A Brave New World for Estates: What to Do With Your Digital Assets?

Over the last twenty years, the Internet has vastly changed the way that we store and accumulate wealth. As a direct result of this electronic revolution, assets are becoming increasingly digital. This may present a number of new difficulties and considerations for both will-makers (‘Testators’) and Executors.

Why Is There Difficulty With Digital Assets?

Although figures are hard to determine, a recent survey by professional services giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers (‘PWC’) found that the estimated value of digital assets within the United Kingdom alone amounted to the equivalent of almost $50bn [1].

Given the vast amount of value present in digital form, companies that manage and facilitate the exchange of these assets have had to implement a number of safety features to ensure that only the owner of the assets has full control and access. This can create some considerable difficulties for an Executor.

Take for example that you are an online-seller on eBay and you use the California-based online payment system PayPal. If a significant amount of money was held in your PayPal account, an Executor would likely attempt to take the necessary steps to retrieve this money for the purposes of distributing the Estate.

If the Executor does not have access to your eBay and PayPal login credentials, he or she would have the unenviable task of identifying a person at both of these websites capable of releasing the funds. They would then have to demonstrate that he or she is the authorised Executor, as well as prove that the Testator has passed away and that he or she has the authority to retrieve these funds.

So What Should a Testator Do?

While the law is no stranger to change, the proliferation of digital assets does require that Testators take some additional steps when cataloguing their Estate.

Like any Estate, the first step is to identify what assets you have. Given that digital assets will often require login credentials or other forms of security access, this ought to be included in your cataloguing. Given their private nature, it is essential that you ensure that this information is kept as confidential as possible, but capable of being accessed by your nominated Executor and/or Estate planning professional.

Cataloguing your assets will always require regular updates, as discussed in other articles, this will generally need to occur whenever a significant change occurs, which will generally include the sale or purchasing of any new assets as well as any other major changes.

With the right amount of expertise and diligence, much of this can be conducted by the Testator him/herself, however, in the event that any difficulties or concerns arise, it will always be in your best interest to seek the assistance of an Estate planning professional.

Our Inheritance and Estate Lawyers are experienced in providing professional assistance regarding digital assets, and also offer guidance in Defending a Will and resolving Will DisputesFor more information, contact our expert team today. 

[1] http://www.pwc.co.uk/cyber-security/insights/digital-lives-we-value-our-digital-assets-at-25-billion.html

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