For most of us, and increasingly irrespective of age, the digital world has crept into our lives. Whether we manage our bank accounts or investments online, store our photographs in the cloud or manage our social lives through Facebook, our digital footprints are becoming deeper and deeper.
Whilst the digital world has arguably revolutionised the ability to deal with our affairs in a simple and convenient way, it has also brought with it associated problems. We have all experienced the frustration of forgetting our passwords or usernames or even the actual website itself! So, consider the difficulties that may be faced by your family or executors after you have gone in trying to piece together your online existence.
One of the most obvious practical difficulties faced by an executor or relative is trying to identify any online financial accounts operated by the deceased, particularly where ‘paperless’ statements have been selected and there is limited physical evidence of their existence.
Then, there is also the question of locating the whereabouts of precious photographs or videos stored digitally, which could end up lost forever. Historical data and family trees may also exist solely online.
It has long been seen as good practice for anyone in the process of drafting a Will to consider preparing a list of their assets – not least to provide a concise list or aide memoire for their executors. It is now also suggested that details of your online accounts should be added to this list. As well as acting as a useful guide to the whereabouts of any such accounts, the list may also provide instructions for your executors. For example, how should photographs be dispersed, once accessed? Or, should your Facebook page simply be closed or ‘memorialised’? As with all such lists, it would require regular review and update and a copy should be left with the Will. Care needs to be taken on the timing of this, as it can be the case that once institutions are advised of death, accounts are frozen / inaccessible, as most operate on a license basis, where the deceased does not own the underlying photos / content.
It is worth noting that where sizeable collections of digital music or e-books are owned, these generally cannot be transferred on death since the licences are for individuals only.
It can be useful to leave online passwords and PIN details to your executors but caution should be exercised in leaving details to your executors. Not only does this represent a possible security risk during your lifetime, but use of those details by your executors or family to access accounts after death may be caught by the Computer Misuse Act 1990. It is therefore key who you choose as your executors and any information is left to them in a secure fashion (or can be stored with your Will, which your executors are not entitled to access until after your death).
The idea of a digital legacy is more simply to ensure that your executors and family know what you own within the online sphere and can use those details to contact the providers of those accounts. They can then be dealt with according to the procedures set out by those providers. Very often, this will simply involve the usual process of providing a death certificate in the first instance along with appropriate instructions according to the prescribed options available.
Regardless of whether you are planning or updating your Will now or not, it is well worthwhile starting to think about your ‘digital legacy’.
To dicuss any of the information detailed above please contact our Probate team.