Most people know that writing a Will creates a legally-binding document, written by you or occasionally on your behalf, which sets out what you want to happen to your property, assets and personal possessions after your death. But what about the digital legacy most of us will also leave behind now that the internet affects so many aspects of our life?
A person’s digital legacy is the electronic data that a user leaves on the internet and other forms of media when they die. This could be online accounts, email inboxes, cloud storage, social media profiles, chatrooms and even crypto currency accounts. All of these will normally be password-protected, and can create problems for relatives and Executors once a person dies. The Office for National Statistics estimates that over 90% of the population regularly uses the internet and most of us have dozens of online accounts in our name, some of which even those closest to us may not know about.
It is therefore essential that we should take our digital legacy into account when drawing up a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney, the legal mechanism which enables a nominated person, or persons, to look after your affairs if you no longer have the capacity to do so yourself. It is unlikely that your Executor or Attorney would know details about your internet banking, email, online store accounts or social networking presence on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, while virtual currencies such as Bitcoin could form an important part of the assets which must be declared for inheritance tax purposes.
To avoid problems for those left behind, you should ensure that you draw up a list of your logins and passwords for online accounts, and review it regularly to ensure it remains accurate. Make sure your Executor or Attorney knows that this list exists and where it is stored, so they can access it at the appropriate time.
You should also consider whether you would want your social media accounts to remain open upon your death, or whether these should be closed down. You should be aware that keeping an account open can sometimes lead to a “virtual ghost” appearing, such as an automatic birthday reminder, which can be distressing for friends and family. To avoid these problems, media platforms such as Facebook can be converted to a “commemorative” page as a form of remembrance for the loved one who has died.
More personal items such as photographs or family histories may now be stored on computer rather than in printed form, and you should also take steps to ensure that friends and family can access these.
Bretherton Law have been helping families with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years, and we have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and honest advice. For help in providing the information required to access your digital assets when drawing up a Will or Power of Attorney call us on 01727 869293 or contact Anne Stockley.