus on physical assets – the house, the car, furniture and so on.  However, your digital assets are becoming increasingly valuable and need to be considered when contemplating your estate in the same way.  The UK’s digital music collections are worth more than £900million alone, with a recent survey finding that 45 per cent of those polled had a collection worth more than £100, and ten per cent worth more than £1,000.  Well developed World of Warcraft characters can be sold online, Youtube videos attract advertising if they are popular enough, e-commerce sites involve millions of people (eBay has 14 million UK subscribers) and Bitcoin has considerable value.  We all have substantial online presence through social networking, online banking, webmail and e-commerce.  Certainly with the increase in e-banking there is often no record of accounts among the deceased’s papers and it is these papers which guide those dealing with estates to track down assets. Moreover, do keep in mind that in the digital world you don’t always own the things you think you own.  Kindle and iTunes only sell the license to use information and copyright rules prevent the passing of this downloaded information, including after the death of the licence holder. By and large the laws governing estates have not caught up with the pace of digital and online change and the new assets created in this virtual world.  Many of the digital service providers are based in overseas jurisdictions which leads to even more complications as there is no harmonisation of approach to dealing with the death of account holders.  So how can you deal with your digital legacy?  As with any form of tiresome life administration you start by making a list.  Keep this list of online assets and accounts along with the passwords safe and updated, especially as passwords change.  Make sure that your executors know where to find the list, whether it is on disc, hard drive or paper.  A letter of wishes can also direct how you would like executors to deal with your digital legacy.  And the lynchpin must be a well drafted Will which ensures that your loved ones have the best chance to get the right patches to protect your digital and online estate.

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