The issues which may arise when someone dies without making provision for access to their digital assets can be many and complex.
They may be financial (such as when the boss of cryptocurrency company Quadriga died, taking the passwords enabling access to the assets with him) or sentimental (as was the case when a widow took Apple to court to obtain access to her late husband’s photos and videos which were stored on his iCloud).
So, how can you manage your online life so that it can be administered by your loved ones after your death?
Think about the accounts you have and if there is a function whereby you can nominate a trusted individual to take over if you die or lose capacity. If your business uses online providers such as PayPal to take online payments, think about who has access to that account and the user agreement.
If your online activity consists mostly of social media, ensure that you have copies of content that you want kept either downloaded onto an external hard drive or printed out.
Consider your will in the context of your digital assets – do any changes need to be made? Are you happy for the people you have appointed as executors to access your online accounts or would you prefer this to be someone else?
Any copyrighted material which has financial value and is either stored online or on a device – e.g. photographs, a novel, or a blog – should be included in your estate. Ensure that any specific wishes about whether such material should be published after your death is also outlined.
It is important to balance the security of your accounts during your lifetime with the need for your executors to know the extent of your digital assets upon your death.
Keep a secure list of all your online accounts; whilst being mindful of your service agreements, consider keeping usernames and passwords separately or use a digital password manager. Don’t forget to include passwords for your devices so that files stored on your computer can also be accessed.
Your executors will want to access this information, but only in the event of your death. They will also need to be careful not to break the law in accessing your accounts after your death and they should seek legal advice when the time comes.
There is no English legislation specifically governing the succession of digital assets. The best way to ensure you have considered all the circumstances is to take specific advice on your circumstances.