Digital assets: how switched on are you?


1st December 2019

Legal Briefing


By Hauke Harrack

Senior Solicitor

Hewitsons LLP

THE issues which may arise when someone dies without making provision for access to their digital assets can be many and complex, and this is an area which is receiving more attention in the mainstream media.

These problems can be financial (such as when the boss of cryptocurrency company Quadriga died, taking the passwords enabling access to the assets with him) or sentimental (as was the case when a widow took Apple to court to obtain access to her late husband's photos and videos which were stored on his iCloud).

So, how can you manage your online life so that it can be administered by your loved ones after your death?

1. Plan ahead

Think about the accounts you have and if is there a function whereby you can nominate a trusted individual to take over if you die or lose capacity. If your business uses an online provider to take online payments, who has access to that account? If you use a provider such as PayPal, who actually has the user agreement with them?

If your online activity consists mostly of social media, ensure that you have copies of content that you want kept either downloaded onto an external hard drive or printed out.

Consider your will in the context of your digital assets. Do any changes need to be made? Are you happy for the people you have appointed as your executors to access your online accounts or would you prefer for this to be someone else?

Do you have copyrighted material stored either online or on your devices? This material could be photographs, a novel or a blog. If these items have financial value they will need to be included in your estate. Do you have specific wishes about whether such material should be published after your death or not?

2. Keep records

It is important to balance the security of your accounts during your lifetime with the need for your executors to know the extent of your digital assets upon your death.

Keep a secure list of all your online accounts. Whilst being mindful of your service agreements, you could consider keeping usernames and passwords separately, or using a digital password manager. Don't forget to include passwords for your devices so that files stored on your computer can also be accessed.

Your executors will want to access this information, but only in the event of your death. They will also need to be careful not to break the law in accessing your accounts after your death and they should seek legal advice when the time comes.

3. Be informed

There is no English legislation governing the succession of digital assets. The best way to ensure you have considered all the circumstances is to take specific advice on your particular circumstances.

At Hewitsons, we have a large and experienced team specialising in wills, succession and inheritance tax planning, as well as lasting powers of attorney. Contact Hauke Harrack at or on 01604 463131.