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Wills: Planning for the Future in the Digital Age

Wills have been in the news recently. Figures suggest around 40% of adults do not have a valid Will in place. This means a significant proportion of the population rely on the intestacy rules to dictate how their assets are distributed on death. These rules are adequate in certain circumstances, but, for many families, they will fail to provide appropriately for loved ones.

Current Wills laws are based on Victorian law and are seen by some as being outdated. The Law Commission has published a consultation paper putting forward proposals to modernise the rules. These include a controversial suggestion to introduce electronic Wills. For some, making Wills with paper and pen may seem archaic in our digital world, however, others consider risks of fraud and undue influence to be too great to allow the introduction of electronic Wills. We wait to see whether sufficient protective measures can be put in place to satisfy concerns regarding security, before electronic Wills are introduced.

Regardless of the above, the digital age presents issues which should be considered when planning for the future.

The majority of readers of this article, if not all, will have digital assets. Some assets have financial value, for example, online bank accounts/investments/currency. There are digital assets connected with business, such as websites/domain names. Other digital assets have sentimental value, including photos, videos and emails.

When someone dies, their personal representatives have a duty to identify all estate assets and liabilities. There can, however, be complications when dealing with the digital world. Below are a few issues to consider now.

The primary question is will your personal representatives be able to identify your digital assets/liabilities? You will not be there to ask, so take steps now to ensure your personal representatives can identify both online and offline assets/liabilities. We do not advise leaving a list of passwords, as, by using these passwords, your Executors could commit a crime under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. Executors do, however, need to know what accounts are set up, to deal with these appropriately.

When making a Will, think carefully about who are appointed as Executors. If you have complex digital assets, consider whether your proposed Executors will know how to manage these assets. Appoint people with appropriate knowledge to deal with your online world.

If appointed as an Executor, you are personally responsible for collecting in all assets and settling all liabilities of the estate, including those online. Think about how you will find out this information and, if necessary, speak with your friend/relative who has named you Executor.

For personal accounts, consider how personal representatives will access digital photos/videos etc. Social media accounts should be dealt with, to reduce the risk of identity theft. Take steps now to ensure your personal representatives can identify all social media accounts, so they take appropriate action.

For further advice please contact
Stephanie Rose, Partner e: t:0118 952 3562

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