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Death and digital assets

February 18, 2019

Digital assets are becoming more integral to our lives and families now find themselves having to deal with digital assets when a loved one dies.

If you are appointed as a family member or friend’s personal representative, how do you deal with their digital assets? What happens if you are unsure if they had digital assets? Elizabeth Metcalfe, Private Client Solicitor explains. 

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What are digital assets?

Digital assets are non-physical personal assets. The term ‘digital assets’ encompasses a range of online accounts including:

  • Email accounts (e.g. Outlook)
  • Social Media content (e.g. Facebook, Instagram)
  • Online payment accounts (e.g. PayPal, cryptocurrency wallets, online gambling accounts)
  • Subscription services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Spotify)
  • Picture and document storage (e.g. Google Drive, Apple iCloud)

I am the deceased’s personal representative – how do I deal with their digital assets?

A personal representative is the umbrella term for both an executor (someone appointed in the Will to act) and an administrator (someone appointed by the Probate Court because there is no Will). 

Digital assets owned at the deceased’s death form part of their estate and it is your duty to make the necessary investigations to find out if the deceased had any.

If you are struggling to find any evidence of the ownership of digital assets then there are ways of tracing if they existed. 

Subscription accounts

You can review someone’s bank statements and look for any payments to companies such as Paypal. Such entries are a good indication that the deceased was a registered user and may have funds or an outstanding debt.

A bank statement may also show the use of a subscription service such as Netflix or Amazon and you as the personal representative should cancel this subscription service.

Closing social media accounts

You as the personal representative will have to register the death with the social media account provider i.e. Facebook or Instagram. What then happens to the deceased’s profile and its content depends on the particular online company’s terms and conditions.

For example, Facebook and Instagram offer a service to ‘memorialise’ accounts so family and friends can continue to view the deceased’s profile without it appearing in public searches. On the other hand, the Apple iCloud storage system has a ‘No Right of Survivorship’ policy which means their account is non-transferrable and any right to the content on their iCloud account, i.e. photos and documents, is terminated when they die.

Inventory 

We recommend that all clients prepare an inventory of their digital assets to assist personal representatives in tracing online accounts. This can be stored with your Will and include specific instructions and passwords so that loved ones can gain access without unnecessary complications. 

Dealing with a family member or friend’s estate after they have died can often be a complicated process at an already stressful time. 

If you would like to talk about digital assets and how we can help you when dealing with your loved one’s affairs, please contact Elizabeth Metcalfe on 0117 945 3003 or email elizabethmetcalfe@metcalfes.com

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Death and digital assets

Elizabeth Metcalfe

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