Our population is spending an increased amount of time online, and leaving a digital footprint as we go. Whether it be for business purposes, social media, entertainment, communication or otherwise, the chances are you have a number of digital assets.
What are digital assets?
Although Victoria has not yet adopted a formal definition of what a digital asset is, digital assets can be defined as digitally stored content or an online account owned by an individual.
Some kinds of digital assets include:
- Social Media Accounts: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.
- Email Accounts: Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail.
- Subscriptions: Netflix, Stan, Spotify.
- Gaming Assets: Steam, Origin.
- Picture and Document Storage: iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive.
- Cryptocurrency Holdings: Bitcoin
Digital assets can also include electronic devices that store, process and send digital information. This could include your computer, laptop, smartphone, digital camera and hard drive storage.
Terms and Conditions of Digital Assets
Something important to remember is that your wishes for your digital assets may be subject to the specific terms and conditions for that particular digital asset.
For example, in Berlin in 2017 this issue came to rise after parents of a 15 year old girl were unable to access her Facebook Account after she had died. The girl’s parents wanted to see their daughter’s Facebook messages to see if her death had been the result of online bullying.
The German Court ruled that the messages should remain private to respect the privacy of third parties. Facebook accepted the ruling of the German Court stating “we are sympathetic towards the family and respect their wish. We are making every effort to find a solution which helps the family at the same time as protecting the privacy of third parties who are also affected by this.”
Different digital assets will have different terms and conditions. At the crux of all the terms and conditions for digital asset holders is the intention to protect the privacy of the deceased user.
- Facebook, for example will “memorialise” your account if they are made aware that you have died. You can choose to appoint a “legacy contact” who can maintain your memorialised account, but they will not have access to your login details and cannot see your private messages. Alternatively you can elect to have your account permanently deleted.
- Instagram is another digital asset which memorialises accounts. These accounts cannot be changed in any way, including tags, followers and likes. No one will be able to log into a memorialised account.
- Gmail have created their “Inactive Account Manager” which allows users to let Google know who they want to have access to their information, and if they would like their account deleted or not.
- Cryptocurrency is a digital asset which often has significant monetary value. Cryptocurrency is stored via a digital wallet which hold public and private “keys”. These keys allow people to send, receive and spend cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency wallets are generally accessed by a long, complicated password that people write down on a piece of paper. If the password is lost, there is no way to access the wallet and allow transactions with the currency held by the owner, as there is no physical bank to assist people in recovering this information. As such, there is a high risk that this digital asset could be easily overlooked when dealing with a deceased estate.
What does this mean for my estate planning?
As mentioned above, different digital assets will have their own terms and conditions upon the death of a user. With these terms and conditions in mind, other things to consider when estate planning for your digital assets are:
- Do you have a digital assets inventory? This could include a list of everything you access digitally, as well as any hardware owned and any online memberships or subscriptions.
- Is your inventory stored somewhere secure, and with someone you trust?
- Do you want your executor to be able to access your information?
- What do you want to have happen with your digital assets? (having consideration to the terms and conditions governing the assets)
- Do you want a specific clause in your Will determining what happens with your digital assets?
With the absence of having any uniform laws governing what happens to digital assets after someone dies, it is very important for Willmakers and Executors to be prepared. Make sure you discuss your digital assets during your estate planning process, as this can assist your executor with a smoother administration of your estate and reduce the risk of having your online assets or accounts being overlooked.