What Happens to Your Digital Assets When You Die?

By Sarah Lockyer


Digital assets have become a strong talking point over past weeks. One of the founders of Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange died suddenly without leaving any digital keys for his cryptocurrency wallet. 

This meant that the company he founded was unable to access millions of Canadian dollars’ worth of digital currency. In another recent case, a young widow sought to have access to her late husband’s photographs on iCloud. 

What are Digital Assets?

Digital assets can be anything which is which is accessible on a digital appliance and has no physical presence. This can include any online files, media, digital music, photos and cryptocurrency which you can access on devices such as your laptop or mobile phone. 

With the growth of artificial intelligence, many platforms are moving online and it is increasingly common for people to store and access their personal documents and accounts online. 

Digital Assets and Estate Planning

It is probably true to say that the law has been slow to adapt and deal with what happens to digital assets when you die. 

After you die, your executors are in charge of administering your estate and therefore require knowledge and access to all the assets you hold whether digital or not. 

Without basic information, it can be very time consuming and difficult to access digital assets and can leave some assets inaccessible. Although your executors have authority to deal with these, practically it is often difficult to do so if you possess complex digital assets; so it would be wise when to ensure that at least one of your executors will be able to deal with your digital affairs.

When planning your estate, it is important to understand what assets you hold digitally. Information such as passwords, account log-ins and digital keys for cryptocurrency wallets should be written down and stored in a safe place. This important part of estate planning is often overlooked but can cause problems if not considered. 

This list does not need to be shared with anyone prior to your death and can be kept confidential, but your executors should be made aware of its location so that when they administer your estate they are able to access this information easily.

Once you have written your list it is important that you review it regularly in case you change any passwords or acquire any more digital assets – that way these can be accounted for. 

When preparing your will, you should consider what you would like to happen with your digital assets after you die. 

For example, you may wish to make provisions in your Will to leave a specific digital asset to a beneficiary. Whether ownership of the digital asset can be passed would depend on your internet service provider and therefore pre-planning and research is key.

Some providers enable you to put in place arrangements to enable someone to access your account in the event of your death and so it is worth checking the particular website or provider to see if they have done this.