Digital Assets and Estate Planning

Digital Assets and Estate Planning

28 February, 2018 by Gilson Gray in Blog

If, like me, you have spent the last few months reading about and watching the boom in crypto currencies, you may also have questions about what happens with these assets after you die.

Crypto currencies are digital assets, designed to work as a medium of exchange. They use cryptography[1] to secure and complete transactions, control the creation of additional units, and to verify the transfer of assets between users. Crypto currencies use decentralised control and, as such, do not use a central banking system. Instead, a “blockchain”[2] keeps an overview of both units and ownership. The most commonly known and commonly used crypto currency is currently Bitcoin, but the likes of Ethereum, Ripple, and Litecoin have also emerged in the last decade and have grown exponentially in both consumer use and market capitalisation.

Digital assets would, like any asset, form part of your estate for assessing its value and calculating any IHT liability. Unless otherwise specified, they would also form part of the residue[3] of your estate under the terms of your Will.

However, unlike your personal wallet where you would open it to find notes, cash, and debit/credit cards, crypto-currencies are held in a digital wallet. This would be held online under your name but would require a username and password to access the contents, though like your smart phone, these may also be opened with facial or fingerprint recognition. All of this begs the question of how your executors would gain access to any digital wallets.

One option would be to include the login information within your Will, allowing your executors access to anything held within digital wallets. However, Wills become public documents upon the testator’s death and this, therefore, is not advisable. Another option would be to include the login information within a Letter of Wishes, which would be read by your executors to determine your wishes upon death, but not become a public document in the way that the Will would. The modern and secure alternative would be to hold any information relating to your digital assets in a Digital Assets Inventory[4]. Providers such as PasswordBox or LegacyArmour would securely hold any important information (usernames, passwords, etc.) about your digital assets to ensure security in life and allow your executors to gain access to these after your death.

The topic of login information is also relevant when considering other digital assets, such as software, domain names, and social media profiles. In the most basic form, you may wish your executors to close down or memorialise your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profile. However, in the case of social media personalities (bloggers, vloggers, and influencers) there may be a considerable amount of good will and presence associated with social media accounts, websites, or video channels and this may be something that you have specific instructions for the management or deletion of after your death. In this case, it would certainly be worth expressing these wishes in your testamentary writings.

As technology and the nature of assets moves into the modern era, the law must reflect this and, at Gilson Gray, our Private Client team understand the complex nature of digital assets.

If you would like to discuss putting a Will in place to protect your digital assets, please get in touch with our Private Client team at

[1] Cryptography, in the modern era, is the practice of secure communications based on mathematical theory and computer science designed to prevent third parties from accessing information between users.

[2] A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records which are linked and secured using cryptography. It is an open ledger that records transactions between parties in a verifiable and permanent way.

[3] The residue is any portion of an estate that is not specifically passed to someone in the will, or property that is part of a specific legacy that fails.

[4] A Digital Assets Inventory is simply a document that captures the information relating to your digital assets.


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Glen Gilson
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Ryan Macready
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