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Lifetime planning tips for dealing with digital assets

We provide you with ten top things to consider as part of your digital estate planning.

Giving thought to how your digital footprint should be managed after your death should now be a key consideration in your wider estate planning and will assist your executors with administering those aspects of your estate after your death.

Even if you don’t own cryptocurrency, it is likely that you will hold online accounts which store personal, sensitive and confidential information which could be lost on your death unless you take action to prevent this.

So what are the top ten things to consider as part of your digital estate planning?

1. Keep an inventory of online account logins

Consider keeping a physical list of your online accounts, logins and passwords in a secure location known to your executors and keep this up to date. A popular alternative is to utilise a digital password manager. However, you would need to advise your executors how to access this facility following your death.

Remember to include logins to any cloud storage facilities you use.

2. Prepare in advance for a loss of capacity

Preparing a Lasting Power of Attorney allows your attorney(s) to manage decisions about your property and finances (including cryptocurrency) if you lose mental capacity. An LPA can also include specific instructions to allow your attorneys access to your digital assets or digital information.

Vulnerable people who lack capacity may be at risk of scams or fraud if they have unsupervised access to the internet. There has been a significant increase in scams and fraud which use technology in recent years and particularly during the COVID pandemic.

Attorneys already acting under a Lasting or Enduring Power of Attorney or a deputy appointed under a financial deputyship order should consider whether the donor should have unfettered access to the internet or whether this should be monitored.

3. Make sure that your will takes account of your digital assets

If you have significant digital assets or digital information, consider whether an expanded definition of personal possessions should be included in your will, to include any digital assets or digital information you own.

If you have social media accounts or businesses online that generate income and are an asset of your estate, such as a YouTube channel or an Instagram account, it is important that you bring this to the attention of the solicitor advising you on your estate planning.

4. Appoint legacy contacts during your lifetime

The right to access information after your death will be governed by each Internet service provider’s terms and conditions. For instance, Apple has strict terms and conditions for access to information after a customer has died and it will delete all information on notification of a death, unless a court order is obtained.

One way of avoiding this is to appoint a legacy contact to your Apple ID account so that a trusted person can access your information after your death. Facebook also now offers you the opportunity to appoint a legacy contact and applies a memorialisation function to the account when a user dies. Google and Yahoo have an inactive account manager function you can fill in during your lifetime.

If you utilise Internet service providers, the general recommendation is to check their terms and conditions for when a user dies and to complete such nominations of a legacy contact or alternative to ensure easier access to your personal information and accounts for management by your estate. If this is not done, all of your personal information, photos and other data could be lost on your death.

5. Arranging access to email accounts

Email accounts can be a vital source of information for executors when administering an estate, especially now that most companies are reticent to send you hard copies of policy documents or financial statements. Your email inbox can also contain sensitive and confidential information. Consider keeping hard copies of important emails so that your executors can easily identify your assets.

6. Storage of photo and video libraries

For storage of photo and video libraries, consider keeping hard copies of treasured family photos or store them on an external hard drive or USB. You may have photos or videos of a sensitive or confidential nature and you may wish to consider whether you would want your family members or executors to have access to these.

7. Music libraries

Any music libraries, such as iTunes, will no longer be accessible once you have died as you simply held a licence to listen during your lifetime. Consider keeping a list of your favourite pieces of music in a letter of wishes for inclusion at a funeral service or memorial and store this letter with your will.

8. Loyalty points

Some loyalty point schemes can be valuable, particularly air miles. Some loyalty points are transferable on death, however you should check the terms and conditions for each provider to confirm this. Consider including instructions in your will for valuable loyalty points that can be passed to a nominated beneficiary on death otherwise consider using loyalty points regularly during your lifetime.

9. Use of utilities and smart appliances

Some utilities, such as central heating, are now controlled through an online account or an app on your phone. Executors can have difficulty with the provider restricting access these accounts without the login information. Check the terms and conditions of use for these accounts to make sure that there are processes in place for your executors to manage these functions after your death.

Some smart appliances contain personal data of the deceased owner such as a smart television or smart kitchen appliances. These appliances should be returned to factory settings before a property sale or individual sale.

10. Cryptoassets

Cryptoassets are treated by HMRC as a chargeable asset for capital gains tax and inheritance tax. The location and value of cryptoassets will need to be known by your Executors in order to effectively administer your estate on death.

Consider telling your executors about your cryptoassets and ensure they have knowledge of where your public and private keys are stored so they can access your cryptoassets after your death. Without access to your public and private keys, your executors will not be able to access your cryptoassets or realise their value and they will be lost.

If you have cryptoassets, you should also bring this to the attention of the solicitor advising you on your estate planning.

For further advice on dealing with digital assets, please contact our wills, trusts and estates lawyers.

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