Fastest 50: Protecting digital assets

While the digital era has created huge opportunities for family businesses, cyberspace has also created new virtual boundaries which require new rules for defining legal property.

a different dimension: Cyberspace has created new virtual boundaries
a different dimension: Cyberspace has created new virtual boundaries

One of the main goals in such businesses is often to grow the business and protect it for the family, but what happens to your digital life when you die? And what legal rights do you and your beneficiaries have?

Technology and the way we use it has changed enormously over the past 30 years, but so too has the law and the cost of not acting could be huge.

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Research by YouGov found 52 per cent of us said no one would be able to access their digital accounts if they died because they had not left any arrangements about what should happen.

Andrew Evans.

A Will allows you to name executors who will be in charge of sorting everything out when you die, on behalf of your estate and making sure any liabilities are paid and what there is left after that is passed on to your beneficiaries.

A lot of business owners have a digital aspect to their life, whether it’s their documents stored in the cloud with web-based services, online banking or social media profiles and that is why it is important for those running family businesses to take all of these factors into consideration.

Putting a Will in place is vital for your personal estate and to protect your business interests, but there are other things you need to think about when it comes to your company’s digital and online life too.

1: Digital assets with financial value such as online banking, PayPal, online shopping accounts, cryptocurrencies (for example, Bitcoin).

Andrew Evans.

After all, you own these assets so you should make sure they are not lost to your beneficiaries. How would your loved ones know what your online assets are and where they can be found?

2: Digital assets with social value such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

This is where it starts to get a bit complex. You may have written much of what is on social media or taken the photos uploaded, but the use of it is controlled by the service provider. So if you die you need to say who should have access to it and control of it. What would you like to happen to your social media – and who should sort that out?

3: Digital assets with sentimental value such as video.

You are unlikely to own these kinds of asset on some social networking sites as they tend to state in their terms and conditions that they own any content that you upload, so there may be difficulty passing them on to family members who may want them.

You have the legal right to pass on digital assets with financial value to your chosen beneficiaries and you have the legal right to manage the deactivation, memorialisation or removal of your digital social life, but you need to take steps to exercise your rights by making a Will.

The next step is to make a digital directory with details of all of your online assets, social media accounts, logins and passwords. This must be regularly updated in order to allow executors to be able to trace your assets and pass them on.

Digital assets with sentimental value can be the most important for those left behind. So take practical steps such as making sure you have back-ups or hard copies. At Ward Hadaway, we can advise on steps to preserve your personal and business wealth and help protect your assets.

For more information on the issues raised by this article, please contact Andrew at [email protected] or on 0113 205 6751.