We’re in a digital age that’s only becoming more advanced. Without us even knowing it we are engaging more and more digitally, creating assets online that would not have been there 20 or even 10 years ago.
More things we value are digital, an online bank account, sentimental family photos, social media accounts that showcase our lives, businesses built within the social media world, our music, email accounts and even crypto-currencies.
All of this could be lost after we die if we do not plan and make preparations for them, just as we would do for our home or jewellery. Very few of us consider planning, yet it could be difficult for executors to access and recover digital assets if there are no clear plans.
There is confusion around the rights we have over our digital assets, with many unsure as to what they own and should include in their Wills, if they have a Will at all.
Facebook US has changed the way it deals with the passing of a user. It’s now possible for a user to nominate a legacy contact who can choose whether to close or memorialise an account when the user dies. It’s likely that Facebook UK will follow suit. Many users do not want their social media accounts to just be shut down, with digital photographs available that they do not want to be destroyed.
Online bank accounts are one of the most important assets to have clarity over. Details of online accounts held need to be stored so executors can find the information required for probate. Liaising directly with the bank will provide support required for accessing assets.
Accounts we hold for Paypal for example need to be identifiable for any possible refunds or credits. Consider amazon accounts or other retailers where regular financial transactions are taking place.
Many of us also have music, movies and book accounts with the likes of itunes, Amazon Kindle and Netflix. Ongoing payments need to be stopped. But it needs to be remembered that we do not own these assets outright in order to transfer them to family, items are purchased on a limited licence that is not transferable on death. It’s a case of contacting the provider and discussing options with their customer services teams to identify what can be done. Access to the accounts will help with this process.
There are reward accounts to consider, many of us have a nectar card or an airline points card for example. The terms and conditions for each of these need to be checked; some are transferable whilst others are not.
Email accounts are slightly simpler to deal with if the executor has the log-in details for the account, they can then simply transfer any information and close down the account. If log-in details are not available then it’s best to contact the provider’s customer services team.
Regardless of what digital assets there are, quite possibly the easiest way of ensuring memories can be kept and accounts can be accessed is to keep a list of digital assets securely, perhaps alongside the Will. This way an executor can identify what digital assets exist for dealing with.
Trevor Cross, MD of BTWC says “It’s common practice for important information and documents to be stored alongside a Will, and a document that gives details of digital assets will help the probate process. There is currently little clarity on the law that deals with the succession of digital assets, technology is moving so rapidly. Wishes clearly set out in a Will with digital information will help an executor access digital platforms and execute the wishes portrayed.”
There is also the possible implication of inheritance tax if digital assets have financial value. Any that do have monetary value need to be included in the inheritance tax return, whereby they will be treated (currently) like any other property for inheritance tax purposes.
Client reviews of assets
If you have clients that have a Will, if they haven’t been reviewed in the last 12 months, then it would be a good idea to get in touch with your client base and suggest a review, with a consideration for any digital assets to be included.
When you have your next annual reviews with clients talk about putting a Will in place for those that don’t have one, considering all types of assets from property, through to digital, it’s now such an essential consideration for everyone. A client may think they don’t have any tangible assets, but they will most likely recognise they have digital assets with clear wishes for them.