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Digital Assets – are technology providers waking up? 

10.01.22

In our earlier blog on digital assets, we explored the range of digital assets most people have that will need to be taken into consideration when they die.

As a quick refresher, what do we mean by digital assets?  Well, these might be assets that have a financial value, for example, accounts such as PayPal and eBay, or cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), gaming credits and domain names. Another form of digital asset would include social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram as well as those digital items with sentimental value, e.g., music or photo libraries.

Read our information sheet on digital assets here.

The importance of making a Will

All forms of digital assets that a person owns – whether they have financial or tangible value or are purely sentimental – will form part of their estate when they die.  Therefore, everyone who makes a Will should set out who should benefit from these assets.  The simplest way to do this is to include a specific legacy clause in your Will relating to digital assets.  Doing so not only provides peace of mind for you, but also ensures that your loved ones do not need to get ‘locked’ in what can be an enormously tricky and time consuming process trying to gain access to your digital channels and assets.

Apple’s new ‘Digital Legacy’ feature

As reported by STEP, in December 2021, Apple has released a new feature – Digital Legacy – allowing Apple users to choose up to five family members or friends who will be able to access their account after they die.  The nominated contacts will then be able to access data stored in iCloud, including photos and documents, after the original user dies, so long as they have a special access key and a copy of the death certificate.  We wholeheartedly welcome this news as it will save the distress experienced by loved ones of not being able to access ‘frozen’ accounts of someone who has died.

Request access to a deceased friend or family member’s Apple account

If you are the legacy contact for a deceased person who has set this up in Apple, you can request access to their account and have the activation lock removed from their devices here:  https://digital-legacy.apple.com/

What about other tech companies?

It’s true to say that technology companies and internet service providers have been relatively slow in addressing the issue of digital assets.  There have been a number of cases where families have taken providers like Facebook to court in order to access a deceased family member’s account.  The move Apple has now taken to address this, allowing a user to permit access to a named individual, is something that we can expect to see in other digital products moving forward.

LinkedIn is another application that has taken similar steps.  It is now possible for an authorised person to request the closure of an account, to memorialise the account and report a member as deceased.

How fast will change happen?

As reported by STEP’s Policy Executive Robert Carington, STEP is leading the way in lobbying for change, by focusing on engagement with service providers and raising awareness of the difficulties members of the public may encounter with digital assets, in particular when it comes to probate, estate planning and digital legacies.

Together with the Microsoft-funded Cloud Legal Project at Queen Mary University of London, STEP has undertaken a survey to ascertain the awareness, experiences, and concerns of practitioners in dealing with digital assets, in relation to both estate planning and digital legacies.

The report, Digital Assets: A Call to Action, can be downloaded here: https://www.step.org/research-reports/digital-assets-call-action

How can Renaissance Legal help?

Putting in place a Will and Letter of Wishes is the best way of removing uncertainty for your loved ones and enable your Executors to follow your final wishes.  For all our clients, we recommend that they include instructions for digital assets in all future planning preparations.

Our expert team will guide you through the provisions that can be put in place to specifically document what you would like to happen to your digital assets and who you would like to leave them to when you die.  Please contact us.

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