Digital Estate Planning – What’s Holding Us Back?

Ten reasons why we're not really considering our Digital Legacy

Digital Estate Planning – What’s Holding Us Back?

If you have a Will, then during its creation, the likelihood is that you only had in your mind bequeathing those items which are considered tangible; such as property, money and things such as old photographs, jewellery or perhaps a special chair. This traditional vision of our assets at death is now rapidly changing as our lives increasingly move into reliance on a digital world. We are spending an increasing amount of our time online on social sites, sending emails, paying bills, managing our photos and a whole host of other activities where we are either creating or managing what are called our digital assets. In essence all or at least some of these digital assets comprise our digital online pharmacy for adipex legacy and should be considered a part of our estate when we die.

There is a Problem Though

Given the breadth of this “digitalisation” of our lives, we are creating a major problem with our estate planning as lawyers grapple with understanding how best to incorporate this legacy into our estate taking into account our wishes, if we had any, the terms and conditions of any access to our assets, and laws on data protection and privacy. These problems are compounded by a number of issues:

(1) Lack of a Will. It is estimated that around 60% of the UK population are without a will. Unsurprisingly, those aged 18-34, form the highest percentage at just over 80%. Of the over 55s, there are estimated to be some 35% without. Triggers to creating a will are often experiences of deaths of close friends or relatives, marriage and starting a family.

(2) Management of Assets. The task of managing, logging and organising our digital assets. As we go about our digital lives we can quickly create overwhelming volumes of digital assets and accounts to access those assets. The task of cataloging these in a clear and useable way is simply too daunting to undertake. Its easier to to nothing.

(3) Lack of knowledge about how and where our assets are stored and how they are managed. What actually happens to that photo taken on your phone? Where is it stored? Is it backed up anywhere else? How would I go about cataloging it? These questions can apply to many of our digital assets.

(4) Apathy. Estate planning is not particularly high on a lot of people’s lists. Unless, touched by death in some way, most of us do not even consider creating a Will. So why create a list of our digital assets for estate planning? There is also a sense that stuff we upload will be safe and available for others to manage if they wanted to.

(5) Demography generates ambivalence. Penetration of the digital world is not as great in the over 55 age group Will-making-generation as it is in the younger digital savvy generation. Until the need for digital legacy planning become ubiquitous it will not appear high on the list of services provided by law firms and will makers.

(6) Perception of value. The perception that our digital assets hold no real value and are just part of our everyday lives. This attitude is probably more prevalent in the lower age groups, who interestingly are creating the largest stake in a digital world.

(7) Terms and conditions for Internet services that you signed up to are designed to protect your rights to privacy. Simply handing over an account or its assets on an executor’s “say-so” presents a number of problems and may actually be against the law of the geographic location your asset resides in. So no matter that you are dead, your rights to a protected privacy remain. This problem is particularly exacerbated if you die intestate with no guidance on what should occur.

(8) No consistency in law. There is no consistency in law that articulates how your digital legacy should be treated. A number of initiatives are under consideration but nothing yet exists. This means that heirs, or families trying to gain access to deceased one’s accounts for a variety of reasons continue to have problems, some needing to resort to litigation in an attempt to force Internet services to grant access. Stories continue to surface outlining the dilemma facing service providers and executors. Many of these are contradictory and can include request to remove accounts or messages as much as to get access to accounts in order to control them and stop them being removed. Either can be just as distressing for the families for a variety of different reasons. Without set processes and laws in place, these issues will continue to hinder management of our digital legacies.

(9) Lack of knowledge within Law and Will making firms when it comes to handling digital assets within estate planning. Your desires may not even be enforceable and the advice you get may be inconsistent and inaccurate. A new code of practice has been drawn up to provide guidance to law firms engaged in estate planning that now also includes consideration of digital assets. You can read more about that here on the Law Society’s website (opens in new window).

(10) Lack of knowledge of the executor to handle your digital legacy. Any request you make may be almost impossible to carry out. For example, you might request that all your photos on Facebook be secured and kept in a safe place. Will your executor know how to do this?

60% of us without a will, is an incredible statistic in itself. Couple that with any of above 10 problem areas and its little surprise that management and planning of our Digital Estate remains on the back burner for most of us.

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