Long before modern computing and the advent of email, online shopping, iTunes and Bitcoin came the Wills Act of 1837. The Law Commission’s 2017 consultation may lead to a thorough update of the law, or a even just few tweaks and changes but hopefully it will bring the current foundation for Wills and Probate into the 21st Century. Whatever happens, we all need to be aware of the law surrounding digital assets and our own digital presence.
A few years ago there was a story in the papers about Bruce Willis suing Apple/iTunes in order to be able to pass on to his children his extensive collection of downloaded music. The story turned out to be (warning – overused phrase of the year) fake news. The dreaded and probably unread terms and conditions of Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. mean that you don’t “own” the music, films or books you download. You simply license them and can’t therefore leave them to your family or the beneficiaries of your will although possession of the physical device on which they are stored may allow them to access the downloaded product. Accessing or taking over the account through which they were downloaded however is a different issue and could give rise to problems.
As we live and manage more and more of our lives online we are less and less likely to receive statements through the post or have paper copies of statements or policies. Address books have gone out of fashion. If you became incapacitated or passed away tomorrow would anyone know what bank accounts or insurance policies you hold? Would anyone be able to find out who you hold your utilities with or what credit card debt you had outstanding? Would anyone know if you owned any Bitcoins or other digital currencies? Would family know which social media sites you are active on or how to contact your friends?
Take control of your Digital Footprint
If you become unable to deal with your assets and estate, or after you pass away, the simple expedient of keeping a piece of paper with the basics written down is essential for Attorneys, Deputies and Executors. I’m not suggesting a detailed list of usernames and passwords which could fall in to the wrong hands, or even get well meaning family in trouble if they access/use accounts when they shouldn’t. However, passwords/codes to individual devices which may be storing intellectual property such as digital photos or your own creative work (short stories, animations, music, etc.) would be helpful.
A Personal Assets Log (as recommended by the Law Society) should include basic information about your assets and liabilities, your income and outgoings and where to find more information such as the whereabouts of any paperwork and/or links to any digital assets. Including a list of social media accounts will allow family or friends to be contacted and commemorative or memorial pages to be set up in case anything were to happen to you.
A Personal Assets Log isn’t a one off document, you will need to keep this up-to-date when your circumstances change, such as when new accounts are opened, old accounts closed or when you cash in your Bitcoins at the top of the market. But it shouldn’t be too onerous a task. The list can be kept in a safe place you won’t instantly forget about and make sure that one or two people know where it can be found if/when the time comes and it will be needed.
Here at Switalskis Solicitors we have an experienced Wills, Trusts and Probate team who would be happy to assist you. To contact a member of the team please call 0800 138 0458.