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The Internet and the Executor

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

The days when secret passwords were the staple of children’s books and not a part of everyday life are long past. Increasingly, the issue of what to do about Internet passwords and, to a lesser extent, Internet property is proving problematic for executors.

Some people may be tempted to list their Internet passwords in their will, so that their executors can readily access their web-based assets. Leaving aside the issue that passwords may later be changed, caution should be used here, as the will is a public document when probate has been granted. It is probably better to keep a list of passwords to Internet assets in a secure place and to make sure the location is known to your executor.

If a person who dies has bank accounts accessible via the web, these are not ‘virtual assets’ but ordinary assets of the estate.

Sentimental assets, such as videos and social networking posts, are not normally of value unless created by a person with a paying audience. They would not normally be valued as part of an estate, but the deceased’s family may well want to retain them.

Assets paid for but held online, or those that are licensed as opposed to owned (collections of music are likely to fall into this category), are normally of little or no value. Assets of value are likely to be those which are the copyright of the deceased person. Many businesses use ‘the cloud’ for data processing and storage, so access may be of critical importance for continuation of the business.

It is sensible to think about the sort of data you have and how it is accessed and then to make sure that your executor will have a list of:

  • data held that has value, and what it is used for;
  • the devices or web locations that hold the data; and
  • the means of access to the data.

The Internet will create challenges for many executors. Giving advance consideration to what those might be for the executor of your estate, and taking the appropriate steps, will make their job a lot easier.

If you are concerned about digital property in an estate, contact us for advice.

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