We live in a digital age – we book everything from books to holidays, pay bills, buy lunch and coffee on the same phone we use to upload photos, listen to music, play games and even, occasionally, make phone calls.
But what happens to our digital assets when we die? Most of us will have online accounts, financial or otherwise, which require passwords and a good many of us have social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. According to a survey by the Digital Legacy Association’s Digital Death Survey, around 83 per cent of people hadn’t made plans for their social media accounts following their death.
Lucy Atwill, who heads up the Wills and Probate Department of Curtis Whiteford Crocker, says that digital assets and an online presence need to be taken into account when taking instructions for drawing up a Will. Without careful planning, she says, it may be difficult to track down a deceased’s online assets whether they are financial or of a personal nature such as videos and pictures stored on a computer or in the Cloud.
Many of the big online companies including Google and Instagram will require documents such as a valid Power of Attorney, copy Will of Grant of Probate/ Letters of Administration before agreeing to a request for access. It’s important to take legal advice or Executors could find themselves in hot water. Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 it’s an offence to access an account if you don’t have permission. Logging on after someone dies to transfer money or download items could be regarded as fraud under the Act.
Where information may have once been stored on paper – share certificates, savings accounts, bank details – many accounts are now paperless making them more difficult to access. This can all be taken into account when drawing up a Will, making the whole process easier after someone dies.
Lucy Atwill heads up the Wills and Probate department of Curtis Whiteford Crocker, with offices in Plymouth, Tavistock and Torpoint.