Digital Wills and the Legacy of Digital Assets

In today’s digital age, our lives are increasingly dependent upon technology. We communicate, work, and even store our memories in the digital space. As our digital footprints grow, so does the need for a comprehensive plan on how to manage and transfer our digital assets after death. This ‘Wills Week’, we shed light on the concept of digital wills, what digital assets are, and how you can ensure they are handled according to your wishes.
What are digital assets? Digital assets encompass a wide range of items stored electronically, which can hold both sentimental and financial value. Some popular examples are:
1. Social Media Accounts: Your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media profiles contain photos, memories, and interactions with loved ones that hold sentimental value. Additionally, some accounts may have monetary value if they generate income through advertisements or sponsored posts.
2. Email Accounts: Personal and business emails often contain important information, such as financial transactions, contracts, and personal correspondence.
3. Digital Currency: If you invest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or hold digital wallets, these assets can be substantial and need to be properly managed and transferred.

4. Online Banking and Investment Accounts: Access to your financial accounts, investments, and digital payment platforms must be carefully considered.

5. Intellectual Property: If you’re a content creator, author, or artist, your digital works, patents, or trademarks are valuable assets that should be protected.

6. Cloud Storage and Data: Personal photos, videos, documents, and other digital files stored on cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud fall into this category.

7. Websites and Domains: If you own a website or domain, it’s essential to have a plan for its continued operation or transfer.

What is the challenge in planning for Digital Assets? Unlike physical assets, digital assets are intangible and can be challenging to identify and manage. Without a clear plan in place, these assets may be lost, mismanaged, or inaccessible to loved ones upon death.

What is the mechanism to plan for Digital Assets? A will is a legal document explaining how to distribute the property of the deceased person, known as the “estate” upon death. In the past, the estate would have included things like cash, cars, and real estate. This is still true today, however as our online presence increases, one should add electronic records and digital accounts to the list. Digital wills ensure that these “digital assets” are taken care of in the estate plan and outlines how the digital assets should be managed and distributed after death.

It is important to know the difference between a digital will and a traditional will. The traditional will is always referred as a last will and testament, which is a formal legal document that must satisfy several requirements to make it a legally valid will. For example, the person who makes a will (known as the “testator”) must:
Be of legal age to make a will;
Have a “sound mind” (mentally competent);
Have witnesses see the testator sign the will.

By contrast, a digital will is an inventory of digital property with instructions on how to access that property. It must be understood that the digital will is not equivalent to a traditional will. A digital will is an informal document you leave behind explaining to your loved ones how to access things like family photos stored on a hard drive or providing login instructions so they can deactivate your email and social media accounts. A last will and testament is a legal, enforceable document. A digital will is not. Therefore, you can include a provision in your traditional will for the digital assets that you own.

Some tips on how to create a digital will:

1. Inventory Your Digital Assets: Start by making a list of all your digital assets. Include login credentials, account details, and instructions for accessing them.

2. Choose an Executor: Just like a traditional will, appoint an executor who will carry out your wishes regarding your digital assets. Ensure they are tech-savvy and trustworthy.

3. Specify Your Wishes: Clearly state what you want to happen with each digital asset. This might involve transferring ownership, deleting accounts, or preserving certain content.

4. Update Regularly: As your digital footprint evolves, keep your digital will up-to-date. Regularly review and revise it to reflect changes in your digital life.

5. Consult a Legal Professional: Consult an attorney experienced in digital estate planning to ensure your digital will complies with the laws and is legally sound. It is important to know and understand the general legal principles and requirements of a valid will and hence consulting a legal professional will ensure that these are made clear and provide assurance that in fact a valid will has been executed.

In a world where our lives are increasingly digitized, planning for the management and distribution of digital assets is a responsible and forward-thinking step. This Wills Week, take the time to consider your digital legacy and create a digital will that ensures your digital assets are handled according to your wishes. By doing so, you’ll provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones, knowing that your digital footprint will be managed with care and respect even after death.


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