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Technology and succession planning – What will happen to your digital estate?


Technology and succession planning – What will happen to your digital estate?

For the vast majority of the population our lives are increasingly consumed by digital technology, social media and the internet. It is thought that at least 85% of the UK population now use the internet on a daily basis. The use of technology, including artificial intelligence, is set to have an ever increasing presence in our daily lives, but have you ever thought about what will happen to your digital accounts after your death, when considering your succession planning?

Digital accounts take many forms, from your personal email accounts, social media, paypal accounts and  assets such as online only banking accounts, or the use of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.  Your family may be aware of assets that you own such as your house, business, bank and investment accounts, but how many of us have made our family aware of our email or online investment accounts or online subscriptions such as ITunes, Apps and social media sites?

Although social media accounts may have no monetary value, the content of photographs and posts can have huge sentimental value to family members and friends. Family members may wish to have access to the content, but at the same time protect the deceased’s identity from misuse and identity fraud.

Digital assets, such as bitcoin and paypal accounts, may have a monetary value, which must be disclosed to the Courts and HMRC on your death. The Executors appointed under your Will are accountable to the Courts, HMRC and the beneficiaries to disclose and realise your entire estate, but without the knowledge of such digital assets, their position can be constrained.

At the moment there is virtually no legislation in the UK which governs how an individual’s digital lives are to be dealt with on their death.  Matters are further complicated by the fact that the vast majority of companies which administer online assets and social media sites are based in foreign countries, where they are governed by the laws of a foreign jurisdiction. Many digital asset, internet and social media providers have their own terms and conditions which must be followed when someone dies and these vary significantly. For example, Facebook allows an account to be memorialised or closed after death.  Google currently require the Executor, or a family member, to complete various online forms at which point Google will decide to close the account, but will only release personal data from the email account if they deem it to be appropriate. Therefore, if you have an online bank account where all correspondence is only sent to you by email, your Executors may never be made aware of the account, to the detriment of your beneficiaries.

So what can you do to assist your family on your death or incapacity?
 

  • When considering who you wish to appoint as an Executor, think about appointing someone who is computer literate and has an insight into social media platforms and online accounts.
  • Make sure that your Power of Attorney contains a power to allow your Attorneys access to any online accounts and subscription
  • Keep a list of all your online accounts and subscriptions, and make sure that this is always kept up to date. There are now companies available online who will provide you with an “online safety deposit box” to store information on digital assets and passwords for a fee. Care however should be taken to check the legitimacy of such companies before such information is handed over.
  • Add a Clause to your Will which allows your Executors to deal with your digital assets, internet and social media accounts as they deem appropriate. This will provide flexibility to your Executors when administering your digital estate.
  • Familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of the digital asset provider and social media sites to make sure that you are aware of what will happen to your personal information on your death. This will allow you the opportunity to make any necessary arrangements during your lifetime, if you are uncomfortable with how the asset will be dealt with on your death.

 

With the ever increasing use of technology in every day life it is clear that our digital lives will expand further and the need to make sure that there is adequate planning for our digital estate will increase. We may in the future have legislation which will assist  with the administration of a person’s digital estate and perhaps, the use of sophisticated digital searches to locate assets and social media accounts, but until such time individuals should carefully consider what digital assets they have in place, and the mechanisms that are available to them to assist their Executors on their death.

Stephanie Pratt is an Associate in our Private Client team. If you require any advice on succession planning, including reviewing your Will or Inheritance Tax Planning, please contact Stephanie on 01334 659755 or alternatively contact  any member of our Private Client team.

Posted by Stephanie Pratt

Associate

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