Millions of pounds at risk as people overlook “digital assets”

30 March 2011

Millions of pounds a year risk simply being lost as the UK fails to include online bank accounts and music collections when writing a will, according to a report published today.

Dying in a Digital Age, commissioned by Remember A Charity, reveals that four in five people (80%) own digital assets, but only 9% have considered how they will pass these on when they die.

With the nation’s digital music collections alone worth an estimated £9001 million, valuable possessions could be lost if they are not passed on.

Encrypted bank accounts that are password protected can also leave executors unable to access assets.

The report of 2,000 people also shows that surprisingly few people have considered how they will pass on their “digital possessions” given their financial and sentimental value.

  • 74% said their digital music and photo collections had strong sentimental value
  • 80% said their digital assets were financially valuable
  • Over half said information held online or on personal computers contained important domestic and personal details.

And it is the over fifty-fives who value their digital assets more highly than any other age group according to the report, with 83% saying they have strong sentimental value and 89% financial value.

Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity said: “Bank accounts, music and photograph collections are increasingly stored online. This report shows that we should all take a moment to think about our own digital footprint and who we’ll pass it on to. We commissioned the research to encourage more people to think about writing a will in general and whether they’d like to leave a charitable gift. As a nation we are incredibly charitably minded with 75% of us regularly giving to charities in our lifetimes but only 7% of us currently leave charitable donations when writing a will.

“To help people consider how they’d like to pass on their digital possessions we have produced a simple Digital Legacy Checklist which can be downloaded from our website from today.”

The research shed further light on the digital assets of Britons today.

  • Over half of respondents (56%) said they have a digital music collection, with 45% valuing it at over £100 and 10% at over £1,000.
  • A third of people own Smartphone Apps (34%) with 20% saying their collections are worth over £100.

Wendy Moncur, a computer scientist, has been interested in the subject of digital legacies for some time and was recently awarded a three year post doctoral grant to research the subject at the University of Dundee, working alongside the Centre for Death and Society at The University of Bath.

“Early indications are that this is an area that most people simply haven’t considered,” said Wendy Moncur. “Yet there are enormous implications. The bereaved may find that they cannot access important online possessions that belonged to the deceased. Aside from the financial value, there is ever-increasing sentimental value in people’s online possessions. For example, photos were traditionally kept in albums, but more and more are now stored online.

“Families risk losing these precious memories if arrangements are not made to ensure that they are passed on. Internet service providers and photo sharing sites do not necessarily give the bereaved access to the deceased’s online account – the situation varies across service providers.”