Why worry about Digital Assets

The Gazette, 19 June 2019

Every month we hold free legal clinics in Kingsbridge and Dartmouth, and in April, May and June we held a clinic Salcombe Library.

We recently met a couple concerned about newspaper articles reporting a story involving a widow who had to take court proceedings against Apple to get access to the photographs that her deceased husband had on his iphone.  It took the widow 3 years, a great deal of stress and anxiety, financial cost, and a court order for the widow to successfully gain access to her husband’s 5000 photos. 

Digital assets are things like photographs and videos that are stored online or on social media. They are treated differently to physical objects like jewellery or a framed picture when you die.  Whilst a physical object can be passed on (literally) to someone else, the physical presence of a digital assets such as a data file of a digital photograph stored on a tablet or laptop is not an asset that you can leave to someone in your Will. 

What you can do is leave someone the digital property rights (like copyright) that are associated with the digital asset.  However, different companies have chosen to deal with issue of access to digital assets in a different way.  Apple’s terms state that iCloud accounts are non-transferable and the rights to access the content will be terminated on death. Google and Facebook allow you to nominate someone to have access to your account after death.  Instagram allows an account to be “memorialised” so the account can’t be logged into or altered but does remain visible. 

Anyone worried about loved ones having access to digital assets can follow these simple steps:   

  1. Create a schedule of where your digital assets are stored so that executors can track down all your assets.
  2. If the social media or digital account allows it – nominate someone to deal with your account when you die.
  3. Include a clause in your Will that specifically deals with digital property rights.
  4. If you have particularly valuable or unusual digital assets, nominate a digital executor to deal specifically with your digital assets.