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A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that UK consumers valued their digital assets at £25billion. The average consumer owns 42 e-books, 30 TV shows, 2,678 individual songs and 28 digital films. In addition to digital consumables most of us also hold items that have sentimental value in digital form such as personal photographs and videos. Many of us also have numerous online accounts, social media and banking to name just two.

With so many items stored in digital form, and the trend only likely to increase, this can pose issues on your death.  When a person dies, anyone dealing with your estate (executor) may need to access your electronic records. However, this is hardly ever planned for and can create problems as most digital assets leave no footprint making it difficult to be traced.  Where an asset can be found, the difficulties don’t stop there as the executor can experience problems if they haven’t been given passwords or other security information.

There may also be legal ramifications as accessing a person’s account without their specific authority may breach the Computer Misuse Act 1990, as well as breaching the service provider’s Terms of Use.  Unfortunately, the answer is not for the deceased to have left a record of security information as this may also be a breach.

So what practical steps can you take to avoid these issues?

Most importantly you should make an inventory of all of your digital assets, which ideally should be stored in physical form with your Will.  This should include details of all your email, social media, bank and gaming accounts. If you have significant digital assets or associated intellectual property rights consider appointing a digital executor in your Will.

It is important to check the Terms of Use of your accounts to confirm what happens to the account on death.  It is common for social media and email accounts to provide in their terms that there is no right of survivorship and non-transferability of content following death.  This is an ongoing issue and providers such as Facebook now allow you to select an authorised person who can access your account following death. You can also elect for the account to be closed or to continue in memorial.

In terms of our sentimental digital assets it may be sensible to store these separately so that your loved ones can continue to access these, such as on a digital storage device or in the family ‘cloud’.

Your digital legacy is important to you and the best way that you can protect it is to address these problems now during your lifetime.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.