Nearly all of us will now have some kind of digital footprint in addition to our physical assets.  This usually includes email or social media accounts, retail subscriptions, photographs or music stored on electronic devices, but may extend to digital assets with monetary value, such as cryptocurrency (i.e. bitcoin).

You probably haven’t given much thought as to what will happen to these accounts after your death, but it is important that you do.  The executors named in your Will, close relatives or trusted friends are not automatically able to access these accounts and it could mean the loss of treasured memories or the monetary value of a digital asset.

In this article we look at the types of assets you may have and what you can do to protect them.

What are Digital Assets?

Digital assets include digital documents, content, and other relevant digital data currently in circulation or stored on digital appliances, such as personal computers, laptops, tablets, data storage devices, and mobile phones.

Common examples of things to consider include:

  • Social media accounts – pictures and posts which may not be stored anywhere else
  • Email accounts – Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and others which might hold many years of email and data
  • Online music accounts – music libraries which you own but are only stored online
  • Blogs and websites – pictures and posts, but websites might also be earning income
  • Online shopping or other retail sites – potentially containing loyalty points, credit balances or other value
  • Research sites – is that Ancestry family tree which took years to create saved down somewhere?
  • Newspapers, magazines and other media sites – with subscriptions with time to run
  • Banking and Insurance sites – can your family access your house or car insurance if they are entirely online?
  • Software and gaming sites – these may have large game libraries purchased over many years
  • Family safety sites – can your family access parental controls or location information for their devices?
  • Online security – for example, security subscriptions for your PCs or phones

Digital assets also include items which are basically money stored in a digital format rather than as money in cash or a normal bank account. Examples include:

  • Convertible virtual currencies – assets which are readily exchangeable for “normal” currency
  • Cryptocurrencies – such as Bitcoin or Ether are a form of convertible virtual currency which are usually stored in a private digital wallet or on an exchange
  • Funds in online trading apps or investment portfolios – these might not be held in UK institutions and could be hard to access without login details

How can you protect your Cryptocurrency or other Convertible Virtual Currency?

This is an increasingly important area given the rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies as an “investment”.  Many people hold them as they might hold money in a normal bank account.  However, because these accounts are largely unregulated, you won’t find the procedures for dealing with death and probate you would expect from a normal high street bank.

If you hold a digital asset that has a monetary value, such as cryptocurrency, it will normally be held in a private wallet on your computer, or in an account with a cryptocurrency exchange. It is vital that whoever will be dealing with your estate after your death knows how to access your private key. Without this, there is no way to access the funds and due to privacy restrictions, there is no other way of obtaining the private key.

It goes without saying that you should think carefully about how you pass on access to your private keys as they give direct access to your stored cryptocurrency.

What will happen to your Digital Accounts in the event of your death?

This is an area which will have to be dealt with in one of two ways.  Larger providers put systems in place to deal with the accounts of people who have died.  These make it easier to download data, close accounts, “memorialise” them or even leave them active and manage them for a period of time.  For other services, the only realistic option may be to save a list of websites, usernames and passwords somewhere safe where you know it can be found and used by your executors to the same effect.

Email accounts – Some email providers, such as Google (Gmail) allow you to appoint an inactive account manager, who will be able to deal with your account upon your death.  Others, such as Yahoo, allow anyone to request closure of the account upon production of required documentation.  You should check the requirements of your own email account provider and take whatever action you are able to, to make life easier for those who will be dealing with your estate after your death.

Social Media accounts – If you have social media accounts, you should find out what options are available for handling your account after your death.  Some services such as Facebook, Instagram and X allow you to report a death and each has its own process. Some allow an account to be “memorialised” (leaving it visible but essentially freezing any further activity) while others will shut the account down in an organised fashion. 

Retail/Subscription Services – Services such as Amazon and PayPal have a dedicated bereavement support team to assist with closing an account. Others, such as Apple, allow users to appoint a legacy contact who will be able to access their account after death.

How can Backhouse Solicitors help?

Our friendly experts can help you to identify your digital assets and discuss how you can protect them in your Will to make sure any digital currency is not lost when you pass away. Contact our specialist team of Will Writers to book a free 30-minute consultation.

Tel:          01245 893400
Visit:       17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU
Or send us a message through the Contact Us page on this website.