31st August 2022
Digital assets in later life planning
Technology is increasingly playing a major role in our lives and this trend will no doubt continue. In order to keep up with technology, we must develop our knowledge and understand the impact it has on us and our families, especially post-death when we and our loved ones are most vulnerable.
When undergoing the task of lifetime planning, many will list the usual types of assets such as property, savings, and shares. However, digital assets are often missed and this can have an important bearing on the decisions that are made for later life.
What are digital assets?
In the most basic sense, digital assets are anything that is stored electronically. They may have financial value, examples include Cryptocurrency, online banking, Paypal, Amazon, Ebay, and online lotteries. Other types of digital assets may not have any financial value and may instead carry more sentimental value such as photographs and email accounts. Social media accounts including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also examples of digital assets.
Why do I need to consider digital assets when planning for later life?
Ignoring digital assets when making decisions for later life could have a significant impact.
Executors often spend a considerable amount of time looking through a loved one’s files to ascertain what assets and liabilities they had at the time of their death. Unlike the usual types of assets, there is normally no physical evidence of a digital asset’s existence. Any correspondence concerning a digital asset is likely to be held in an electronic format only. This in turn makes an executor’s role far more difficult.
If an executor is unaware of a loved one’s digital assets, the inheritance tax papers submitted to HMRC may not be a true reflection of the estate value, which could lead to corrective accounts having to be submitted at a later stage to account for the additional value. The increase in value may impact the inheritance tax position resulting in an executor having to arrange for additional sums to be paid to HMRC.
Furthermore, the monies distributed to residuary beneficiaries may be incorrect if the value of the estate is affected by these forgotten assets.
What steps can I take?
Terms and Conditions
Read those terms and conditions.
You may recall setting up an online account and being asked to tick the ‘I agree to the terms and conditions’ box. Often, people tick the box without even clicking on the link opening the lengthy document listing numerous terms and conditions and written in very small fonts.
In reality, it is a good idea to read those terms and conditions and in particular, pay attention to any information concerning what happens to your digital asset post-death.
The terms and conditions will clarify whether the digital asset is one that can be transferred to a third party. Whilst you may hold an account with a certain online provider, you may in fact not be the legal owner and as such cannot leave that particular digital asset in your Will. To elaborate, certain digital assets are held on a licence, i.e. you only have a right to use the account; you do not have the right to transfer the benefit of the account to a third party. iTunes is a good example of this.
Several online providers provide useful information and steps that can be undertaken to make matters easier post-death. For example, Google have created an Inactive Manager Account whereby you can list alternate contacts who will be notified if your account has not been used for a certain period and will subsequently be given access to download data. This is also useful if you have an email account with Google.
Many people hold loyalty cards which have a monetary value attached. Once again, it is important to read the terms and conditions to ascertain the post-death position. For example, Tesco Clubcard and Nectar points can be passed to a loved one on death. In comparison, British Airways Avios will not transfer points on death and therefore this membership will end on the death of the account holder.
List of Assets and Liabilities
Make a detailed list of your digital assets to store with your Will. This is particularly important if these digital assets carry a financial value as your executors are under a legal obligation to report these figures as part of the probate process.
Consider the people you want to inherit your digital assets and make provision for this in your Will. As above, there may be certain digital assets that end on the death of the owner – you must check terms and conditions accordingly.
Make copies of photographs and videos. Whilst this can be done by transferring photos to a USB stick or hard drive, there is a risk of these devices failing after several years. For this reason, and for ease, more people are leaning towards the use of backing up photographs to iCloud or Google Photos. Once again, review the terms and conditions and take steps to allow your loved ones access.
Once again, taking steps to nominate friends or family members during your lifetime will provide them with the requisite permission to access these digital assets on death.
Digital assets are becoming more common with many carrying a financial value. Unfortunately, online providers are not as cooperative as other asset providers and this can prove troublesome for executors who cannot access the information required for probate purposes. It is evident that reform is needed at a higher level to enable executors (or indeed attorneys) to carry out their roles effectively and, ultimately, allow a smoother administration process for all involved.
However, in the interim, we must give our digital assets equal consideration (and occasionally more so) to that given to our non-digital assets. Failure to do so could mean our digital assets remain undiscovered and lost in the cloud indefinitely.
If you would like to discuss your Will, Lasting Power of Attorney or require assistance in dealing with the administration of a loved one’s estate, please contact Jemini Chavda on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01892 510222 to speak to a member of the Private Client Team.