Writing a Will? Don’t Forget Your Digital Assets
When you think of a will or estate plan, you might envision leaving behind physical assets for your
family. You may imagine giving your home to your spouse, bestowing your movie collection to your children or
gifting a family heirloom to your sister.
But wills can include so much more than cash or property. With a little creativity and some guidance from
a professional lawyer, you can include your digital assets as well.
Understand and Identify Your Digital Assets
Your digital assets can vary just as much as your physical ones. Depending on your budget, your time and
your personality, you may have some or all of the following that you can leave in your will:
- Email Content. Almost everyone has an email account, whether for personal or work use.
Many people use their accounts to store photos, save drafts for novels, and remember passwords to other
accounts. Whatever you’ve sent or received via email, you can save, store and backup to give to family and
- Social Media Content. Do you have a Facebook account? What about a Twitter feed?
Pinterest? Tumblr? Instagram? Flickr? Vine? These sites store countless gigabytes of information about you,
including photos, videos, artwork, music and conversations. Naturally, your loved ones may want access your
saved information so they have something to remember you by.
- Online Businesses. Many online businesses are worth just as much, if not more than, their
physical counterparts. If you manage an Etsy shop, an Amazon store, an eBay account or any other online
store, your family could inherit your stock, your earnings and your investments.
However, keep in mind that though you have access to some content, you might not own the rights to the
content itself. For example, your emails belong to you, but not your email account or your messaging service.
Or though you purchased a license to use certain software, you don’t own the software itself. Therefore, if
you want to leave your email or your software behind to a friend or family member, you’ll need to contact the
original owners or manufacturers and carefully read any service agreements.
Document Your Wishes and Desires
Once you understand what digital assets you have, take a few minutes to decide what you want to do with
everything when you pass on.
Do you want someone to close your accounts and sweep your search history clean? Would you prefer that your
spouse have access to your cherished emails and love notes? Perhaps you’d like your friends to continue
running your blog, website or online store so it becomes a longstanding legacy.
Write down or record your ideas, wishes and plans for your future. Though you don’t have to make these
desires official through a will just yet, you will want to save your thoughts and have them readily
available. In special circumstances, the Supreme Court of Queensland may recognise your saved file, journal
entry or document as a will, so you should always have one on hand, just in case.
Determine Who Will Carry Out Your Plans
When you know what you want to do with your photos, emails and online music libraries, you can then decide
who should carry out your plans. You’ll want to name a digital executor who can manage your accounts,
distribute access to family members and maintain or preserve your online content.
Keep in mind that your executor should be someone who understands digital assets. He or she needs the
skill and knowledge to delete, save or transfer files at your request.
Talk to a Lawyer for More Information
After you have a few ideas in place and have carefully thought about your executor, talk to a lawyer about
writing your will and planning your digital estate. The right lawyer can guide you through the legal process
to make your will valid, as well as suggest the best techniques for transferring online funds, accounts and
businesses to minimise taxes and fees.