Chris Keenan, solicitor at Humphries Kirk explains…

“The vastness of the internet is something that people are now growing accustomed to, but for the generation who didn’t grow up with a staple diet of iPods and iPads, it still never fails to amaze. Doubtless there are scores of children growing weary of their parent’s constant bewilderment at the evolution of technology. When I was younger, thoughts of accessing my entire record collection on a ‘tablet’ scarcely bigger than my own hand were fantastical day dreams, born out of futuristic science fiction films.

As remarkable as sites such as online banking are, they bring with them serious issues to consider. One such concern is that of what happens to our internet presence when we pass away.

Upon someone’s death, it is the job of their Personal Representatives (PR’s) to establish the deceased’s assets. Where there are digital assets, this becomes highly difficult as the PR’s often have no idea where to begin.

While the idea of keeping a list of usernames and passwords in a safe place is an appealing one, it demands an extremely shrewd, and in some cases unrealistic level of organisation. Further complications arise when we stop to consider just how safe, or indeed, just how reckless it is to keep a hard copy of usernames and passwords.

Putting details of our digital assets into our Wills is similarly problematic, as while a Will is only for the eyes of the PR’s, once a Grant of Probate is obtained, it becomes a public document. There may also be reasons why the Testator wouldn’t want the beneficiaries within the Will to have access to their online identities.

At Humphries Kirk, we deal with matters where a Court Order is requested for the release of information by some of the larger email providers. However given the infancy of the problem, many of the big companies don’t have policies in place to deal with death.

Although a Grant of Probate is a Court Order, it’s only provided when all of the assets and liabilities of the deceased are known – information which in many instances requires a Court Order, thus turning into something of a vicious circle.

At Humphries Kirk, we can help you to consider the many issues facing digital assets when making your Will and can advise on the difficulties involved with making gifts of your digital assets.

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