Your estate planning should include digital assets
YOU may know where you would like your house, shares or cash to end up when you die, but have you also included in your will details of how you want your online presence to be managed.
Paul Paxton-Hall of the legal firm Paxton-Hall said technology has given rise to a whole new world of digital assets.
"There has been a shift from people keeping photograph albums, journals and letters - physical assets that can be dealt with easily in a will - to posting and storing photographs digitally, maintaining blogs and email accounts," Mr Paxton-Hall said.
"Applying succession law to these intangible assets has its challenges as there is still uncertainty around the status of the digital assets as property.
"These assets can be particularly hard to manage when you consider the average Internet user has 26 different accounts and 10 unique passwords.
"People should pay close attention to their various digital assets when preparing wills and give thought to what they would like to happen to their digital footprint."
He noted it can be difficult to identify the ownership rights of digital assets as they are often stored, created and managed by a third-party.
"Most social media and digital platforms' user agreements do not allow users to own the property in their account," Mr Paxton-Hall said.
"Many online platforms rest in a foreign jurisdiction, meaning challenging their policies are likely to be even more stressful, expensive and time-consuming.
"Fortunately, Facebook and Google allow users to nominate a legacy contact who can access their account in the event of their death.
"When developing a digital estate plan, people need to understand who owns the asset, where it's located and how to access it."
Some practical tips for digital estate planning:
- Decide what you would like to happen to your digital assets. Will they be deleted? Memorialised? Will your family have full access?
- Create a list of your accounts and identify the policies of each platform regarding the death of a member. Facebook and Google allow people to nominate another person as a 'legacy contact' to administer a limited, memorialised account. These legacy contacts must be appointed from your account before your passing.
- If you want your loved ones to have unfettered access to your account, ensure you note down the passwords where they can access them in the event of your death. You can use a password manager such as TrueKey to manage all your passwords under a single password master key. This master password can be left with your legal representative.
- Draft a memorandum of wishes that sets out how you would like your online assets dealt with. This should include nominating someone to be the executor of your 'digital estate'.
A word of warning from Mr Paxton-Hall - with the exception of the legacy contact process, your loved ones may be in breach of some platforms' terms of service by accessing your accounts after your death.
To add a legacy contact or ensure your page is memorialised, go to Facebook help page for details - www.facebook.com/help/991335594313139/?helpref=hc_fnav
To set up a rule for your account to be managed when it becomes inactive, go to the Google Inactive Account Manager page https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3036546?hl=en