Digital assets, like any other asset, can be categorised. You might want to do this to, firstly help you understand the scope of your estate, and secondly to help you list these sensibly when compiling your legacy. By reviewing your list against the list we have provided in our resources section, you can be reasonably confident that you will have covered most of your potential digital assets. Of course, no list is finite and as new technologies change [Link] and new ones emerge, so do ways in which they might be categorised.
Let’s firstly be clear though that in this post we are talking about categorisation of Digital Assets and not the mechanisms to access those assets such as Accounts, nor the Devices upon which the assets might reside. See here for a list of the different types.
Two Broad Categories
By and large, digital assets can be divided into two broad categories; Business and Personal.
Business Digital Assets are owned by a business, such as customer contact details, software products, Internet domains, photos, videos, websites etc. As a director of a company or a partnership, you may have control over these assets, but they are not technically owned by you. However, depending on your business arrangements and perhaps how the business is run, following your death how these assets are treated may determine whether the business survives you or is wound up. In any case, it may be important for you to take these assets into account when compiling your estate. A word of warning; if you are an employee of a business, assets such as personal emails, documents or photos stored on your employer’s computers etc would not ordinarily be available to your estate and would likely be deleted on your departure.
Personal Digital Assets are those that are owned by you and available for you to control or have access to perhaps through a third party. These could include videos, photos, emails, websites, blogs, personal messages, social media messages, digital drawings etc. These could naturally form part of your estate and should be listed accordingly.
For both personal and business, it may be necessary to consider that some assets might be jointly owned. In business, ownership would normally be clearly defined contractually, although not always. This may depend on the style of the business and its activities. Personal joint ownership for tangible assets such as a house, flat is usually enshrined in a contract of ownership, but not usually so for smaller or lesser value items. In most cases, this is unlikely to be an issue and the same applies for digital assets. It is something worth considering though when collating your estate. Who really owns that video on YouTube you created with your friend that went viral?
Further Ownership Complications
Ownership may also be further complicated by the terms and conditions of access to content that you may have created on-line. Often posts and content uploaded to Social sites are considered “owned” by the company running the service. Ownership may not have been particularly apparent when you first signed up and could cause issue down the line for your executors trying to carry out your wishes.
Why Make the Distinction?
It is important to make the distinction between these two types of assets as they will be treated differently within your estate and will undoubtedly require you to consider them differently when planning ahead. Read more about how to go about creating an inventory of your digital assets.