Most people know how important it is to make sure they have their affairs in order. A Will is an important legal document that allows you to set out what should happen to your assets in the event of your death.
‘Your assets’ includes the obvious things such as your home, your car and the contents of your bank accounts, along with less tangible things like your social media accounts, the documents saved on your computer and online gaming profiles.
These digital assets can be more valuable than you might think, which is why it’s wise to consider them when writing a Will.
What happens if digital assets aren’t mentioned in a Will?
Whether or not digital assets are specifically mentioned in a Will, they are legally considered part of their owner’s estate.
Any part of an estate that isn’t individually named in a Will becomes part of the ‘residuary’ estate. This includes any money and possessions that aren’t accounted for with specific bequests (for example, ‘I bequest £10,000 to my brother’ or ‘I leave my wedding ring to my daughter.’) The residuary estate includes high value items such as vehicles or artwork as well as items with little value such as homeware and clothes. The residuary estate, along with the digital assets, would pass to whoever had been named as the residuary beneficiary in the Will.
In the event that someone was to die without leaving a valid Will, their digital assets would pass with the rest of their estate to whoever was entitled to inherit according to the intestacy rules.
Why you might want to ensure digital assets are explicitly included
In many cases, you might be happy for your digital assets to pass with the rest of your estate to whoever you have named as your residuary beneficiary.
However, even if this is the case you may still want to outline your wishes for your digital assets in your Will.
Three key reasons for this are:
- You may want to make sure high value or sentimental digital assets pass to certain individuals.
- You may want to ensure the value of digital assets are not missed or overlooked.
- You may want to leave specific instructions for how your digital assets are dealt with after your death.
It’s also important to consider who you would wish to deal with your digital assets. The contents of electronic devices and social media accounts can be very personal. You might want to think carefully about who you would be prepared to grant access to this information. There’s also the question of whether your executors would have the technological knowledge to be able to appropriately assess and administer your digital assets.
With this in mind, it’s important to appoint an executor (or group of executors) that would have both the knowledge and the sensitivity to manage the digital elements of your estate.
You might wish to appoint multiple executors with the intention of certain executors dealing with traditional assets and others dealing with digital ones. In most cases, this separation of duties would be an informal arrangement to be discussed directly with the individuals in question. If you wanted to formalise these roles in your Will, you could talk to an experienced solicitor about doing so.
In addition to formally appointing executors in your Will, we also recommend nominating trusted individuals to take responsibility for your social media accounts after your death. Facebook allows you to add a ‘Legacy Contact’ who would have the ability to remove your account or manage it as a memorial page. Apple have also recently added the option to add a legacy contact and, similarly, Google allows you to set an inactive account manager
Making your wishes known
It’s not unusual for individuals to have strong feelings about what should happen to their digital assets in the event of their death. This is particularly likely to be the case with social media accounts and online profiles. Some people might want their accounts to be swiftly removed while others may wish for their profiles to be memorialised.
This is also an important consideration for people whose digital assets include intellectual property such as digital artwork, music recordings or written documents. There can be important decisions to be made after a death about whether unfinished works should be shared or published posthumously. Some people may wish to make their feelings on these matters very clear, such as Sir Terry Pratchett, who instructed the executors of his estate to destroy the hard drive that contained his unfinished manuscripts with a steamroller.
Depending on the nature of the request, it may be possible to incorporate instructions into a Will itself. In most cases, however, these sorts of instructions should be included in a Letter of Wishes to be stored alongside your Will.
A Letter of Wishes is a document that allows an individual to set out their wishes for their estate after death. Unlike a Will, a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding, so it’s important to choose executors you can trust to respect your wishes. It’s also important to note that a Letter of Wishes does not become a public document after probate – unlike a Will– and so is a more appropriate place to share personal wishes and confidential log in information.
Some people also choose to include a digital asset log alongside their Will. This is a simple document that you can create yourself in order to help whoever is administering your estate. We have shared a downloadable asset log template here.
You can find out more about digital assets and what happens to them after death in our digital assets help guide.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
Need further help?
If you would like to discuss how you can safeguard your digital assets for the future, please contact us.