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Digital assets in your Will - what happens to your iTunes account when you die

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 03 December 2015
  2. Wills and Probate
  3. 0 comments

When you think about your earthly possessions and assets and how they should be left in your Will, you will probably think about the physical things you own – your home and your car, for example – as well as bank accounts, shares, and other financial assets. These are assets that we can all understand the value of.

But have you thought about your digital assets? The songs and videos you’ve bought from iTunes and Amazon, or the galleries of images you have on your Facebook or Instagram accounts?

These might seem like trifling concerns in the face of death, but some of these assets could hold great sentimental value, as well as monetary worth.

The Law Society said last year that everyone should leave instructions for what is to be done with their digital assets when they die. However, research from earlier this year indicates that only 13% have actually done this.

Here is a look why and how you should make sure your digital assets are passed on properly.

What assets might you have?

Here are a few examples of digital assets you might want to pass on:

  • your email accounts
  • social media accounts – your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts
  • any photos you have posted online, on Instagram, Flickr or other social networks
  • any bitcoins or other cryptocurrency
  • digital music, films or books, such as your library of media bought on iTunes
  • digital access to video games, bought through Steam or a similar service
  • accounts and avatars in online video games, such as characters in World of Warcraft or similar games.

You might also want to pass on the passwords for any devices you own – the code to unlock your iPad, for example.

Why pass these assets on?

Even though these assets have no physical presence, they all have some form of value, both sentimental and monetary.

For example, if you pass access to your social media or photo-sharing accounts, your surviving loved ones can memorialise you or just remove the accounts as they see fit.

Many social network sites, such as Facebook, have services for family members to have the account of a deceased relative removed, but it will be much easier for your loved ones if you actually leave the details to access the account themselves.

In terms of monetary value, an asset such as your iTunes account may have a vast library of music in it by the time you pass away, with hundreds or even thousands of pounds having been spent on it.

While anyone to whom you leave the account would be unable to recoup any of that money by selling the account (see below), it would be a shame if that library was essentially lost, like tears in rain.

How would you pass these on?

In most cases, you could quite easily pass these accounts on by just leaving the username, password and other login details to whomever you wish to benefit.

You could leave a list of these login details with your Will. Alternatively, you could keep all of your passwords in a password manager or database. This way, you will only need to pass on one master password, and you can keep all of your other passwords updated in the database.

This database can be kept on the hard drive of your computer, waiting to be accessed.

Bear in mind that by bequeathing your login details to your next of kin, you are merely passing on access to them. Passing on ownership of digital accounts is not always as straightforward as you might think, especially when it comes to libraries of music, films and other digital media.

Many digital services forbid having accounts transferred – as well as preventing users from selling their accounts, this can restrict them from passing them on after they die.

In fact, the Terms of Service for Apple’s iCloud service specifically state that “any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death”.

Digital content services will usually prevent you from transferring the content that you have paid for to someone else’s account, as you don’t technically own it – when you buy music on iTunes, you are just paying for a licence. You don’t actually own the content.

If you leave your account details with whoever you want to inherit your account, they might be able to log in and use it without the company ever realising (although, if your iTunes account is continually passed down and is still being used in 150 years, they might get suspicious).

If you don’t leave behind the login details, the inheritor could contact the company and provide them with proof of your death in an effort to get hold of the account – however, the company may delete the account and refuse to let them use it.

There may be legal challenges to these kinds of practices in the future – however, for now, it is best to make sure you have something in place to pass on your passwords when you die.

Want to learn more about making a Will and passing on your earthly goods? Talk to DAS Law about making a Will today.

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