While we are reminded for years that a Will is a vital part of your own personal information, with the fast pace of change the question of what to do with any document/information we have created online after we pass ?
Even to get people to make a Power of Attorney now which covers any decisions which have to be made which if they are incapable of making them themselves can be an uphill battle. Strictly speaking once somebody is over 18 only they and the Courts can make a decision in relation to their affairs. Normally in a husband and wife situation you may have the spouse making decisions whether the spouse is entitled to or not remains to be seen. Similarly with a family situation, children often adults themselves are asked to make decisions for elderly parents. If there is more than one child this can lead to disagreements as to what is in the best interests of the elderly parent.
The solution to this is to sign a Power of Attorney to give decision making to a person or persons.
But what happens when we have the situation of our personal Information online ?
Do we need a digital Executor?
Is it time to look at your own situation and decide what you want to do ?
For example what happens all the photographs we have on our smartphones or carefully stored and backed up to “the Cloud” ? Who controls our social media account or blog and if you have a domain name which you sensibly registered for a business or for personal use who is going to take possession of that after you “pop your clogs”. More and more of these online companies seem to want more and more information on us. Facebook has this enormous database that will be a great source of information for people in future generations but are they allowed use it for all purposes ? Was it mentioned in those Terms of Conditions that you just clicked without reading as you thought it was 56 pages long and decided that you weren’t going to read your way through it. Have they a right under that to use your information whatever way they think fit ? We are so focussed on the American CIA and other such bodies spying on our personal information we are not looking at the bigger picture which is that once our information is put up on these sites basically it seems to be open to anybody.
It seems Rabobank for example operate entirely in the digital sphere and do not have physical bank branches. Similarly with Paypal or an online betting account which could be in funds when you die. How do you get your funds back?
This is a whole new area for Solicitors to advise clients on. It would seem logical that a person should be appointed to manage your digital assets as well as your physical assets as pointed out above where the service providers have an agreement with you and you are no longer around will they listen to any requests from your legal personal representative especially if they are based either online or in some other jurisdiction ?
We have come across a young practising Barrister who specialises in Succession Law and has written on this subject which will become more important as time goes on. As usual the call is out for legislation to deal with this but in the interim it might be useful to leave a clear note as to the passwords, codes and other information which were placed online to allow access to these accounts. At least then those left behind are in some position to know what is stored and also how to deal with it. No doubt we will hear much about this in the coming months and years.
As always if any of these issues resonate with you please do not hesitate to get in touch