The Law Society is the latest in an increasingly long line of organisations to stress the importance of online assets. More and more testators are being encouraged to leave instructions regarding their ‘digital legacy‘ in their will due to modern society’s reliance on online services. The Law Society has recommended that testators keep an up-to-date list of all online accounts, including email, online banking and social media with instructions on what should be done with these accounts after death.
Most people these days will leave behind a ‘digital footprint‘ – a presence online after they have passed away – and many legal professionals believe that this needs to be addressed, so that family members or loved ones are able to recover or close those accounts after the person is no longer here.
While many will simply want to be safe in the knowledge that they are no longer visible on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for some, including online assets in a will has more serious, financial consequences. For those with online collections of music or film, paid-for domains or online currency (Bitcoin), it becomes a little more complicated, and questions have been raised as to whether these online assets are worth anything after the death of the owner, and if so, how they should be treated in regards to tax.
Indeed, with many people actually making money online, either through games such as Second Life, or through blogs or YouTube channels, there is a growing discussion over the validity of online assets. Patricia Milner of Withers has said, “What such an asset would be worth for inheritance tax purposes on death is unclear, as the market in this kind of asset is very new.” However a precedent will never be set unless people begin to consider it when writing a will.
So how should you go about including your digital legacy in your will? Firstly, it is crucial not to disclose passwords or PINs. Even after death, if a loved one was to access your account, they would technically be committing a crime under the Computer Misuse Act of 1990, so simply a list of sites with a username for each is recommended. Secondly, it is important to note, that even if you have specified instructions in your will, the person acting out your wishes will still be at the mercy of the service providers.
Since this is a new development, there’s no guarantee that an email provider or social media site will comply to the demands, and indeed iTunes has specified that any assets die with the original owner. However law professionals have stated that these policies are likely to change and develop as wills containing wishes relating to a person’s digital legacy become more common. For now the best thing to do is to lay out your express wishes regarding any and all online accounts or assets, which will give your loved ones the best chance of fulfilling them.