Administering an estate is a big, often overwhelming task. Depending on the complexity of the estate, it can take many weeks or months to assess, value and distribute all assets. What many executors don’t realise is that they are also responsible for managing all the digital assets belonging to the estate.
The term ‘digital assets’ is an umbrella term that encompasses all sorts of digital belongings from cryptocurrencies and online bank accounts to documents, recordings and social media accounts. Some types of digital assets can be very valuable, while others have a lot of sentimental value attached. Other types of digital asset may not have any value at all, such as professional online profiles or online shopping accounts.
It will be the executor’s responsibility to decide what should happen to any online accounts that belonged to the person who has died. Generally speaking, there are four main actions that can be taken with these accounts. The executor should assess the financial value of any accounts and speak to the family of the person who has died to determine the best course of action.
These four actions are:
- Memorialising accounts
- Selling or accessing the value of accounts
- Closing and removing accounts
- Allowing accounts to become inactive
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Some social media platforms allow accounts to be memorialised. Typically, this means that the account will remain active on the platform for friends and family to visit and post messages of remembrance. A memorial account will look different from a standard account. It will typically involve the word ‘remembering’ on the profile and not all features will remain active. Both Facebook and Instagram provide clear instructions for how to request that an account is memorialised.
An executor might also choose to do something along these lines with any websites owned by the person who has died. For example, this might be an appropriate option for a personal blog or some types of professional websites.
Selling or accessing the value of accounts
Some types of online accounts will have a monetary value attached to them. For some types of account, such as Paypal accounts or online betting accounts, it might be very straightforward to see how much money is associated with the account and withdraw it. This can also be the case with accounts that have amassed a large number of loyalty points or vouchers, though executors will need to consult the terms and conditions of each individual account provider to see whether it’s possible for the value of these to be transferred to a beneficiary.
Other types of value might be more complicated and require the assistance of a specialist professional. For example, some types of social media accounts such as Instagram profiles or YouTube channels with a lot of followers may have significant resale value. Some types of gaming accounts will also fall into this category, as accounts that have achieved a high level of success in the game can often be sold on to other players.
Closing and removing accounts
Many online accounts will have public profiles that may need to be taken down on the death of their owner. For example, some executors and family members will decide they would prefer to remove things like Facebook and Instagram accounts rather than memorialising them. It may be possible for any content from these accounts to be downloaded before they are removed.
This might also be the case for professional online profiles such as LinkedIn and any profiles the person who has died had on industry websites. Another key type of online profile the executors and family members might want to remove are dating profiles.
It will also be important for an executor to identify and deal with any online accounts that are associated with a subscription, such as online streaming accounts and paid apps. These companies will need to be notified of the death of the account holder so that the accounts can be closed with no further payments being taken.
Most online platforms will allow an executor or close family member to request that an account is closed down, though each one will have different policies for exactly how this is done.
Allowing accounts to become inactive
We now amass so many online accounts over our lifetime that it would be almost impossible for an executor to identify and close down every single one. Most of the accounts we have to our name are accounts with online shops and service providers. The majority of these do not have any value and will not take any further payments.
This sort of account is often closed down automatically by the provider when they have been inactive for a certain period of time.
Administering online accounts is not always an easy process. In many cases it will make sense to seek professional advice. A specialist probate solicitor is a great first port of call for this as they will be able to advise you on what your legal rights and obligations are. They will also likely be able to recommend other specialist professionals who can help to value and assess the digital assets you are dealing with.
An experienced probate solicitor will also be able to help if you run into any issues with companies granting permission for executors or family members to access or remove online accounts after a death.
For more information about digital assets, you can take a look at our 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 manage your digital assets for the future, please contact us.