Airmiles, Instagram and Paypal: executing a will in the digital age

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What are those areas of a digital estate that are most often overlooked? And what can be done if you find yourself with a lack of adequate information or provision when dealing with a loved one’s estate?

The value of digital assets can be financial, social or personal. Upon death, assets can be passed on, memorialised, deactivated or removed. People often consider on-line accounts, but there are host of other digital assets that are invariably overlooked.

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Airmiles can hold significant monetary value, especially if they have been built up over a lifetime. Paypal accounts can contain forgotten sums, as can store cards that have ‘points’ such as nectar cards. Wealth can be held in trading sites such as Etsy and eBay. Kickstarter campaigns are now a common part of many an entrepreneur’s business plan – with funds often significant any active Kickstarter campaign should be part of an estate plan.

With so much of what we create during our lifetimes now on-line, intellectual property can hold significant value too. Again, this is an area often overlooked. Blogs, videos, even digital art has the potential to be monetised. Blog to book deals are increasingly common, even post death. And any created content that is highly ‘clickable’ can be monetised too.

Those with businesses around which they’ve generated a strong social media presence could find their social accounts hold value. In these cases, it may be worth obtaining a valuation on what your social media presence and following is worth.

But of course, not all value is monetary. Much is placed on personal and sentimental – photos, music and created video content hold value that many people want to pass on.

Unfortunately, the law is still playing catch up here and the rules governing what you can and can’t pass on are grey. This is because when you buy music or books digitally, you are actually purchasing a licence to use the media so you can’t, legally, pass it on. Having said this, many people pass on log in details and, to date, providers have tended to turn a blind eye. However, some predict the law may change, so making an inventory of all these assets and how to access them is sensible in the hope that these soon will become assets that can be legitimately passed on.

There is no denying that passing on digital property is complex, there is no one rule that fits all. Every company has a different policy, and – whether you are making a will, or acting as executor – it is worth finding out what that policy is. That may sound time consuming, but dealing with an estate without instructions for digital assets is even more so.

The ideal all round is for individuals to compile a digital will, detailing all digital assets, who they would like to have control of the assets, and who any beneficiaries might be. Passwords should be kept separately from the will, and not given away during an individual’s lifetime. All individuals should be encouraged to do this. And anyone who has agreed to be an executor should check their loved one has, or plans to, put these measures in place.

Dealing with an estate where provision for digital assets has not been made can be a nightmare, but not impossible. Financial institutions are perhaps the best at (and most used to) dealing with on-line accounts after death where no access information is provided. After a death certificate, their requirements can include grant of probate and the executor’s ID. Beyond that, digital account providers – from Gmail to Paypal – do have policies in place for dealing with digital assets if no provisions have been made.

It is certainly worth any digitally active individuals finding out the terms and conditions of all their accounts following death so appropriate arrangements can be put in place.

Alison Lloyd, specialist in Probate Services, Moore Blatch.

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