Who will inherit your Digital Assets?

We are all living in an increasingly digitalised world, many of us having online bank accounts, down-loaded music, and use social media. For example – Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, Google, YouTube, Amazon and eBay, to name just a few. But what happens to these assets and who has access to them when we die or if we should become incapacitated?

A recent survey by the Co-operative Bank revealed that whilst almost all of its customers have online accounts only 25% have made any provision for details of those accounts to be accessed by their family upon their death. This is worrying, particularly in the light of another survey which suggest that almost 80% of those interviewed had experienced difficulties trying to access online social media, shopping, utility and bank accounts following the death of the user.

Unless we wade through the small print in the conditions of use relating to down-loaded music we may not appreciate that what we have actually purchased is usually only the right to use the music for our lifetime. There is rarely any right to leave these assets to others upon our death; it is merely a ‘personal licence’ which dies with us.

While we may wish for our family to have access to our online bank and utility accounts we may not necessarily want them to have access to our social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook. Many companies offering social media services are located overseas (eg in the USA) where UK law may not be recognised. This can and often does create confusion and uncertainty.

Because of the confidentiality agreement that users sign as part of the terms of use, expensive and stressful court cases have in the past been required to enable the families of deceased social media users to be deactivated or accessed. The important thing is to be aware of our rights and to choose who is to have access to our digital assets after our death, or even in the event of our incapacity.

The ‘Unclaimed Assets Register’ service is designed to help people retrieve the £15 billion worth of unclaimed assets within the UK. This currently includes £400 million in life assurance and pension schemes, £1 million in 500,0000 unclaimed premium bond prizes and £1 billion in other National Savings products.

We at Macleod and Maccullum supply a Personal Assets Log (PAL) to all clients who make a Will or a Power of Attorney (POA) with us. Clearly the first step towards ensuring all of your assets are properly dealt with is to have in place an up to date and properly drafted Will and POA.

A PAL is a unique personalised record of your digital and other assets, as well as information such as HMRC reference number, National Insurance Number, Passport Number, NHS Number, bank account and pension details, etc. This PAL is completed by you and kept at home in a safe place with your copy Will and POA, possibly in a sealed envelope within a secure fireproof filing box.

Having an up to date PAL ensures that your attorneys and executors will have access to the important information that might otherwise be lost upon your death or incapacity, and avoids your family having to expend a great deal of time and money in tracing your assets.

If you have any queries regarding the issues referred to in this article, or would like to receive by email a free PAL, please contact our Private Client Department.

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