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30 Jan 2022

How to pass on digital assets in your will

Just 5% of Which? members with a will have referenced their digital assets
A digital photograph can be left in a will

If you've ever written or updated a will, it's likely you've put some thought into what will happen to assets like your savings and your home when you die. But what about digital items such as ebooks, online photo albums, loyalty points and social media accounts?

A survey of Which? members in August last year found that just 5% of those that have a will said it contained a reference to their digital assets.

Although easy to overlook, it's important you include these in your will - particularly if the digital assets are of monetary value such as cryptocurrency or funds in your PayPal account.

Here, Which? rounds up everything you need to know about leaving digital assets to loved ones, including what you can and can't pass on.

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What are digital assets?

A digital asset is anything that is stored digitally and comes with a right to use.

This can relate to assets that might have a sentimental value such as email, social media accounts and cloud storage containing photos but also assets that might have a monetary value such as cryptocurrency and online accounts such as PayPal.

In a survey of 1,026 Which? members in August last year, 77% said they had digital assets of sentimental value and 35% said they had assets of monetary value.

However, of the 722 people who had a will only 5% said it contained a reference to their digital assets.

Not all digital assets can be passed on

Not all digital assets can be inherited by a loved one because they are not actually 'owned' by you.

James Buchan, Which? Legal lawyer explains: 'The vast majority of digital assets such as social media and music accounts are not owned by the consumer, they are licensed.

'A lot of people just think they can leave their login details to their executors, but this is likely to be a breach of the terms as it is passing account details to another party - similar to giving your bank card and the Pin to someone, which you cannot do either.'

'It is important that people check the terms of business to see what is possible on death'.

This could include ebooks, digital music collections, and film and TV shows downloaded to your computer.

However, just because a digital asset might not be owned by you, it doesn't mean you don't have a say in what happens to it after you die.

Some big companies including Meta (formerly Facebook), Google and Apple have procedures in place to deal with accounts of deceased people.

How do you pass on digital assets?

According to research from the Law Society in 2020, 26% of 1,000 people surveyed did not know what happened to digital assets after they die.

Stephanie Boyce, president of the society, said this could leave family members unable to access family photos saved on a deceased person's online account, or struggle to close a social media page.

Here, we've rounded up advice on how you can pass on digital assets with a monetary value as well as digital assets with a sentimental value.

Assets of monetary value

Cryptocurrency: As it's a monetary asset it can be included in a will, however, you need to make sure the steps are in place for it to be accessed and this is where it gets a bit complicated.

It's not possible to access cryptocurrency without holding the private key. But this should not be shared with anyone, or in your will for security reasons.

One solution would be to leave step-by-step instructions in a safety-deposit box or vault. Some cryptocurrency insurance firms, such as CoinCover offer a cryptocurrency will service where you are provided with a beneficiary card to give to your loved ones, identifying how they can access your currency.

If you have any cryptocurrency, it's worth discussing this with a solicitor when drafting your will, so you can make the proper arrangements.

PayPal: It is possible to get money from a PayPal account after the owner has died, however, PayPal will only take instructions from the executor of the estate.

PayPal can send a cheque in the name of the deceased account holder, or transfer it to the bank account linked to the PayPal account.

Loyalty points: It's a mixed bag whether you will be able to pass these on.

Tesco Clubcard and Nectar points can be transferred but some loyalty schemes require you to get in touch before death to nominate a beneficiary.

Avios points cannot be transferred.

We recommend checking the terms and conditions before considering leaving loyalty points in your will.

Digital music/films/books: These cannot be sold or transferred to another account as usually stated in the terms and conditions so it's unlikely anyone will be able to inherit them.

Assets of sentimental value

Digital photos and data: If the photos are stored on a cloud, then you may be able to leave someone access to these.

Apple recently included a digital legacy program with its latest update - meaning you can designate up to five people as legacy contacts.

These individuals can then access your data and personal information stored in iCloud when you die, such as photos and documents. This feature is only available on devices running IOS 15.2 so you may need to check this first or do an update.

Google's inactive account manager can be used to pass over your email account and other Google products like YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, and Drive when you die. It will send a notification to a chosen contact if your account has not been used over a certain period of time.

Social media: Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, will allow you to choose a legacy contact that looks after your account if you want it memorialised when you pass away.

On Facebook, these contacts can add a pinned post to your profile, update your profile and cover photo, request the removal of the account, and download a copy of what you've shared.

They won't be able to log in to your account, read your messages or remove any of your friends and make new friend requests.

Top tips for leaving digital assets in your will

Although the process of making a will can seem daunting, it's important to put one in place and leave clear instructions for all your assets including the digital ones.

If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed according to strict rules, meaning the people you care about may lose out.

List all your digital assets

We recommend keeping an up-to-date list of the digital assets you have and how they can be accessed - but don't include any passwords. This will save your executors time tracking them all down.

Make your wishes known with your loved ones

It's important to identify which digital assets have monetary value and which have sentimental value while making plans for both types of assets.

You might want your social media pages to be deleted, but unless you discuss this beforehand, your loved ones won't know what to do.

For example, fantasy author Terry Pratchett told his friends he wanted whatever he was working on at the time of death, along with his hard drives to be destroyed with a steamroller. When he died in 2017, his wishes were fulfilled.

Use a will writing service

A will needs to be written and signed correctly in order to be valid.

If you'd like advice on making a will, consider using a will-writing service or hiring a solicitor.

Which? Wills offers a will-writing service to help guide you through the process.