It comes as no surprise that online usage continues to grow. Ofcom’s 2012 report shows that 60% of mobile phone users in the UK have a smartphone and that UK consumers spend an average £1,083 per year each on online shopping.

As business people, we all know it’s important to look after business assets but with more of  us acquiring digital assets in our personal capacity, how many of us have thought what happens to those assets when we’re gone? Can we leave our iTunes collection in our will? How does our executor terminate our Gmail, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts? Nobody likes to think of death but, from a personal estate planning perspective – as well as from a business perspective,  as many parts of our lives are managed digitally it’s important we consider our digital assets and how we wish them to be dealt with when we kick the bucket.

What is a digital asset?

The term “digital asset” can be used broadly to describe all of our digitally stored information, online accounts and digital devices such as information and accounts associated with:

  • Social media
  • Email
  • Online banking
  • Photo-sharing
  • Music storage
  • Gaming

These are the types of asset that we buy in our personal capacity as consumers. The chances are many of our digital assets will have little or no monetary value. However, they can be of huge sentimental value and we may want to ensure we can pass them onto our loved ones. Some may not even belong to us – they may be ‘loaned’ to us under a licence as was highlighted by the (false) story of Bruce Willis about to sue iTunes. Also, it’s important to be able to separate our digital assets we hold personally from those we hold on behalf of a business.

Top tips for estate planning your digital assets

It’s important we set out clearly how we wish our digital assets to be dealt with when we’re gone. We might want some online accounts to be deleted immediately and to leave others to survive as a legacy, allowing loved ones to access our personal emails and photographs. We might want – and our business might expect – that business digital assets get transferred to the business. To get clarity on this, we spoke to Kerry Young in our Private Client Team. Here are her top tips for maximising your digital assets after you’re gone:

  1. Create an inventory of your digital assets, including usernames and passwords. Identify which of these, if any, are assets you’ve acquired or created on behalf of your business. Update this inventory regularly and keep it with your Will
  2. Grant your personal representatives appropriate powers in your Will to access, control, delete and transfer your digital assets
  3. Make specific gifts of certain digital assets to beneficiaries in your Will. Make sure you specify that business assets should transfer to the business – this could save acrimonious litigation later.
  4. Speak to your personal representatives and loved ones about your wishes relating to the identification, access and transfer of your digital assets