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Your Digital Legacy… Who Will Own it?
By Christopher J Sherliker

How did we ever manage in the past?! These days we all use online technology to virtually run our lives. We can pay bills, bank online and order the week’s groceries at the click of a button and, with smart phone technology developing rapidly, you are no longer confined to your PC or laptop to have 24/7 access, wherever you may be.

With this freedom comes greater considerations for security and, whilst many are concerned with protecting their personal information from others, they do not consider how their loved ones might access their online assets following their death. Would they even know about these assets? Legal Executive Gemma Carter looks at an issue that is only going to become more important.

Paperless billing and emailed bank statements mean that assets may, at best, be discovered at a later date (causing administrative difficulties for executors in terms of having to amend and re-submit the probate forms) or, at worst, not discovered at all! This does not just apply to bank accounts and investments; assets of a sentimental nature stored online, such as pictures, books and music may also be lost.

Research carried out by computing company Rackspace revealed that more than a quarter of people in the UK have hundreds of pounds worth of films, music and videos stored online. They also believe that the media they do have is valuable enough to be included in their wills. Furthermore, a survey from Goldsmiths at the University of London found that more than 10 percent have already, or plan to, include passwords in their wills, allowing access to information stored on sites such as Hotmail, Facebook, iCloud and Flickr which would otherwise be lost.

So how do you strike a balance between keeping your personal information out of the wrong hands, yet ensuring that it is available to your loved ones in the event of your death?

Making provision for digital inheritance is not as difficult as it may seem. It goes without saying that a professionally-drafted will is the most practical way of ensuring that your wishes are carried out after you have died, and this can easily be extended to your virtual world. Your online assets can be included as specific gifts to beneficiaries within your will or simply as part of the residuary estate. Alongside that, a schedule of your passwords for any online assets or accounts can be stored with your will. This enables your executors to access this information in order to administer your estate, whilst giving you peace of mind that the information will be kept safe.

It is estimated that the value of assets kept in “the cloud” has rocketed to more that £2 billion and, with no sign of it halting, it is imperative that clients consider these assets when preparing their wills.

Our Private Client department can advise on all aspect of wills and estate planning, including the protection of online assets.

Added: 8th November 2011

Christopher J Sherliker is a partner for Silverman Sherliker LLP who provide legal solutions across a spectrum of requirements.  Find out more about Silverman Sherliker LLP.

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