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5 steps to creating a simple digital estate plan

Posted by Charlotte Toogood | 11-Nov-2021 10:16:03

When someone starts planning for the management of their estate, it often includes things like who will inherit property, who may care for a dependent child, or what should happen with various personal belongings. One thing that often gets overlooked is what happens to their digital assets.

So many of us live significant parts of our lives in the digital world – whether using various social media accounts to store photos or videos, communicating with others via blogs, apps, or emails, or transacting using digital currencies. It’s now a norm that shows no signs of diminishing.

Something else to consider is the growing awareness and action being taken around corporate environmental responsibility. Many industries are reducing their reliance on paper and encouraging their customers to opt for digital delivery of statements, bills and invoicing, making it more difficult to gain access to all assets that may be owned by a loved one.

These are just some of the reasons why some modern estates run into issues.

With an ever-increasing number of digital accounts and documents, it is unsurprising that there are several ways to manage digital assets and plan a digital estate. This can include using a service that saves all of your passwords in one place so that an Executor can gain access; a system that will send messages to loved ones after passing away; and policies in place to access, shut down, or memorialise social media accounts after the account owner passes away. It all comes down to making sure your digital assets are taken care of in addition to your non-digital assets.


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Here are 5 simple ways to create a digital estate plan:


1.      Start with a list

A survey by the Office of National Statistics states that 87% of all adults in the UK use the internet daily or almost daily for activities such as email (86%), internet banking (73%), online shopping (82%) and social media (70%). This results in dozens of accounts per person with unique usernames, passwords and details. While some online activities are more significant than others when it comes to digital assets, it is useful to create an inventory of all important accounts, including usernames, passwords, subscription status, fees and anything else that would be useful to know.

If you’re unsure about what should be included in this digital inventory list, read our blog on which digital assets should be included in a Will.


2.      Next, decide what should be done with each account

It’s natural to want each type of account to be managed differently. Some accounts could be deleted, or others could be transferred to loved ones or business colleagues.

Social media

When it comes to social media accounts, some platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer the option to memorialise an account so that loved ones can still view the profile or leave commemorative messages. Others, like Twitter, will deactivate the account when they are notified of a member’s death. It’s worth having a read through the terms of service of any social media platforms to ensure there are no conflicts between the account holder’s wishes and company policies.

Assets with monetary value

It’s wise to ensure these assets are included in a Will so that an Executor knows exactly what needs to be done. For example, should a revenue-generating asset be transferred to a colleague? Should loyalty points be redeemed? Should your online store be shut down? It’s advisable to think about how accounts with the ability to earn revenue need to be handled.

Digital content

With the ease of storing seemingly limitless amounts of photo, video, or blog content in the cloud or on various online platforms, it’s beneficial to note what should happen to your content. For example, should YouTube videos be deleted? What is the plan for the hundreds of photos in Facebook or Flickr albums? What about all other online data? These items are often not considered when someone is planning their estate.

 It's worth noting that many companies offer services that allow you to manage your digital assets, including services that save all of your passwords in a digital vault, which may be helpful. If you have a significant digital presence you may also want to seek professional advice, as some laws which govern digital assets can be complex. 


3.      Ensure someone has access

The exercises above are a fantastic start. However, ultimately, someone needs to know that an inventory of digital assets and accounts exist and how to access them. This could be the Executor or someone else, but this individual will settle or assist in the settlement of digital elements in the estate. For ease, it is best to refer to a supplementary document that contains all relevant information and details needed to settle a digital estate in the Will.


4.      Get professional advice

Speaking to a Financial Adviser or Will Writer is a great place to start to ensure everything is done correctly. They can assist with any language or clauses that need to be included in a Will, along with advice on how to store any wishes safely, securely, and legally.


5.      Update, update, update

It’s quite likely that account details, such as a password, could change or new accounts need to be added to the inventory. Often, this is something we all do without much consideration, but after creating a digital estate plan, it’s vital to keep your digital asset list updated regularly. It can give loved ones considerable peace of mind at an anxious and emotional time.


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Author: Charlotte Toogood

Charlotte Toogood is an experienced, STEP-qualified Solicitor specialising in high-value, complex and technical estate administration. As Legal Services Director at Kings Court Trust, Charlotte is committed to supporting families at the difficult time of losing a loved one. Charlotte joined Kings Court Trust in February 2015 and has since used her technical expertise to manage hundreds of estates. Charlotte thrives on the diversity of the industry, understanding the needs of the client, and conveying even the most technical aspects of estate administration in a personable and transparent way.

Topics: Assets, Digital Assets, Legacy, Will, Partner Support