Planning Your Own (Digital) Immortality: What Happens To Your Digital Assets When You Die?

Every day, people around the world create sentimental digital assets by taking photos, making music or saving documents. What happens to these assets when you die?

What is a digital asset?

The term “digital assets” covers any asset held electronically rather than in physical form. Common examples are:

• Digital currency or digital art, eg cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens; and

• Digital recordings, eg images or other files stored electronically.

Digital assets and social media accounts after death

Some providers have processes in place to allow loved ones to access your digital platforms after your death.

Examples of these processes are:

• New Apple “Digital Legacy” feature

You choose up to five people to have access to your iCloud account, including access to your photos and messages by presenting a unique security key and a copy of your death certificate. Before this feature, a court ruling was needed to allow bereaved parents to access these accounts.

• Facebook “Legacy Contact” functionality

You appoint a person and, after your death, that person can make decisions about your account, including accessing content, writing an article, and closing the account.

• The “Inactive account manager” feature of Google

This notifies your designated contacts if you have been inactive for 18 months and allows them to access the selected content. You can also indicate whether Google should delete your account after notification.

While these features are similar, there is not yet a one-size-fits-all approach across all platforms. It can create challenges for your loved ones.

What can you do about the digital assets in your will?

The provision of digital assets will be particularly important for individuals when these assets represent a significant portion of their wealth. It is important to let your attorney know about any valuable digital asset, such as music, digital art, or cryptocurrency so that the methods of transmission can be reviewed and discussed. However, many of us hold digital assets of purely sentimental value, such as images. Then what ?

• Make sure you have completed all existing processes, such as those mentioned above;

• You may want to include an express provision in your will confirming that your executors should have the authority to manage your digital assets. This can be useful because some of the problems accessing or transferring digital assets arise from the difficulty in establishing the “right” of family members to access the asset. Your lawyer can advise you further;

You may now be tempted to write down a list of your online accounts and their corresponding passwords. Please don’t. Not only does this pose a security risk during your lifetime and upon your death; it may violate the terms and conditions of the service provider.

As the digital world around us becomes an increasingly crucial aspect of our lives, it is essential that you think about what you want to happen to any digital assets you may have after your death.

Sylvia B. Polson