Administering the estate of a deceased person can be a difficult job, even with access to all of the relevant information regarding their assets and liabilities. This information helps to piece together an image of the value of the estate. However, as we continue to move towards a paperless existence and leave behind a larger digital footprint, this process could become even more complicated.
Earlier this year, The Law Society urged people to include a digital legacy with their Will. They recommended that people leave instructions for what they would like to happen to their online accounts in order to save time and money later down the line, as people should not assume that their family will know what to do.
Most websites will contain information on how to deal with accounts following the death of a user.
Many banks encourage their customers to use an online banking system rather than receiving paper statements. Usually, an executor will establish which accounts a deceased person held by looking through their paper statements, so online banking automatically makes this trickier. Online accounts will usually be closed when their physical counterpart is but to be safe, you could specify that online accounts should be closed upon your death.
Social Media -
The Law Society also stressed the importance of dealing with social media accounts. Twitter and Facebook usually allow the loved ones of deceased users to deactivate their accounts. They will not hand over account information however, and to remove accounts they will require various forms of information from family members or Executors, such as usernames, death certificates and signed statements giving reasons for the request. Facebook also offer the option of memorialising an account so that loved ones can still visit the page of someone that has passed away and keep hold of sentimental items such as photographs.
Building up an iTunes library of thousands of songs and albums is the modern equivalent of amassing a large record collection. However, under Apple’s Terms and Conditions you agree that when you purchase their content, the license belongs to the purchaser and cannot be transferred to any third party. Content that cannot be sold or transferred is not likely to make up part of an estate for inheritance tax purposes.
So how should you organise your digital legacy?
While making a list of digital assets is a good idea, it is preferable not to leave a list of usernames and passwords behind as it could be a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 for someone else to access your account.
You must also be careful about how you store this list. Storing the list online or on a computer makes it vulnerable to hacking, but storing the list on paper does not guarantee that it will not fall into the wrong hands.
The safest option is to store the list with your Will, but not as part of your Will. This is due to the fact that after your death, your Will becomes a public document and so incorporating a list of important passwords and other information could lead to trouble.
Therefore, while digital legacies are a relatively new concept, they are becoming increasingly important. The best thing you can do is organise your digital assets to try to make things as easy as possible for those you leave behind.