What on earth is a cyber cemetery I thought the first time I heard the phrase. Well, it is a phrase originating in the United States to explain where somebody’s virtual estate goes to when they die.
By their virtual estate I mean internet bank accounts and investments, email accounts and their social media accounts such as Facebook and twitter.
Many of us use the computer every day and we simply don’t think about what happens when we die. Even those of us who have made Wills have never thought of how our families or even a Solicitor would access our computers, particularly for internet accounts and investments.
Many accounts today are paperless and the accounts have passwords known only to the person holding the accounts. If nobody knows about these accounts and cannot find details of them then your assets within these accounts would indeed go into the cyber cemetery.
What about somebody who owns a small business and keeps all records on their computer? How do the family or Executors contact the customers if the worst was to happen?
HM Revenue and Customs encourages us all now to submit our tax return on line. How are these accessed for information if we die?
The problem of what to do and who to give the relevant information to is an increasing problem around the world. In fact the Law Society of England and Wales, Equity and Wills Committee have this subject at the top of their agenda for this year. In the US a small number of states have now introduced legislation and the Uniform Law Commission is actively campaigning for all states to have similar laws in dealing with “digital property management after death”. Specialist companies such as “Legacy Locker” have appeared on the internet. For the most part however, it is a problem that the legal profession is now struggling to come to terms with.
It is now not unheard of for probate solicitors to employ a specialist computer engineer to “hack” into a computer to gain missing information. Not ideal, not only is there additional costs to the estate but there may well be some folders you would prefer not to be seen!
As for your email, Facebook or Twitter accounts, you should check the death policies for each on-line. There are major differences in the requirements of each. One large email provider will on being sent a death certificate allow the notifier to access the account again possibly having access to some information you would prefer they didn’t. Other providers will simply not allow any access at all.
The social media providers also have differing policies so the advice has to be to check these now.
There is a lot of talk amongst the legal profession of appointing a “Digital Executor” within your Will, much as one would appoint a Literary Executor to look after any copyright you may own on your death. In the future this may well be standard advice but for now the advice is to think, check the policies on death on all accounts and leave somewhere safe information to access these accounts if the worst was to happen.
One such place may be to leave a sealed letter containing all passwords with your Will to be opened upon your death. This is far from ideal and is contrary to any advice being given by the banks.
If you have never given yourself time to think about your virtual estate before then this maybe an ideal time to think not only about your virtual estate but also the whole of your estate and review your Will.
For further information, please contact us on 01536-276300.