Bitcoin, one of many digital assets, but at what value?

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The community of virtual currency users are in uproar after Craig Wright's recent claim to be the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin (the world's leading digital currency). The continuing debate, whilst interesting, may not be as immediately important to you as the value of digital assets you hold and the importance of knowing what may happen to them after you die. 

The role of your personal representatives

Your personal representatives (PRs) are the people who have legal responsibilities for administering your assets. They can be either executors (where you have made a Will) or administrators (where there is no Will). By planning ahead, you can ensure that your personal representatives know what assets you have and how to access them, this is especially important where you hold digital assets that may require passwords and additional information to be accessed.

Sentimental or financial

Digital assets have particular considerations. You should look at whether assets such as photographs, blogs and tweets have only sentimental and not financial value, if purely sentimental you should consider including them as part of a general gift of personal possessions in your Will. If they have more than sentimental value for example because there is valuable copyright in photos they may be included separately in your Will and your Executors given specific powers to deal with them.

Online accounts

When you create an online account, such as Facebook, you sign up to the standard terms and conditions of the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Although most terms and conditions acknowledge the intellectual property rights of the account holder, they will often grant the ISP the right to use your account for the duration of the contract with the individual account holder.

Copyright

There is likely to be an element of copyright in many of the digital assets created by you through online accounts used. The original content of an email, blog, artwork or photographs could be capable of benefiting from copyright protection. On the death of the account holder, copyright in any assets held online passes to the deceased’s PRs who will hold it together with the other estate assets on behalf of the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Practical points to help your digital afterlife

  • Make it as easy as possible for your PRs to locate any PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, Kindle and MP3 devices.
  • Maintain  good records:
    • keep a record of your digital life with an online legacy locker company;
    • ensure bank statements are well organised as these will show if there are any payments relating to digital assets, both regular and one-off payments;
    • Tell select friends or relatives about the existence of your digital assets.
    • On writing your Will, ensure you review your digital assets and instruct a specialist if you are concerned.

Your PRs should:

  1. Check the terms and conditions of ISPs and what can be transferred on death. It is crucial to determine what assets the deceased owned, and what is merely a licence that ceases on death.
  2. Research how to transfer or download digital assets owned.
  3. Research memorialising accounts – particularly important for social media and sentimental value.
  4. Have assets that are worth cash valued. This is an evolving area and may require specialist valuers to be instructed.

For more information on digital assets, probate or the administration of estates, please contact Louise Lewis, Blake Morgan's specialist in digital assets.