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Managing digital assets in the afterlife; lessons from an $80 million loss

06 Sep 2018

Over 4 billion people are now online with more than 3 million people now actively using cryptocurrencies (such as bitcoin). Digital assets include tangible (a USB stick or hard drive) and intangible personal property (social media accounts) amongst other things. Thinking about our digital legacy and assets has never been more important given that it is so easy to overlook the importance of the treatment of these after death.

As many of us access a number of different social media accounts daily, sharing our views, photos and memories in the digital ether, it’s handy to keep in mind that each social networking service company is different in their approach regarding how an account is to be treated after its user’s death. For example, Facebook can either close down the account or enable a “memorial mode” which can be administered by a “legacy contact” where friends can view photos and statuses of the deceased, and they post memories and comments after death. A legacy contact can be appointed under your Facebook general settings during life. Instagram will either memorialise the account, or this can be closed down. LinkedIn and Twitter do not offer a memorialisation or legacy contact-type arrangement and they will remove the profile entirely once alerted to a person’s death.

There are dedicated social media managers like Dead Social which can assist with the running of accounts after death. However, it is always a good idea to appoint a digital manager; a person (who does not need to be one of your executors) who can manage digital assets after death. It may even be that you wish to leave a message for friends and family after you are no longer here which can also be communicated to your digital manager. It is also very helpful to make a list of accounts held and passwords in order to make the process easier for loved ones when the time comes.

Sadly, in 2017, James Howells disposed of a hard drive in a local landfill site, which contained bitcoin he owned which would now reportedly be worth over $80 million. As cryptocurrency is growing in popularity, this must be considered as part of holders’ succession planning. The first planning step for what will happen with this type of asset post-death is to ensure that you appoint people formally to deal with them, and, that you enable access safely to any cryptocurrencies’ equivalent “wallet” which contains it (by storing safely and making available your password to your executors).

It is estimated that over £30 billion is lost or thrown away in bitcoin annually; it is our job to assist you in ensuring that this does not happen in your case.

The key in relation to managing digital assets is to keep records regarding them in order for your chosen loved ones to access and administer these when you are no longer here. Don’t throw away your wallet or your social media presence; we can assist with the treatment of these special assets and advise you as to how best to ensure they devolve in the way you choose.

For more information on any of the above, or to find out how we can help your business, please contact Elizabeth Gibbison or Alice Clewes, or call 0191 232 8345.