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Getting physical with the digital
30 Apr 2021

The value of our online lives is becoming immeasurable, yet few people are taking sufficient steps to safeguard their digital assets

Michelle Monnes Thomas, a partner with award-winning Midlands law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, says the new year is a perfect time to take action. Almost everything about our lives is now linked to digital technology.

We bank online, store our photographs in the cloud, keep important documents in password-protected digital vaults and now, more than ever, socialise and network through our computers and smartphones.

But if we have no arrangement in place to hand on passwords, list accounts or give authority for access, there is the chance of losing assets forever when someone dies.

One recent case involved widow Rachel Thompson’s fight to win access to her late husband’s Apple iCloud account, which contained thousands of family photographs and hundreds of videos. It took three years and thousands of pounds before Mrs Thompson finally succeeded.

Digital assets include all content, accounts and files created and stored in a digital form, whether online, in the cloud, or on a computer or smartphone. 

Assets with a tangible financial value are not limited to online bank or investment accounts, and could include cryptocurrency, online betting accounts, or internet payment accounts such as PayPal.

Social media accounts, personal photographs and other personal records and correspondence may be more sentimental in value, but there may be others, such as domain names or blogs, which have a commercial re-sale value. 

It’s worth making a resolution for 2021 to get your digital assets in order, as it’s good business and household management to have a record of exactly what you own.

If you have a will or plan to make one, it’s something to discuss with your advisor and to let executors know. While physical assets are usually quite easy to identify, assets held online can be overlooked, particularly with the shift towards digital statements of account, so there is likely to be no paper trail of any sort.

It’s also something that should be considered when appointing anyone to help in the management of your interests under a power of attorney, such as a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for financial affairs. It may require special arrangements be in place for attorneys to manage digital accounts and assets. 

Here’s four ways you can start to secure your digital life today:

  • List everything: Make a list of all your assets and accounts and keep it up to date. A sealed copy can be provided for secure storage by your lawyer with your will or power of attorney. Personal information should never be included in the will or power of attorney itself. 
  • Secure passwords: Record and regularly update all usernames, passwords, and the email address associated with the account. Store the details using one of the password-securing providers or keep a physical list safe and separate from the full list of accounts. 
  • Check the user licence: Find out what happens to an account on death, whether it is transferable, and decide what you wish your executors to do, including whether it should be deleted and who may or may not access it. Where legacy arrangements can be specified with a provider, do so.
  • Grant authority: Make sure your attorneys or executors have the authority they need to access and manage your digital assets by putting this in writing, having it witnessed, and storing securely. 

 

For help and advice on these issues contact us.