Get your head out of the clouds and protect electronic assets

by Robert Jobson

28-10-2011

Online assets could end up in a black hole or in the hands of fraudsters, if individuals do not find a secure route to pass on to their family confidential passwords and account information in their wills.

Billions of pounds worth of online assets could end up in a black hole or in the hands of fraudsters.

Research has shown that nearly half of adults in Britain now own internet-hosted assets, but many are failing to protect confidential information or finding out how to pass these assets on when they make their will.

A recently-published survey by London University’s Centre for Creative and Social Technology reveals that 44% of adults in Britain have internet banking accounts, eBay accounts or personal records such as digital photograph albums. The total value of these assets is valued at £2.3 billion.

Many of those surveyed had not drawn up a will that would protect these assets and ensure they passed on to their family. Since the assets are intangible and often not evidenced by paper files or monthly statements, there is a danger that they will be forgotten, or that the family are aware of their existence but cannot access the personal belongings because they do not know the password.

The other problem highlighted by the London University survey was that 11% of those questioned either had mentioned, or intended to mention, each account number and password explicitly in their wills, and this can give rise to a danger of fraud.
As Robert Jobson, wills  expert with Newbury solicitors Gardner Leader explained: “After a person dies, the executors named in the will must apply to the Court for confirmation of their appointment. Once the Court issues this confirmation, known as a Grant of Probate, the will is a public document; anyone can request a copy of the will and if it sets out account numbers and passwords, a fraudster could potentially gain access to those internet accounts or private documents.”

Robert Jobson went on to advise that any personal information that should not be published should be kept with the will in a separate envelope; that way it will remain secret but will not be overlooked.

He added:  “The plain fact is that there are many unregulated will writers who don’t have the specialist knowledge.  The best thing is to go to a specialist solicitor, particularly if they are a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, then you know they will be properly qualified, regulated and insured, and will give knowledgeable advice so you achieve the outcome you want.”

Current figures suggest that around 70% of the population have not made a will, leaving their dependents to deal with the complicated intestacy rules.


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