During our lives, many of us will take steps to assist those dealing with our estates after our death. However one matter which is often overlooked during estate planning is our ‘digital assets’. If you are active in cyberspace, managing your digital assets should be considered in the same way as your physical assets. Taking control of your digital legacy now can ensure your accounts are protected and your loved ones are in control.
Digital assets can vary from bank and email accounts to social media profiles and smart phone logins. It also includes downloaded collections of music and books. Such downloads cannot be inherited in the same way as hard copies so it is important to ensure that the right people can gain access to them when necessary.
A number of online institutions have recognised the need for forward planning. For example, Facebook has introduced a ‘Legacy Contact’ feature. This feature allows you to nominate a trusted person who can take control of your profile if you pass away. After providing evidence of the death, your nominated contact can choose to remove your profile or have your profile memorialised. By setting up a Legacy Contact and communicating your preferences, family members can take comfort in knowing they are following your wishes.
Not all institutions do have such processes in place however. For example, Yahoo accounts have no right of survivorship. This means that nobody can gain access to an account after the owner has died if they do not have the relevant username and password. If important information or sentimental photographs were stored on such an account, this could cause a difficult issue for those dealing with your estate.
Before determining how to access your accounts, those involved will need to be aware of your various digital assets. It is important to ensure that those administering your estate are able to establish how digitally connected you have been throughout your lifetime. A smart way to manage this is to keep a simple log book which details your online accounts. This log book can be kept securely with your Will at your solicitor’s office and only accessed by those appointed to deal with your estate after your death. This log book can be updated throughout your life to ensure its accuracy.
An additional factor to consider is that it is not only after death that family members may need to access our digital assets. If a person were to become incapacitated, family members may require access to various online accounts, particularly financial accounts. The best way to manage this risk is to put Lasting Powers of Attorney in place whilst you have capacity. This provides a trusted person with the authority to access your accounts in this event.
Advance planning in relation to your digital assets not only provides peace of mind during our lifetimes, but it also eases the potential burden for our loved ones at a later date.
For more information on this or any other issue relating to your digital legacy, please contact Helena Taylor.