Professionals discuss dealing with digital assets

Last month the Law Society stressed the importance of including ‘digital assets’ in Wills after research reveals that three quarters of people do not know what happens to their online presence after they die.

Today’s Wills and Probate asks experts in the industry their experiences in dealing with digital assets and what provisions they have made.

Ruth Pyatt, Senior Associate at Nicholsons Solicitors and Director of SFE, the membership organisation for specialist lawyers who support older and vulnerable people, explains the importance of including digital assets in your will to ensure your loved ones are able to access vital information when you die. She said:

“With many of our daily activities now taking place online, including banking, shopping and socialising, I encourage my clients to regularly maintain and keep record of their personal details to ensure family and friends are able to access their online accounts when they pass away.

“Storing this data can minimise the stress and anxiety for those dealing with a bereavement and help speed up the process of dealing with end-of-life admin.

“Many people are unaware that Facebook allows you to nominate a legacy contact who can choose to close or memorialise an account when you die. This allows relatives to access important memories and details on your passing and is something I urge all people to consider when arranging their digital assets”.

Nick Cousins, CEO of Exizent commented:

“Exizent was founded on the belief that bereavement should be easier for everyone to deal with. We also believe it’s a process that should evolve in line with how the world around us is changing, especially when it’s possible to harness technology to achieve this. In this digital era, as our lives have moved online and on screen, so too has how we store and access our personal assets. Be it family memories or financial accounts, peoples’ digital footprints are growing rapidly and becoming a vital aspect of the future of will writing.

“It is the responsibility of the wills and probate industry to continuously innovate and ensure its provisions are fit for purpose. There are solutions to outdated processes and systems, and any form of innovation the grants the bereaved with the most simple experience of handling the death of a loved one should be welcomed.”

Leigh Sagar, a STEP member and digital assets expert is concerned about the way that the president put his statement. He said:

“It is important that people do properly plan for the administration of digital assets on death and incapacity. This is not always a simple matter because not all information has a proprietary nature. For instance, digital files such as videos and photographs are not property themselves, although there are property rights, such as copyright, that are associated with them. Most of the digital assets that a solicitor will encounter are internet service contracts with companies like PayPal, Google and Microsoft, and the terms of these contracts need to be considered. I would urge people to use an inventory, setting out accounts, computers and cryptoassets that are used and owned, together with any usernames; the STEP Digital Assets Special Interest Group, of which I am chair, provides a sample Inventory for its members to use. Caution should be exercised about asking people to add passwords to the inventory, or to advise executors and attorneys and deputies to apply usernames and passwords of deceased persons or those without capacity, because they might be guilty of an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1982.”

Today's Wills and Probate