Have you considered your digital estate?

November 2011

It is now increasingly common for people to have an “online identity” which consists not only of social networking profiles and email accounts but also online bank accounts, online investment accounts, storage of data such as photographs and music in “the cloud” and more. Have you considered what will happen to all of this information once you pass away?

Many of these digital assets will not have any tangible value; however there may be existing balances on Paypal Accounts, goodwill generated through regular use of an EBay account, balances on gambling websites or valuable online gaming characters that can be traded for money. If a testator does not consider these aspects when making their Will then they could easily go undiscovered after they pass away – resulting in the estate losing out and the value being incorrectly reported to HMRC.

A particular concern is for those who have online banking with paperless statements, resulting in no physical evidence existing of the account. How are your personal representatives going to know what assets you have when they can find no tangible evidence?

What can you do about it?

It is advisable to write a list of all of your online accounts and investments, together with account numbers for storage in a safe place. This list can be stored securely with your Will in a stored envelope only to be opened upon your death. If you store this with your solicitor they are under a duty of strict confidentiality so will not release this until such a time as it is needed and you can guarantee the security of the information.

If you decide to create such a list account details, particularly if you do this on your computer or online make sure that this list is secure and not accessible to others – you may be creating a dream list for those who would like to steal your online identity!

What about social networking and email?

A decision which testators should make when preparing a Will is what do they want to happen to their emails and social profiles after they pass away? For example there are two options on Facebook firstly, the profile is frozen and turned into an online memorial for friends and family to use and secondly that the profile is taken offline. Which would you prefer?

In terms of email, again the testator should decide what they would like to happen after they pass away. It may be that they would prefer their emails to be deleted to save unnecessary upset if there are sensitive emails, alternatively, they may look upon them as old letters stored in a desk drawer that family members may enjoy reading to bring back fond memories. If you would like your personal representatives to have access to your email you should make this clear and provide the necessary password information.

What about my digital assets such as music, photographs and films?

Ownership of digital assets is very complicated, for example items purchased from the Itunes store are “borrowed” under licence and cannot be passed on after you have passed away. This was recently brought to light by actor Bruce Willis who is trying to find a way of leaving his extensive music collection to his children.

On the other hand, if you have a collection of photographs you have taken and movies you have made stored on “the cloud” then you should specify what should happen to these digital files after your death, including providing a means of accessing the files by recording your login details.

Summary of things to consider when making as a Will:-

  • Will your personal representatives be able to locate all of your online accounts and investments?
  • Do you want to write a list of accounts together with login details?
  • What do you want to happen to your social profile?
  • What should happen to your digital assets?

For further information about making a Will please call us on 01256 354481.

We can also advise you about Inheritance Tax, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Probate

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