“Digital Assets: A call to action” legacy report released

STEP and the Microsoft-funded Cloud Legal Project at Queen Mary University of London have collaborated on a joint research project into estate practitioner views on, and experiences with, digital assets. The aim is to understand the:

Extent to which practitioners deal with digital assets,
Risks and challenges posed by digital assets to estate planning and administration, and
Measures practitioners are taking to assist clients with digital assets.

We surveyed STEP’s global membership and the results provide valuable insights into the experiences of practitioners and their clients.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • Digital assets have become a common part of estate planning and administration
  • Clients frequently experience difficulties accessing digital assets on death or incapacity of a family member
  • Law reform is needed to enable effective estate planning, and
  • There is a need for greater education for practitioners on best practices for dealing with digital assets.

It is clear from the findings that very few practitioners feel that there is a straightforward process for accessing digital assets stored in the cloud in their jurisdiction and many have found service providers to be ‘uncooperative’ when they cannot access accounts.

The five cloud providers most frequently mentioned by clients were Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Dropbox. In June this year, Apple announced plans to introduce a digital legacy function that will allow a nominated individual to access someone’s data if they die. Facebook was the first social media giant to introduce a similar function in 2015 allowing relatives of a deceased to ‘inherit’ their account. However, significant work still needs to be undertaken in this area since the majority of practitioners feel that third-party service providers can present practical, procedural and legal obstacles to both estate planning and administration.

Accessing digital assets after a loved one’s death has become a widespread and global challenge for estate planners. As digital assets become more prevalent and our lives become increasingly entwined with digital technologies, the need for effective solutions becomes ever more critical. The report concludes that practitioners, service providers and governments will all need to update their policies, practices and procedures to resolve some of the challenges and enable effective estate planning and administration.

The report, ‘Digital Assets: A Call to Action,’ recommends a threefold approach based on education, collaboration and legislation to address the challenges. STEP intends to engage with governments and service providers globally to produce industry solutions and best practices that will help families plan for their futures with certainty and clarity. In the meantime, STEP is urging members and their clients to carefully consider digital assets and their legacy options during the estate planning and administration process.

Today's Wills and Probate