Last Updated on 13.6.19 by Michael Smoult
It`s usually money, property or items of sentimental value which create arguments over the contents of a will.
But now it seems that a rising source of anguish is lack of instruction of who has access to a loved one`s digital legacy.
As a result family members and other loved ones are going to war over who becomes keeper of the pictures, blogs, icloud, websites and music their loved one has left posted on sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, warns a leading lawyer.
“It`s a potentially combustible state of affairs since you could have a situation where, say, an ex-wife doesn`t want the current wife to have digital custody of pictures of her children.” explains Michael Smoult, partner in Wills, Trusts & Probate at Gorvins solicitors in Stockport who has seen a rise in cases involving this area of law.
Many people already don`t think about making a will until factors in their life change. Certainly and understandably, the last thing on someone`s mind at a time of accident, injury or serious illness is who is going to be keeper of the Facebook account. But those accounts often contain treasured pictures which can be a source of immense comfort. Yet it`s one area of bequests that many people, despite the social media age – still overlook”.
It`s an issue which was recently thrown into focus when it was revealed that widow Rachel Thompson, 44, from Chiswick, west London, spent thousands of pounds on a three year battle with Apple to access her late husband`s family photos.
Her initial attempts to access her husband Matt’s account, were rebuffed by the American company, but a recent court order finally went in her favour.
The problem has become particularly acute with news that the number of over 75s using social media has nearly doubled in the last year, Some 48 per cent of online baby boomers aged 65 to 74 now have a social media profile, as do 41 per cent of over-75s, up from 19 per cent a year ago.
“Without planning, all these will be left in a void if you pass away or develop a disease, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, which renders you incapable of looking after such accounts. That`s when the arguments could start” adds Michael Smoult.
Some sites, such as Facebook, do have a legacy setting, which enables users to choose someone to look after their account if it’s memorialised. But, says Michael Smoult, not many people seem to be aware of this.
The Law Society recommends making and updating a ‘Personal Assets Log’, which has a list of all your digital accounts so that your executor can arrange to close your accounts and your family have permission to access digital media they may want to keep, such as photos and videos.
You don’t have to leave passwords and pins – it would be an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 for anyone to access your account without your permission.
Instead, your executors will be able to contact the relevant website or service provide to gain access.
There are also ‘digital estate planning services’ which allow you to plan ahead for digital information transfer, create time capsules, prepare messages for future delivery, and automate backups,
Adds Michael Smoult: `Money, property or sentimental items have historically proved to be the flashpoints in terms of contents of a will. But as more and more older people use social media, this has brought with it tremendous scope for argument.
One way around matters, he says, is to set out in a letter of wishes, outlining explicitly whom you wish to bequeath the digital legacy to. Make sure you list your social media accounts with the login details and passwords on a piece of paper and leave copies with your executor and solicitor.
Adds Michael Smoult “Having access to photos and videos are likely to be incredibly important for family and close friends when a person dies. Making provision for a digital legacy could save a lot of heartache in the future. But if you have a will or are planning to make one, it can avoid a lot of heart ache if passwords are listed and it is clear who should be the keeper of the digital legacy”.