Leaving Digital Assets Through Your Will

When you’re making your will with Nolo’s Online Will, you may wonder whether you can leave your digital assets through your will. The answer is: it depends.

"Digital assets" is a broad term that includes a range of electronic records -- from social media accounts, to digital photos, to email, to online financial accounts. You can pass some types of digital assets through your will, but most digital assets transfer in other ways, or not at all.

Digital Assets That Can Pass Through Your Will

As a general rule, all digital assets that you own and that have a monetary or tangible value will be included in your estate when you die. You can use your will to determine who will get such digital assets. Examples:

  • funds in a PayPal account
  • funds owed to you by an online store like Amazon or Etsy
  • bitcoin
  • digital music or photos that you own and store on your computer's hard drive
  • frequent flyer miles (maybe, depending on the policy of the issuing company)

If you don't name a specific beneficiary for these digital assets, they will pass to your residuary beneficiary or beneficiaries.

You may also be able use your will to transfer digital assets that you have licensed, like a domain name or a copyright, but this depends on whether the terms of the licensing agreement allow transfer at death. Check your agreements, and see a lawyer if you have concerns.

Digital Assets That Cannot Pass Through Your Will

Practically speaking, most of your digital assets won't pass through your will – either because they do not have monetary or tangible value or because you do not have the right to transfer them. Usually, the value of these non-transferable digital assets comes from their practical or sentimental value to you, your family, or your executor. And often user agreements prohibit transfer to a new owner.

Examples of digital assets that won't pass through your will:

  • your email and social media accounts
  • domains that you've licensed (see above)
  • subscription accounts like Netflix or Spotify
  • tax or financial software

Here is the general rule: If it's not worth money or if you don't own it, you can't pass it through your will.

However, even if you can't pass these types of digital assets through your will, you can and should still make a plan for what happens to them after you die.

Your Executor's Access Your Digital Assets

Your executor may need access to your digital assets to pay bills, to distribute property, or to follow any instructions you leave about what to do with your online accounts. When you make a will with Nolo’s Online Will, you will document gives your executor the power to access and control all of your digital assets – including email, social media, blogs, online file storage and financial accounts. However, your executor's legal authority to handle your digital property will be restricted by:

  • state and federal laws
  • each company's terms of service agreement and
  • whether you leave instructions for accessing your accounts and files.

Read more about Why Your Executor Needs Access to Your Digital Assets.

See a lawyer if you want to restrict your executor's access

Most states are increasing the rights of executors to access the digital assets of the deceased. These laws could make it possible for your executor to get into to your accounts even if you don't leave your log-in information. If you have digital assets that you don't want your executor to access, get help from an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help you protect your privacy.

Leaving Instructions

The simplest way to ensure that your executor will be able to access your digital assets and accounts after you die is for you to leave explicit log-in information and instructions in a separate letter. That way, your executor will be able to manage your accounts without relying on government laws or company policies. You can leave this information using the Letter to Survivors, included with your will.