The digital dilemma of leaving online assets in your Will

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When writing a Will, consideration must not only be given to any physical assets that you would want your loved ones to benefit from after you’re gone, but also any digital assets. This could include, for example, bitcoins or other forms of e-currency that you may have stored in virtual wallets. It could also include any unclaimed balance in your Paypal account from eBay sales or other selling platforms, or winnings in an online lottery or betting account.

Needless to say, the importance of leaving your executors a trail of breadcrumbs to enable them to access any password protected online investments or accounts, cannot be underestimated. In most cases, given the highly encrypted nature of virtual wallets or other types of digital assets, any failure to leave clear instructions will leave your loved ones locked out of your online fortune forever.  In some cases, your executors may not even be aware of the existence of any digital assets, let alone have the right information to access these.

It’s therefore vital that you record within your Will or other document the nature of any digital assets that form part of your estate. It’s also important that you provide clear instructions as to where your digital assets are stored, for example, on either a USB or other portable storage device, or on some form of cloud type service, as well as how these can be accessed.

That said, care must be taken so as not to compromise your online security, either during your lifetime or at any point prior to your executors being able to realise your digital assets. In particular, it’s worth noting that upon application for the grant of probate, your Last Will and Testament becomes a public document that anyone can apply to see. This means that important location and access information contained directly within your Will would severely compromise the security of any online investments or accounts.

Clearly, therefore, there’s a fine line between providing a sufficient trail of breadcrumbs for your executors to identify and access any digital assets, and protecting those assets from hackers or untrustworthy hands. Still, this ‘digital dilemma’ should not prevent you from gifting these assets to your loved ones, provided you take appropriate measures to ensure any important information is not contained within the Will itself — but preferably within a securely stored and password protected separate document — and that any usernames and passwords are only accessible by those you trust implicitly.

By seeking expert advice to ensure your digital assets remain secure during your lifetime but accessible upon death, you can feel confident that your loved ones will benefit fully from your digital endeavours after you’re gone — without the worry of losing your online fortune, however big or small, to fraudsters, or inadvertently locking those assets away for good.

Your legal advisor can help you to find a suitable way of effectively documenting your digital assets within your Will and other related documentation, in this way providing your executors with the instructions they will need when you’re no longer around.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained herein are intended to be for general information purposes only. This blog does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law in England and Wales and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its’ accuracy, and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should always be sought.