What law is in place for your digital property after you die?
The law surrounding digital property once someone dies has failed to keep up with our modern lives. In the digital age we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff that’s intangible, including our playlists, films, books and even our businesses. This makes death more complicated – consumed through service providers, online files or hosted on a cloud, it’s unclear who owns these digital assets. Here we look at the current UK law on digital assets and the privacy issues surrounding passing them on.
Law around digital assets afters someone dies in the UK
As the law on digital assets in the UK is practically non-existent, and with Probate law at the moment only acknowledging physical assets and property, people are accumulating a lot of stuff that either doesn’t belong to them or can’t be inherited.
This is intangible stuff with real monetary worth; the think tank Royal London estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, someone aged 34 today could build up a digital legacy worth up to £7,700 which can’t be passed on to friends and family.
What is a digital asset?
Again, within UK law there is no definition of a digital asset. According to the web data storage company Rackspace, we’re currently storing over £30 billion worth of media online. This media consists of:
- Email accounts (eg Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail)
- Subscription services (eg Netflix, Amazon, Spotify)
- Music and video assets
- Pictures and document storages (eg Google Drive, cloud storage)
- Gaming accounts and profiles
- Social media content (eg Facebook, Twitter)
Other digital assets such as photographs, emails, and social media profiles don’t have a strictly monetary value, but they’re important because they hold our personal stories and family histories. While they’re not worth £30 billion, there isn’t any legal framework around this kind of asset, either.
Digital property is a privacy issue
What is actually stated in law, according to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, makes the issue all the more difficult – logging into someone’s accounts or computer using their details is a criminal offence. It would be against the law, technically, for a family member to get into your computer and find those domains, or the account you held with a web hosting service, or even access your email.
This makes digital assets and property, like you’re re-issued, limited edition Stones album or the hoard of domain names that was to become your next venture investment, a privacy issue.
On top of this, emails are most likely to contain real emotional value rather than a couple of quid’s worth of the X Files episodes racked up on Netflix. Banking, utilities and other accounts are also often linked to an email address, and gaining online access to those can help when dealing with someone’s Will. The law needs to be rethought around privacy issues after someone dies, as they appear to only make the process all the more difficult for family and friends, rather than helping.
We’re not encouraging any vigilante-type behaviour, we’re just on the look out for a solutions to what UK law is yet to provide. These might be worth looking into:
- If you download the films, music or e-books onto an external hard-drive, MP3 Player or Kindle, you could then pass on these as a physical asset. You’re not allowed to pass on these assets digitally, such as through email.
- Since the Ts and Cs of some providers allow a given number of users on separate devices access to a particular account – provided they hold the same password – those you leave behind can (in theory) gain access to your film library or playlists.
Find out more
We take a look at the kinds of digital property you can’t pass on after you die here
As well as the Legal Matters surrounding death
And everything you need to know about the financial side of death