We don't usually cover the legal side of technology but here's an interesting thought leader just come in from Surrey (UK)-based wills and probate specialists Hart Brown about some of the issues that can arise with a digital legacy

With the proliferation of online banking, pensions and investments and now the storing of personal effects such as photographs, music, blogs and social media digitally, what will happen to your digital legacy when planning your will as the usual paper trail may no longer be available? Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the silver surfers as more and more older people are now using the internet to store and access information. But, with this increase in online activity people are building up a strong digital legacy, so how will your loved ones deal with the issues that they may cause when you die?

With the strong push to be environmentally friendly, many banks and other organisations are encouraging their customers to move to a paper-free system of statements, including for bank accounts, credit cards and other investments. In the past, one of the key ways to establish whether a deceased person held accounts was to go through their paperwork, and any post received after their death, so that they could work out which companies or institutions to contact. This is becoming far harder as less and less paperwork is being produced.

In addition, many people upload information, such as photographs and videos, to social media such as Facebook and YouTube. However depending on the terms of use set by the relevant provider, these accounts can come to an end on death. Therefore the information may be  lost or, in any event, it is unlikely that any family member would be able to access the information without the user name and password of the deceased person. The same would be true of any email accounts, where again useful information may be held that the executors and family of the deceased cannot access without the required passwords.

Many people have begun to include this sort of information in their wills. However after they have died and their will has been sent to the Probate Registry to obtain a grant of probate, which may be required to deal with their property and other assets, the will becomes a public document. Therefore any confidential information in the  will can be obtained simply by applying to the Probate Registry for a copy of the will at the cost of £6.00

To tackle this issue, one option is to keep a list of the institutions where you hold assets, and from which you receive an income, along with details of any user names and passwords that you may want your executors and/or family to have access to when you have died. However, this information is of course extremely confidential and so should not be treated lightly – information stored on a PC to be accessed by hackers and it is also possible that printed information may fall into the wrong hands. It is therefore essential to ensure that that information is stored in a very safe and secure place.

One possibility would be to store the information with your original will, either with your solicitor, bank or otherwise, as long as you are confident that it will be stored safely.  Having taken these steps, it is also extremely important that you remember to keep the information updated, as old information can be as useless as no information at all.

It is also important to remember that the same issues could occur if you lost your mental capacity during your lifetime, so consider making a lasting power of attorney so someone can step into your shoes and at the same time, think about how you are going to ensure that your chosen attorney(s) have access to the information they will need.