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Millions lost in digital assets when owners die

A UK charity has highlighted the fact that millions of pounds worth of digital assets are lost every year because they are not included in wills.

Remember a Charity conducted research into how the dying deal with digital music, photography and online bank accounts and found that although 80 oer cent of us have such things, less than ten per cent of us have considered what to do with them when we turn up our toes.

With digital music collections in the UK alone worth in excess of £9 billion, and most of them locked up on password-protected PCs and other devices, those valuable assets are simply lost if details on how to access them are not included in wills.

The research questioned 2,000 folk about their digital posessions and found that 74 per cent placed sentimental value on their music and photo collections and 80 per cent thought they were financially valuable. Yet only nine per cent had considered including them among assets to be distributed after their demise.

More than half also said their computers contained important domestic and personal information which could not be accessed by family members.

Charity Director Rob Cope 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."

More than half of those questioned said thay owned a digital music collection, ten per cent of those having cost in excess of £1,000.

Twenty per cent of smartphone owners, which made up a third of the sample group, said their app collections were worth more than £100.

Wendy Moncur, a computer scientist working on the subject of digital legacies said, “Early indications are that this is an area that most people simply haven’t considered. 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.”

Last year, experts in social networking, data management and bereavement called for sites such as Google, Facebook and MySpace to agree a common policy for dealing with users' data after their death. Nothing's happened yet.