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Who will guard your digital assets?

Jan 14, 2014
As Amazon launches its own virtual currency, the Amazon Coin and Apple’s iTunes passes its four billionth download, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about what happens to their digital assets after they have passed away. Barry Rogers, Head of Private Clients at Tollers provides advice.

With an increasing portion of our assets being held, managed or recorded digitally, there is a new challenge for those looking to pass these assets to the next generation. Precious items such as family photographs are increasing being held in virtual drives. Shelves of records and CDs have been replaced by online playlists and important documents are now scanned images held in the cloud.

“With the increasing popularity of e-mails, social media, music downloads, online shopping and banking, it is necessary to consider what happens to your ‘digital inheritance’, when you pass away,” says Barry. “Unfortunately, there is currently no legislation that would regulate what happens to your ‘digital assets’ following your death.  Your executors are left at the mercy of the individual companies and account providers and their policies on dealing with deceased customers and their accounts.”

For example, Google’s terms and conditions give their users the option to plan what happens to their account once they have passed away. This can include providing access to certain e-mails to some of your loved ones or, for example, having your account automatically deleted if there is no activity for a certain number of months.

On the other hand, Yahoo and Facebook will not provide any data to any party other than the original account holder without a formal Court order. This can be very distressing, as relatives may wish to gain access to your photographs and other personal digital mementoes. Is there, therefore, any way of bequeathing all your photos and e-mails to your loved ones?

“You should consider leaving a ‘digital Will’ that contains the details of all your online accounts, including usernames and passwords, together with instructions for your executors what you would wish to happen to the digital content”, said Rogers. ”Your digital Will should be contained in a separate document from your standard Will, as your normal Will becomes a publicly accessible document, when you die, and thus anybody could gain access to your login details."

“Likewise, all executors, when administering an estate, need to consider whether there are any online accounts that need to be dealt with. These can include, for example, online gambling accounts that could contain significant sums of money won by the deceased. Without the knowledge of the existence of such accounts, the beneficiaries could be deprived of the benefit of such funds.”

It is therefore important when making a Will that you also consider your digital inheritance and that you update both your standard and digital Will at regular intervals to ensure that they reflect your financial and personal affairs accurately.

For more information, please visit www.tollers.co.uk or e-mail barry.rogers@tollers.co.uk.

About Barry Rogers

Barry Rogers heads up Tollers LLP’s Wills, Tax and Estate Planning team.  Barry specialises in trusts and estate administration, wills, tax planning, Court of Protection and elderly and vulnerable client issues. 

Barry is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and the Private Client section of the Law Society. He is a Panel Deputy, appointed by the Office of the Public Guardian to administer the affairs of people who lack capacity. He is also a Notary Public and undertakes work for private individuals and for commercial firms engaged in international trade. 

Photo: Barry Rogers


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