DIGITALLY AWARE WILLS AND GENERALLY PRUDENT BEHAVIOUR

Death is a constant but so is change and your will should, amongst other things, cater for the digital environment that envelops all of us.

Increasingly, we all tend to keep information that is of sentimental as well as business value on online storage of one or other sort: email accounts, photo sharing accounts, social media sites, file storage sites such as Dropbox, banking accounts and so on.

Proper, regularly updated estate planning and will drafting takes account of this in addition to traditional concerns. It will give you guidance about managing your increasingly complex digital as well as hard copy environment during your lifetime to ensure it is able to be dealt with as you expect on your death with no loss of important information or benefits for your heirs whilst taking account of taxation changes.

You may also want to direct that you are remembered digitally although this should be very carefully considered especially as you would not like any unwanted or potentially sensitive information to be available to others after your death.

For example, in America there have been problems with accessing or dealing with Facebook accounts when the owner and user dies, such as parents desperate to know why their child committed suicide, wives who wanted to set up their deceased husband’s page as a memorial or remove it and close relatives who wanted to take down the rambling or even offensive postings of someone who has died.

Facebook has recently catered more specifically for after death management of accounts of deceased persons than before but it still remains important that your will has specific directions as to what your executor must do with digital accounts and information stored in them including, if desired, memorialisation.

It should also specifically authorize your executor to access and manage such accounts and assets in any way required whenever the executor wishes. You should review the terms of use of all such sites as well since you may be surprised at how much control they assume over what you consider to be your information.

You must have a clear list of all digital and other assets which can include details of accounts involved including all social media ones, copyright to anything, bank accounts, share certificates (which are all now dematerialized), images, videos, agreements and contracts and any other data of whatever kind such as game prizes or bank reward schemes and also the information allowing access to any such assets such as passwords, two factor authentication processes and suchlike.

If you are cyber comfortable, you can use a master password account like 1Password or simply have a regularly updated list of passwords, access codes and user processes that you must store securely, possibly in a safety deposit box. Also store the master password if you use a password aggregation account but remember to make it accessible in the event of your death or sudden incapacitation.

Record the fact that you have such a safety deposit box in your will or perhaps store such details in a hard copy statement filed with your will if it is stored on your behalf by a bank or your lawyer. You can also share them with a trusted close friend or relative but any such person might predecease you or simply be untraceable at a critical time so it is better to look at more enduring storage methods.

It is also even more important than ever before that your will is reviewed regularly to be sure it caters for your continually changing real and virtual assets as well as personal circumstances and your wishes.

If in a marriage or other domestic arrangement, always be sure your partner can access any jointly used accounts should anything happen to you whether it be your death or your incapacitation.

The above points also apply very largely during your lifetime should you be incapacitated at any time due to accident or sudden illness.

It is worth considering giving your partner or other trusted person a digitally aware power of attorney to act on your behalf in such cases but spouses and domestic partners should both keep each other advised of general business dealings and useful passwords.

By: Gavin McLachlan – Attorney, Conveyancer & Notary Public

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