Online accounts: When managing succession after your death becomes complex

Dec 29, 2019

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by Jennifer Koch Solicitor

Jennifer Koch

THE TOPIC of digital assets has been in the spotlight recently, with news stories highlighting the problems that can arise when someone dies without making provision for access to their digital accounts. 

So how can you manage your online life so that it can be administered by your loved ones after your death?  

Record keeping

The most important thing is to keep a secure list of all your online accounts. Whilst being mindful of your service agreements, you could consider keeping usernames and passwords separately, or using a digital password manager. 

It is important to balance the security of your accounts during your lifetime with the need for your executors to know the extent of your digital assets on your death.  When the time comes, your executors will also need to be careful not to break the law in accessing your accounts after your death and they should seek legal advice when the time comes.  

Advance planning

Think about the accounts you have – is there a function whereby you can nominate a trusted individual to take over an account if you die or lose capacity? If your business uses an online provider to take online payments – who has access to that account? 

If your online activity consists mostly of social media, ensure that you have copies of content that you want kept either downloaded onto an external hard drive or printed out. 

Consider your will in the context of your digital assets – do any changes need to be made? Are you happy for the people you have appointed as your executors to access your online accounts or would you prefer for this to be someone else?

Do you have copyrighted material stored either online or on your devices? If these items have financial value they will need to be included in your estate, so do you have specific wishes about whether such material should be published after your death or not?

Take advice

This is a complex and fast-evolving area and currently there is no English legislation governing the succession of digital assets. The best way to ensure you have considered all the circumstances is to take specific advice on your particular circumstances. 

Hewitsons has a large and experienced team specialising in wills, succession and inheritance Tax planning as well as lasting powers of attorney. For advice, please call 01223 461155 or visit www.hewitsons.com

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