Digital assets in estate planning

By Jonathon Naef

Content outline

  1. Introduction to digital estate planning
  2. What are digital assets?
  3. Challenges of managing digital assets.
  4. Legal developments and considerations.
  5. Steps to, and advice on including digital assets in your estate plan.
  6. Why Balance Family Law?

Introduction to digital estate planning

In the rapidly evolving landscape of the digital age, our lives have become intricately intertwined with technology and online spaces. We store sentimentally and financially important and valuable information, “digital assets”, on devices and online, protected by passwords and other authentication methods. This all helps make our lives easier, but complexities and issues can arise when we die. It is, therefore, important that we consider digital assets as part of an estate plan.

This article will cover what digital assets are, the challenges that arise in the context of estate planning, and provide some practical tips in setting up your estate plan to assist your loved ones in accessing your digital assets, once you’re gone.

What are digital assets?

Understanding the nature and variety of digital assets is the first step toward effective estate planning in the digital age. Digital assets encompass a broad spectrum of intangible possessions stored electronically. This can include: 

  • Social media accounts: such as your presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and OnlyFans, and the content uploaded and income streams that may result from those accounts.
  • Email accounts: access to critical communication and information channels, both personally and for your work.
  • Digital files: documents, photos, videos, NFTs, and other multimedia stored on computers or in the cloud.
  • Cryptocurrencies: such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.
  • Domain names: the names of websites you may own (such as for a business).

Intellectual property: digital rights to music, art, or written content.

Challenges in managing digital assets

Despite the growing significance of digital assets, their management poses unique challenges. Recognising these challenges is essential for developing strategies to address them in your estate plan: Some key hurdles in managing digital assets include:

  1. Assess issues: password-protected accounts can become inaccessible, leading to potential loss of valuable information or assets.
  2. Lack of awareness: many people overlook digital assets in estate planning due to a lack of awareness or understanding of their value, or an assumption that they will be dealt with in a particular way by default.
  3. Evolution of technology: technological advancements make it challenging to keep estate plans updated with the latest developments

The legal landscape surrounding digital assets is continually evolving. Several jurisdictions are introducing legislation to address the complexities associated with digital inheritance. Here are some legal considerations:

  1. Digital estate laws: some jurisdictions have enacted laws that specifically address the management and inheritance of digital assets. Importantly, some digital assets may be held subject to the laws of a specific country, even if you do not live in that country.
  2. Terms of service agreements: the terms and conditions that you agree to when using digital platforms often have information about who owns the content held on the platform, and what happens when a user dies.

And of course, where you have concerns about what will happen to your digital assets when you pass away, consult a lawyer who can provide advice to you on your options.

Steps to, and advice on including digital assets in your estate plan

The loss of access to a deceased loved one’s digital assets and accounts can hinder the closure process for grieving family members. Some tips and advice on how to include digital assets in your estate plan include:

  1. Communicate your wishes: clearly communicate your digital asset management preferences to your loved ones.
  2. Inventory your digital assets: create a comprehensive list of all your digital assets, including login credentials and any relevant instructions.
  3. Choose a “digital executor”: where allowed by the platform, designate someone to manage your digital assets in your absence. Ensure they have the technical knowledge to navigate digital platforms.
  4. Secure important information: store passwords, PINs, and access keys in a secure manner, perhaps in a digital vault accessible to your digital executor.
  5. Update it regularly: revisit your digital estate plan periodically to account for changes in your digital asset portfolio. 

Also, explore services that specialise in digital estate planning, offering secure storage for passwords and instructions. At Balance, we have a digital estate vault where you can readily access, store and arrange the distribution of your digital estate.

Why Balance Family Law?

The integration of digital assets into your estate planning is a crucial step in ensuring the seamless transition of your digital legacy. As we navigate the complexities of the digital age, it’s vital to stay informed, address challenges, and take proactive measures

Don’t leave your digital legacy to chance—take control and plan for the future. For personalised advice and expert assistance in crafting a robust digital estate plan, contact us at Balance Family Law for the expertise you need to secure your digital assets and leave a lasting legacy for your loved ones.

Article by Jonathon Naef, Senior Lawyer, Wills & Estates Team Leader and Co-Founder of Balance Family Law

Jonathon has a Master of Laws (Applied Law) Majoring in Estate Planning from the College of Law, and has experience in simple and complex matters surrounding family law and wills and estate matters, including:

  • Wills
  • Testamentary trusts
  • Trust succession
  • Company succession
  • Self-managed superannuation funds succession
  • Superannuation death benefits
  • Powers of Attorney, Guardianship and Conservatorship
  • Probate and estate administration
  • Collaborative estate law
  • Binding financial agreements
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Outside of Balance, I am an adjunct lecturer and assessor with the College of Law in the ACT. In this role, I lecture and mentor future lawyers in the ACT and surrounding regions, as they complete their Practical Legal Training (which is the course you are required to complete to be able to practice as a lawyer).

When I am not lawyering I love to travel and have already made it to 18 countries across Europe and Asia. My personal goal is to travel to every continent, including Antarctica. My favourite destination so far is Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, where I skydived over the Swiss Alps!

My innovative approach to law has seen me, and Balance Family Law recognised with over 23 national and international awards and accolades since 2020 including the prestigious Lawyer’s Weekly Family Law Partner of the Year 2021, Australian Law Awards Sole Practitioner of the Year 2021, Australian Law Awards Boutique Law Firm of the Year 2020 and the Gold Ausmumpreneur Award for a Service Business in 2020 and 2021. I have also received consecutive Chief Minister’s Awards for Excellence for my work with families and children on the frontline during my time working in child protection. In 2022 and 2023, I was invited to be a Judge at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards, and Partner of the Year Awards, and the National Ausmumpreneur Awards.

As one of Australia’s most respected family lawyers and a gamechanger in the lawyer space, I look forward to working with you to navigate this challenging time in your life.