What Happens to Your Digital Assets When you Die?

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

Most people who have written a will have likely considered how they would like to distribute their home, money, and other material possessions. But have you ever considered your non-tangible, digital assets and what may happen to those when you pass?

What Are Digital Assets?

Digital assets include much more than what’s on your computer. They include photos, videos, or documents stored in the cloud (i.e.: on third-party computers), e-books, music purchased online, accounts with money stored on them (such as payment processors or gambling websites), online tax planning records, domain and website registrations, online businesses, and passwords to various social accounts.. These can all add up to a considerable value. A 2011 study by the security software company McAfee, found the value of an Americans’ digital assets was approximately $37,438– a sum that that has likely gone up in the years since the study was concluded.

Canadian Law and Digital Assets

There is currently no law in Canada governing what happens to a person’s digital assets when they die, which makes it critical to consider these assets when planning your will.

In 2016 a British Columbia widow was told she needed to get a court order before Apple would turn over her late husband’s iTunes password, which was needed to access everything the couple had purchased on their iPad.

Best Practices in Managing Your Digital Assets and Planning for the Future

While you may own many of your digital assets, in some cases you simply have a license to use them, with ownership belonging to the websites or companies hosting them. In any case, access to digital assets is governed by the terms of service of the company that hosts each. These policies vary from company to company, so it is important to understand what every individual policy is and to prepare your estate accordingly, so they can be accessed easily upon your passing.

When planning your will, you should talk to your estate-planning lawyer about including language pertaining to your digital assets. It may be a good idea to include clauses allowing your executor to handle your digital access. While such clauses are currently not supported by legislation, they could demonstrate what your intentions were in regards to your digital assets.

Additionally, you may want to allow your executor to access your digital assets. This can be done by leaving directions on how to find usernames and passwords for all of your accounts. For example, you can leave a list of passwords in a safety deposit box or safe. Of course, it is important to keep this information up to date. There are also password management applications that allow users to name a beneficiary of a user’s passwords. It should be noted that allowing your executor to access your online accounts may violate a site’s terms of service. It would be helpful to review individual accounts with your lawyer.

When planning for how your digital assets will be handled, consider which assets you would like to give to someone, and which assets you would like disposed of for privacy, business, or personal reasons.

Contact the lawyers at Arbesman Hamilton LLP if you are planning your will or have questions about your estate. We can be reached online or by phone at 416-481-5604. We can help you not only in the preparation of legal documents, but also in the long term planning of your estate and how you can help your children or loved ones once you are gone.