Digital Assets

Digital assets, and how they are dealt with upon death, is becoming an important  issue for many people.

We are regularly asked how iTunes accounts, Kindle books, Facebook, online bank accounts, Paypal accounts etc are dealt with upon death.

Many of these accounts are password protected and our families and executors need to be aware of their duties in relation to how these accounts are dealt with, and also, who (if anyone) is entitled to this information after death.

It is important to distinguish between what is the property of the deceased, and what is not. The balance on an online bank account is of course that person’s property, and will form part of his or her estate – but what about their itunes account?

Different rules apply to the different types of digital assets.  When we purchase music on iTunes, we do not actually own that music – we are merely purchasing a ‘licence’ to play that music, so this collection of music is not owned by us, it is not our property.  Therefore, the right to play this music dies with the licence holder.

The same apples to Kindle books.  These books cannot be transferred to another person and donot form part of the deceased’s estate.

Similarly, content (such as photographs) on our social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc are not our property and therefore, unfortunately, the content of these sites cannot be inherited by our family, on our death. This can be very difficult for loved ones who are desperate to access photographs etc of the person who has died.

Each social media company has their own set of rules in relation to what happens to the content on the account of the deceased.

For example, Facebook allow a deceased person’s account to be ‘Memorialised’, which allows people to post on the page or access to the photos on the page (or alternatively deleted if the family prefer) but in special circumstances they also do allow family members to make specific requests for additional content or information to be released.

An additional Facebook feature has recently been introduced in the US, which is soon to come to the UK, which will allow us to nominate a ‘Legacy Contact’ on our accounts. This will be a family member or friend who we can appoint to operate our accounts when we die. This contact will have the ability to post pictures, accept friend requests etc and post certain announcements on the deceased person’s account.

Bear in mind that different rules apply to our online accounts that hold money, such as online bank accounts, PayPal accounts etc. The money held in these accounts is the property of the deceased, and therefore must be dealt with by the executors, as part of the deceased’s estate. Each bank or other company has their own procedures to follow, which are often easily accessible and straightforward, in order to close and cash in the proceeds from these accounts.

There is a huge risk that online assets can be missed, and this is gravely concerning. We cannot stress enough the importance of obtaining professional advice from an experienced probate solicitor, if you are faced with these issues.

So what can we do to make it easier for our executors to deal with our assets upon death?  The best advice is to take legal advice, and think about storing an inventory of our digital assets , and our passwords, with our Will.

Ann DudzinskAnn Dudzinski
Wills and Probate Team
0113 227 9235

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