With the huge rise in social media sites, and the storing of personal effects such as photographs, music, and blogs digitally, it is important to plan how to pass on access to these digital assets when planning a Will. Sue MacLeod from law firm Hart Brown, explains what can be put in place to pass on access to these assets safely.
A widow has recently won her three-year court case against Apple to access photos of her daughter on her deceased husband’s IPhone. The widow had known the passcode for her husband’s phone but had forgotten it. The judge in the case called for a change in the law to simplify these cases. I wonder how many people think about their digital assets when they make their Wills? Do they assume that their family will know where to look online?
Digital assets are any information stored about you or created by you online or on an electronic storage device. This includes the information needed to access the digital asset. Your digital assets might be the photos on your phone or device, your online bank accounts, your social media accounts, Bitcoins, your YouTube videos, your computer games, your email account and so on.
You don’t have to wait until you make a Will to think about organising your digital assets. You can start by making a list of your digital assets with emails and usernames. You should be wary about recording your passwords because anyone using your passwords, such as your executor, could commit an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This list should be kept safe perhaps by saving it to an external hard or flash drive or keeping it in a locked safe. You could store it with your Will in your solicitor’s safe but it is likely that you will need to update it frequently. Your solicitor will advise you not to include this information in your Will because a Will becomes a public document after a grant of probate has been issued.
When you make your Will you might wish to consider appointing a digital executor to deal with your digital assets and provide the executor with clear instructions about your digital assets. However, the executor should check the terms of service for each asset before accessing the asset to avoid committing a criminal offence as mentioned. If you don’t wish to appoint a digital executor you can leave instructions for the executors of your estate to help them. For example, if you have a personal computer you can set out your wishes for the permanent deletion of the hard drive or outline your wishes for your social networks or ask your executors to close down your shopping accounts. If you use Facebook you can use the Legacy Contact to choose to have the account permanently deleted on death or the Legacy Contact can be appointed to control the account if it is to be memorialised.
I am sure that your family will be grateful for anything that you can do during your lifetime to make it easier for them after your death and you can start today by making a list of your digital assets.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.