Julie Man discusses why clients need to take the internet into account when making a will
Today the internet plays a bigger role in everyone's lives from social media, banking, buying, emails, social networking sites, the list goes on.
People can access the internet freely through computers, laptops and mobile phones. Seeing someone working on a laptop, surfing the net on their mobile is the norm.
Does this have a bearing on Wills? Yes!
Research estimates that the value of possessions held by Britons in the so called technological 'cloud' is more than £2 billion.
A study for cloud computing and hosting firm Rackspace, found that more than a quarter of people in the UK have hundreds of pounds worth of films, videos and music stored online which they wish to pass to their loved ones. It is therefore hardly surprising that a third of those believe that what they have is valuable enough to be left in their Wills.
Many people take the time to make a Will to ensure their estates are left in an orderly manner and that their assets go to those that they wish. It helps to lessen the worry at a time when family and people close to them are coming to terms with their loss.
Why shouldn't this apply to a person's internet life? As more and more people live their lives through the internet the same care and consideration should also be given to ensuring a person's "internet life" can be managed and dealt with after they pass away.
People should consider including internet passwords in their Wills otherwise how will friends and family be able to access and save their personal data left on numerous internet sites? Sentimental possessions need to be taken into account, with digital photography, home videos and recordings potentially being lost in cyberspace if no one can access them.
A survey by Goldsmiths shows more than 10 -11% of people in the UK have put important internet passwords in their Will or plan to do so, allowing access to information stored in 'cloud' services, such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Facebook, iCloud and Flickr which would otherwise be lost. By doing so, people are ensuring their personal data is archived and not abused.
There have been many unfortunate cases of people hijacking other's Facebook accounts, especially those who have died and are no longer here to control their digital identity.
Another danger is that Facebook accounts of people who have died, for which family members cannot easily obtain the password, become "digital shrines". As no-one has access to them and the deceased is no longer managing the account there have been an increasing number of accounts that have fallen prey to spammers.
Increasingly people want their digital identities to be controlled after they are gone. They also want their families to have access to personal photos and home videos which are most likely to be stored in the cloud, rather than in a physical album safely at home where they are easily accessible.
Clearly, with technological advances the drafting of Wills has to move with the times. Wills need to reflect the changing needs of people and the new emerging issue of "digital inheritance". It is something people should be giving thought to and should be proactive in doing something about.
The European Union is currently working upon a "right to be forgotten online". Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner states:
"...people shall have the right - and not only the possibility - to withdraw their consent to data processing. "
"The burden of proof should be on data controllers - those who process your personal data. They must prove that they need to keep the data, rather than individuals having to prove that collecting their data is not necessary."
However, how can this be done? Lawyers are already considering how to tackle the problem. Thought needs to be put into where to store the passwords to ensure that they do not end up falling into the wrong hands.
A Rackspace spokeswoman stated: "The client makes the will and leaves it with the solicitor. Then the passwords are kept separately. So, once the details of the will are sorted out, the beneficiaries will be given the passwords they need."
Making provisions for digital inheritance in a Will or Codicil does not need to be taxing.
Julie Man is a partner at Mundays LLP
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