Dealing with digital assets in an increasingly virtual world


For many years, we have lived an increasing proportion of our lives online. Never has this been truer than over the past year, with face-to-face socialising replaced with interaction via video conferencing software, social media and other virtual channels.

Now, the Law Society is urging people to include digital assets such as email and social media accounts in their Wills, following a survey revealing that 93% of those with a Will had failed to do so.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets’ is a catch-all term for a wide variety of online ‘possessions’. These may include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Online photos
  • Social media profiles
  • Online accounts (e.g. PayPal, bitcoin accounts, iTunes or Amazon accounts)
  • Items stored in your personal computer such as family videos
  • Email accounts

While many of the items referred to above don’t have any value per se, they are often of immense sentimental value to those left behind. On the other hand, some digital assets can be very valuable indeed, for example the outstanding balances of online PayPal or bitcoin accounts.

But why do I need to put this in my Will?

Over the past few years, cases of bereaved parents or relatives refused access to their deceased loved one’s social media accounts have hit news headlines. It can be extremely distressing to see a loved one’s account still active and able to receive messages after they have passed away, while it can also be a frustrating process trying to access digital assets with financial value.

Many of the accounts you make online are password protected, with the password known only to you. So ensuring you include this information in your Will means that you will save your relatives a great deal of time and heartbreak.

Appointing a ‘digital executor’

Many social media and other accounts will have an ‘end of life’ policy that has to be followed in order for your loved ones to gain access to your accounts after your death. For example, Facebook asks you to appoint a ‘legacy contact’ who will be responsible for looking after your account if it is memorialised (i.e. kept open so that friends and loved ones can share memories) or for deleting your account altogether.

Meanwhile, some providers, such as iTunes, have very strict licensing rules that theoretically mean you cannot pass the contents of your music library onto another user after your death.

Taking time to understand the rules associated with your online accounts and leaving detailed instructions in your Will means that your digital assets will be dealt with in line with your wishes and in compliance with the law. In order to ensure this is done effectively, you may wish to appoint a separate ‘digital executor’ who has the digital literacy skills to follow any instructions you leave them.

Put your affairs in order

In its survey, the Law Society stated that just 29% of people currently have an up-to-date Will. So, if you don’t have a Will, or have one that doesn’t include instructions on the disposal of your digital assets, then speak with an expert in our Wills, Trusts and Probate team.

They can assist you in updating your Will to include those all-important digital assets. To get in touch, email

In association with Woodfines Solicitors.

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