Digital assets when someone dies or is incapacitated
Have you ever considered what would happen to your email, social media accounts, digital photographs, or cryptocurrency, if you were to die or become incapacitated?
Following a survey of members globally, The Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP) released a report examining the risks and challenges posed by digital assets to estate planning and administration – Digital Assets: A Call to Action
If you have digital assets which you would like to pass on, then as part of your estate planning, it is worth contacting each provider and find out about their procedures following death or incapacity. You can then document these to help your executors and beneficiaries. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may like to download and use STEP’s helpful inventory which can be found at files (step.org).
I personally have a lot of cherished videos and digital photographs which are saved to a storage box on my home network, and then to two hard drives as a backup; one of which I keep at home and the other at a relative’s house. However, I imagine there are lots of us who have digital photographs saved somewhere in “The Cloud” through online service providers. My very basic understanding of “The Cloud” is that there are lots of servers located in data centres all over the world and by using “The Cloud”, service providers do not have to manage or maintain the physical servers themselves. For example, Gmail stores emails and attachments in the Google Drive Cloud.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of online/digital services which is brilliant but we all know how frustrating it can be when we are unable to log in or access an account! It will take some time for best practices to evolve for digital assets and for Cloud services to find and implement effective solutions and procedures. Legal systems across the world also need to catch up and modernise. If you contact the bank, for example, to report a death, they have specific bereavement departments.
At Mercer & Hole, we support STEP’s digital asset campaign and we are committed to helping our clients with their estate planning both pre and post death. We often act as a professional executor alongside a close family member. If we can be of assistance to you, please contact us.