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HOW TO PROTECT YOUR DIGITAL ASSETS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

Last month, STEP, The Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners, launched its “Protect your digital memories for future generations” campaign to increase public awareness of the need to make plans for digital assets. This public facing campaign focuses on sentimental digital possessions such as photos, videos and social accounts. It provides some simple actions people can take to ensure digital possessions aren’t lost or inaccessible in the event of their death or incapacity.

STEP’s campaign details are below:

Why are we doing this?

Lack of public awareness about what will happen to digital assets on death or incapacity was a key finding in STEP’s 2021 report – Digital Assets: A Call to Action. Other findings included:

  • A quarter of estate practitioners reported that their clients had experienced difficulties accessing or transferring digital assets on death or incapacity.
  • Social media, email accounts and cloud storage for photos and documents are most commonly asked about by clients.
  • 90% of practitioners expect that client demand for advice about digital assets will increase in future, but close to half of respondents had not prepared to assist clients with digital assets.
  • Over 80% of estate practitioners had not used a cloud provider’s pre-planning tools themselves and over 40% had not even heard of them.

These findings have been further supported by a recent STEP-commissioned YouGov poll of 2,000 people in the UK, in which 64% of respondents said that what happens to their sentimental digital possessions after they have gone is either important or very important to them, but 57% have made no plans at all for passing on their digital assets. Only 3% of respondents had used the digital legacy tools provided by Google, Apple and others.

Our campaign therefore seeks to address these issues. It aims to get people thinking about what would happen to their photos, social accounts and videos after they’ve gone. It highlights that without planning, they may be lost forever – depriving future generations of these digital memories.

Where will the campaign be run?

The campaign will be largely run on digital channels due to the relevance of those channels to the campaign message. We have developed a bespoke website –memories.step.org – and a video to share on digital channels, which aims to highlight the issue and drive people to the website.

The website focuses on three key asks:

  • Update your legacy settings on Google, Apple, Facebook and other platforms.
  • Talk to your family and friends about what you want to happen to your digital assets.
  • Share our video to help us spread the word and educate more people on the importance of protecting your digital assets for future generations.

Our new website provides easy tips for how to plan what will happen to our digital assets when we are no longer able to access them. It only takes a few minutes to use the legacy tools that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other providers already have in place. Just 10 minutes now could save our loved ones a great deal of distress in the future.

What needs to change?

As digital technology becomes integral to our personal lives, our digital assets are becoming increasingly important. When we create an online account with service providers like Apple, Google and Facebook, we agree to terms and conditions that emphasise data privacy. Yet, many people do not plan for what will happen if they are no longer around or able to make decisions about such accounts and other digital assets.

There are often circumstances where family or loved ones would need or want to access a digital account when a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated. For example:

  • They might have sentimental value such as photos, videos, emails.
  • The online content might need to be controlled to protect the privacy of the deceased.
  • Access might be required to obtain passwords and login details in order to safeguard the deceased’s financial property.

In any of these circumstances, you would want a trusted loved one to manage these digital accounts just as you would want them to manage your financial accounts.

What are we calling for?

The campaign also highlights some areas that governments and service providers need to address to help families protect their digital assets. STEP and its members are engaging with governments and service providers globally to produce industry solutions and best practices that will help families plan for their futures with certainty and clarity. We are calling for the following changes:

  • Every service provider provides and encourages users to make use of, a comprehensive legacy tool to enable people to decide what happens to their account.
  • Every service provider has a clause that allows access to a nominated person within its terms and conditions.
  • Legislation that allows access to a nominated person in the appropriate circumstances.

Ultimately, we believe the law needs to stay up to date in all countries to ensure that individuals enjoy the same rights and freedoms to control their digital assets as they do their financial assets.

This is a global issue and we want to get the message out to people all over the world. Therefore, please spread the word as far as possible and share this information with your clients, your family and your friends.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel & Head of Government Affairs

I trust you will find this information useful. I, for one, believe there is a big gap in individuals’ estate planning where their Wills do not adequately cover the subject of digital assets. I sincerely hope that this blog will prompt you to take action to ensure that your digital assets are protected on your death and enjoyed by your descendants. You know it makes sense.*

*The contents of this blog are for information purposes only and do not constitute individual advice. You should always seek professional advice from a specialist. All information is based on our current understanding of taxation, legislation, regulations and case law in the current tax year. Any levels and bases of relief from taxation are subject to change. Tax treatment is based on individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future. This blog is based on my own observations and opinions.

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