With more of us spending time online and managing our finances on the web, it has become very important to make sure that passwords to our accounts are recorded in our will. Chris Windley is about to write a digital will.
When you die, so the saying goes, your secrets go with you. But with more of us spending time online and managing our finances on the web, it has become very important to make sure that modern-day secrets — passwords to our accounts — are recorded in our will.
All require a password — and if a user was to die without it being passed on, many of these accounts will die with their owner. It could mean that thousands of pounds in savings accounts, money saved as credits on shopping websites, or even credit kept in a gambling account, would be lost.
Or if a person is an active eBay seller or buyer, or trader on other sites, failure to pass on a password could jeopardise live transactions. These could then become a legal liability on the estate, as an order for goods goes through and payment is demanded.
Nicola Plant, partner at solicitor Pemberton Greenish, says the issue is fast becoming a major concern for families grappling with a deceased relative’s estate.
While older generations have long been thought to be slow to embrace the internet, figures from telecoms regulator Ofcom show that older people are becoming increasingly confident about going online.
Ms Plant says: ‘It’s vital you leave your account details and passwords in your will or as an addendum. Otherwise, your executors will not be able to distribute your online assets and alert organisations to your death.’
Companies vary widely in how they treat online accounts after an account holder dies. Financial companies are the easiest to deal with if you don’t have the username or password for a deceased relative.
To grant access to an account, financial services companies typically require a death certificate plus other paperwork, such as grant of probate and the executor’s ID. They will then give access to the account without the password.
Barclays and Lloyds TSB, for example, need a death certificate, proof of your identity and a copy of the will or grant of probate or letters of administration. Aviva needs the death certificate and grant of probate before a policy is either cancelled or transferred into the new owner’s name.
On the other hand, eBay only requires a death certificate, but crucially it will close an account or eBay shop on notification, rather than transfer ownership. If it is not notified of the death, any live sales would go through its disputes procedure if not honoured
‘I’M MAKING A DIGITAL WILL’
Chris Windley is about to write a digital will to go alongside his ‘traditional’ will. ‘I am very active online and earn money through internet marketing — which all goes into internet bank accounts,’ says Chris, 56, from Wychnor, Staffordshire.
He is using website My Digital Executor to draw up the list for his executors to access.
‘There are also my blogs, websites and social media membership, too. On a personal level, they all have value, to a greater or lesser extent, and if my executors didn’t know the passwords their value would die with me.’
He has all his passwords listed on bits of paper at home but now wants them in a central place with a digital executor.
‘I will need to keep updating the digital will as my passwords change and I open new accounts,’ says Chris, pictured with his children David and Claire.
PayPal requires a copy of the death certificate, the will or probate, plus the executor’s ID, before it will close the account and pay out any funds. Others insist on having the password or the account remains locked for ever. This applies to online firms such as Facebook, and stand-alone email accounts.
Often, families want to have access to these both to ensure they can inform the deceased’s friends and contacts of his or her passing. Also, having access to emails received can be a useful check that there are no accounts — perhaps rainy day savings or investments — that the executors may otherwise have missed. Facebook ‘memorialises’ an account, so that only existing friends can see it and post comments on the wall.
The executors and close family members are given no access to the account itself without a password — though this has recently been challenged in the U.S. — though they can request the page is shut down.
Google’s Gmail says family or executors must send in detailed information in the first instance, and may then have to get a court ruling in the U.S. before it will open the email account. Microsoft will send the contents of a Hotmail account on a data DVD.
Yahoo says information is non-transferable and will die with the account holder, though it also says it may release the information if required to by law or if ‘in good faith … it is reasonably necessary’.
It is not just emails and bank accounts that next of kin may be interested in. Credits and avatars built up through time spent online in popular games such as World Of Warcraft can be worth hundreds of pounds.
HOW TO ENSURE YOUR ONLINE LIFE DOESN’T DIE WITH YOU
Make a digital inventory. List all your digital assets, including every online account and their passwords. You should also state what your wishes are for each account on your death. For example, you may not want anyone to have access to your email account, so request it is shut down — or omit the password and say you want it left untouched. Don’t leave this as an email in case you are hacked. Consider giving it to your solicitor.
Make a digital will — this can be included in or run alongside your main will. It will set down the names of the executors responsible for gaining access, and, where relevant, shutting down or passing over each account to the heirs.
Storage – If you are not comfortable writing down all your passwords, you can sign up with a storage firm such as online Legacy Locker or My Digital Executor — often free for a basic account — which will store your passwords and accounts. Then, you need only give the details of this account and password to the person named in your will for them to gain access. Alternatively, your passwords could be secretly stored in a file on your computer with the details of this file contained in your will.
See on www.dailymail.co.uk
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