The role of an executor can be fraught with peril as the personal representative (PR) is tasked with consolidating a lifetime of assets and liabilities. Often, the deceased may have the foresight to appoint an executor but fail to help the executor locate everything needed to administer the estate
A new digital platform aiming to help executors by creating a holistic place to store all asset and liability data has been launched with the aim of easing the intense burden placed on the personal representative.
Digital Legacy, launched by the law firm Ashfords and the brainchild of Michael Alden and Garry Mackay, allows the user to securely store the details of everything an executor would need to know. Whether it be bank information, mortgage details or gym subscriptions moving all the way to details involving social media passwords or information on how to retrieve the deceased’s Will.
Ideally, the PR will collate all assets, discharge their liabilities and then distribute the balance in accordance with the deceased’s wishes instructed by the Will or through the rules of intestacy.
Whilst this sounds like a simple process, human beings are not simple, and our financial footprints are a varied, unpredictable and often shocking labyrinth of unexpected debts and assets.
Even a professionally appointed PR would be hard pushed to find that Post Office account the deceased’s Granny opened for them as a child when the financial records they are offered show no signs of its existence.
Ultimately, human beings are notoriously poor bookkeepers. Even if we keep an accurate record in adulthood, the forgotten financial records of our childhood or even distant adult past can easily be overlooked by the savviest and organised person. The law firm’s digital platform aims to encourage the donor to make adequate and updated records of their financial affairs before they die.
This could be an important sector first for creating an easier probate process for the PR. Especially when we consider the recent past where a PR was handed a bundle of financial records and are asked to balance the liabilities and the assets. However, in the modern world, it is extremely unlikely that the encyclopedic tome of the deceased’s financial life will tell the entire story; after all, we are now digital creatures.
On average, each household has a combined debt of £17,629. A fifth of UK retirees have a debt of more than £33,000 and the gross value of equity released by UK homeowners last year exceeded £4 billion. With so many varied lending streams in the modern world and potentially historic debts attached to an estate, it can be a proverbial minefield to uncover all liabilities. That is if we have all the physical records!
However, we live in a modern world, a digital world where we are increasingly sending our information into Cloud storage and living a more paperless existence.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 90% of the UK population now use the internet; this is an increase of 10% since 2012.
Even the older generation embraced the internet in 2018, with 69% of households with two adults, where at least one is over 65-years-old, now using the internet; this is an 18% increase from 2012 and represents the largest growth of any age group using the internet.
Over a quarter of our population now use contactless billing as the sole source of their financial information and a staggering 69% of the UK adult population use online banking in 2018; a 35% increase from the 2017 statistics.
When so much of our financial and sensitive data is no longer tangible, it becomes impossible for a PR to establish, with complete certainty, an accurate and holistic picture of the deceased’s estate.
The Digital Legacy Platform sounds so simple; store all of your information, that will be needed by the people after you have died, in one place. As the platform user makes a life change that could impact on the liabilities or assets, they add them to the platform so the executor is able to find them easily.
Whilst Michael Alden claims this is a sector first, he adds that within a decade, it may become an industry norm and something that the entire population should embrace.
However, whilst this seems like a foolproof system, human error and negligence could be the downfall of the platform’s success. People will need to constantly update their records if it is to be successful and useful to the executor.
Michael Alden, Head of Trusts and Estates Team at Ashford’s and co-founder of Digital Legacy, said:
“Traditionally what executors might get is a box file of information, but future generations will not want to deal with paper.
“The purpose is to identify to executors what they should be looking for, not give them access.
“It is for the customer to decide what they want in Digital Legacy. There will usually be a mixture of hard and soft data.
“Subscriptions can be hard for executors to find and identify, whether it is Amazon Prime, or online newspapers and magazines. Until the bank is alerted to the death, it will keep paying out the money.
“The big challenge is to get people to maintain things once they have subscribed. We are all guilty of signing up for things and not following through.
“There is nobody else out there with anything like this at the moment, but in 10 years’ time it won’t seem unusual.”
Garry Mackay, Co-Founder of Digital Legacy, commented:
“Digital legacy is a further example of the firm adapting to the ever-changing needs of our clients.
“As lawyers, we have a responsibility to constantly look at innovative ways in which we can make things easier and more cost effective for our clients whilst continuing to provide the highest level of advice.”
Will this type of service become an industry norm in the future? Will this system, if embraced by society, help the role of the executor?