McHale & Co. Solicitors Blog

Your Digital Legacy

Most people are aware of the importance of making a Will to deal with your physical assets; however the shift in cultural behaviour and the increasing reliance on the digital world has not yet been reflected in the Private Client sector. Too often digital assets are lost, inaccessible or quite simply their existence not known about due to a lack of provisions set out in the deceased’s lifetime. The problem going forward appears to be two fold, how can adequate steps be taken to ensure that your executors can deal with your digital assets in a stress free manner and how can you successfully bequeath any digital assets you may own.

In a relatively short amount of time, the Internet has moved from an occasional tool to one of the principal ways we communicate, entertain ourselves, and manage our lives. The duration of time spent on the Internet has resulted in many of us creating an online platform aiding us to deal with our affairs. However without a plan for digital inheritance and without usernames and passwords, problems can occur for your executors when left to deal with your affairs. As it is an executor’s duty to gather in all assets of the deceased’s estate, necessary information required to access online accounts can be crucial in not only ensuring all assets are accounted for but also to prevent identity theft or ongoing liabilities.

Unfortunately the solution may not be as simple as leaving your log-in details directly to somebody you trust. While executors may be permitted access to a deceased’s online account by some companies, if a person dies without a Will many companies may refuse to grant the next of kin access to those assets. Meaning that, without knowing it, you may find yourself breaking the law.

It appears that the challenge is to keep the information up-to-date, hidden, safe and yet accessible when the time comes. The Law Society recommends leaving a personal assets log in a sealed envelope with the firm of Solicitors who made your Will. As long as this was regularly updated, you could nominate the persons you wish to have access to this information either on losing mental capacity or on death. Additionally if you felt uncomfortable about your passwords being written down in such a way there are also third parties who offer online password management services and claim to securely store user names and passwords.

As technology has evolved, our digital estates have grown in turn. Money is being held in accounts like PayPal, photos stored on websites such as Dropbox and Flickr, music downloads have overtaken CD sales and the Kindle has decimated book sales. It is now more important than ever to know how you can successfully gift these electronic assets and avoid falling foul of some rather bemusing company policies. PayPal for instance, will close accounts and transfer the balance to a Luxembourg holding account when the account has been inactive for a certain period of time. Similarly Dropbox and Flickr may delete all your files after 90 days of inactivity.

It is often misconceived that when you buy songs, videos and ebooks online, you now own that property; this however is not the case. These are merely licences to use the website’s services and as a general rule, licences are specific to an individual and therefore are not transferable. This type of property will terminate on death and not form part of the deceased’s estate.

However there are digital assets which can be bequeathed. Cash held in online accounts such as Amazon and PayPal form part of your estate and can be specifically referred to in a Will. Increasingly you may own digital assets which hold a monetary value due to intellectual property rights, this could include copyright in artwork or domains. Where this is the case, it is important to include a separate clause in your will with respect to these assets.

As technology has evolved, so has the way we store information. By making your wishes clear now, it will be easier for your loved ones to not only recover all assets but to generally deal with the digital segments of your estate as smoothly as possible. This is however a developing area of law and if you wish to make sure your that your digital assets are dealt with in the best possible way contact us now at mch@mchaleandco.co.uk or on 0161 928 3848.

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