What are digital assets?

You don’t have to be a famous YouTube influencer or Tikwhatever star to have built up a significant digital footprint. If you’ve got a computer or a smartphone, it’s likely you’ll own digital assets in the form of photos, documents, or other content that you’ve created or that’s held online.

While not everything you own will be of interest (let alone of value) to your future beneficiaries, some professions make extensive use of digital storage and cloud service platforms to stash away their prized portfolios, including:

  • Artists, photographers, videographers and graphic designers
  • Musicians or sound effect creators
  • Games designers
  • Financial technology creators
  • Social media influencers or persons with significant online followings

These things don’t technically exist as objects that can be touched or felt as per items traditionally passed down in wills, but they do have sentimental and monetary values.

Even if you don’t come under any of these categories, you should consider whether there’s anything of value held on your Facebook, Instagram or other such social media account that you’d like to pass on.

You’ve also got to consider things that might exist physically today, like paintings, manuscripts or book but which may eventually be digitally stored.

It’s also important to distinguish between a digital asset, and a digital device used to access digital. The latter, including things like laptops, tablets etc would be classed as a physical asset rather than a digital one and subject to normal rules around tangible personal property.

Do cryptocurrencies count as digital assets?

Cryptocurrencies… every private client solicitor’s worst nightmare. While technically a digital asset, cryptocurrencies are treated completely differently to other ‘traditional’ digital assets.

The likes of BitCoin and Etherium have caused headaches for both regulators and investors alike, which is in part down to their governance – or lack thereof – and whether or not they are considered an asset. Most cryptocurrencies are also not based in any one country, which makes deciding which jurisdiction they fall under difficult if not impossible.

It’s typically not enough to distribute cryptocurrencies in a will. This is because most cryptocurrencies are accessed using a digital wallet that is, in turn, managed by a third party whose Terms of Use must be abided by. If an executor were to access the deceased’s digital wallet, this could hold them in breach of these terms, as well as any local computer misuse laws.

Cryptocurrencies are a complex area of wills and estate planning and if you’re lucky or shrewd enough to have significant wealth built up in them, it’s worth having a look at our dedicated cryptoassets article.

Bitcoin digital assets
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