Planning for your digital estate

Have you considered the amount of digital data that you have and if so, what would happen to that data on your death? There is no standard procedure for managing digital assets in the event of death or mental incapacity. It is therefore vital that any financial planning that you undertake includes arrangements for your digital estate.

More internet service providers are allowing users to appoint a person who can be granted access to their account or for it to be memorialised. Facebook now permits users to appoint a “legacy contact”. Google has an Inactive Manager facility. However some assets cannot be legally passed on after death because the user only buys the rights to use the asset during their lifetime. Other accounts will contain money or assets that can be passed on only if the correct procedures are followed. Failing to follow those procedures could lead to data being destroyed before your next of kin can gain access to it.

If assets held online have more than a merely sentimental value, you should consider including them in a separate legacy with separate executors to deal with them. This is particularly useful if you own anything online that contains intellectual property rights (such as a digital photography business) because the digital executor can maximise their value for your beneficiaries.

If you have more specific, private wishes about how your digital estate should be administered, those could be included in a separate letter of wishes kept with your will so that they remain private between you and your digital executor / the beneficiary to whom you have left your digital estate.

Simple, practical steps

  1. Make it as easy as possible for your next of kin to locate any PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, Kindle and MP3.
  2. Keep good records:
  • Make sure that bank statements are well organised as these will show if there are any payments relating to digital assets, either regular or one-off expenditure.
  • Tell select friends or relatives about the existence of your digital assets.
  • Make a note of passwords and login details for your devices so executors can gain access to information and assets stored on them. None of this information should be contained within the will because this eventually becomes a public document. The list should be stored securely as a hard copy and kept up to date. Tell your executors that the list exists but do not give it to them. You may be breaching terms and conditions of individual internet service providers if you do.
  • Print off hard copies, burn to CD or download onto a USB stick any photographs and documents that are only stored digitally and keep them in a safe place where executors can find them. Retain copies of key documents and data on a personally owned device (such as a laptop, tablet or personal computer), rather than storing them solely online. This will enable executors to access those assets more easily.