Digital assets in will disputes

Published 25 May 2016

In today's worlds, many of our most valuable assets are digital by nature. From photos on a hard drive to online bank accounts, the digital age is truly transforming how we buy, store and exchange products.

Australians, like many countries around the world, is pushing further into the digital world. In a recent study from the NSW Trustee & Guardian published by the Sydney Morning Herald, nine in 10 Australians have some kind of social media account, yet four out of five people have not discussed with their loved ones what will happen to their accounts after they die.

Yet, digital assets can form key parts of an estate. But are they treated the same as tangible property and how do the courts treat digital assets when a will is being contested?

Digital assets in will contests

A digital asset is defined as anything that is stored on a digital device, for instance a computer that stores documents, emails and music. Additionally, it also includes assets that are stored online, in an online shopping account for example.

Digital assets are treated the same by the courts as any other tangible assets. Whether it is a Facebook page or an online shopping account, if you are contesting a will, you will be able to access these assets.

Many people do not see the value of these. Yet, losing a loved one can be hard. If you are unable to control their digital legacy, you may not be able to ensure your interests and their's are protected.

On the other hand, many digital assets can be worth a large sum of money. If for example, the loved one had an online shopping account or an ongoing blog, these may have credit attached or be worth large sums of money due to advertising.

However, there are a number of limitations. For instance, if the individual did not leave behind passwords in a will to online accounts or social media pages, you may not be able to access them.

In cases involving digital assets, it is essential you talk to lawyers who have experience contesting wills. At Gerard Malouf and Partners, we offer a no win no fee guarantee that does away with large upfront costs and instead, remuneration is attained through your successful settlement.

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