As a young articled clerk (trainee solicitor) in the days when God was still young, I recall being sent to a country cottage in Sussex to collect a recently deceased gentleman’s assets for probate purposes…
The housekeeper and executor showed me into his study where the safe was opened and out came paper stocks, shares and bonds and a few old family photographs; a pile of carefully maintained bank statements filed scrupulously in date order, and a hardback building society passbook recording in neat copperplate, all debit and credit entries over the years – some still in pounds, shillings and pence.
Another search of his antique bureau found a pile of yellowing manuscript conveyances and indentures some over a century old, proving his title to the charming cottage, and armed with all this physical paperwork, I set off back to my London office to start my work.
Nowadays, the scenario is of course very different. For a start, most if not all of us transact our financial lives online via our phones or laptops. We are positively discouraged by banks and utility companies for instance, from asking for paper records. We deal with our shares online and the Land Registry maintains an electronic register of our property interests.
Without any obvious “paper trail” to link back to a list of assets, I always ask my clients – and particularly those aged 55 and under – “if something were to happen to you suddenly on the way home from my office, leaving you dead or severely incapacitated, who would know where and how to access all your digital assets and ensure they were safely in the hands of the right people”?
It is surprising how many people look at me in shock and dawning realisation that this vitally important protective measure has not been contemplated before I mention it.
We should all ensure that our digital legacy – i.e. all of our online financial accounts, passwords, memorable questions and answers – indeed, anything to be able to prove our entitlement and enable our loved ones to access information on our death – is kept somewhere safe to be accessed in the event of an accident or medical event which renders us unable to provide information to help our executors and loved ones collate all our assets and ensure none of these are lost without trace.
At the very least, you ought to have a sealed envelope in the desk drawer with instructions to be read in the event of your death – with details of your updated passwords from time to time – or a secure area of your computer or laptop or preferably – and please talk to us about getting one – a cloud based, secure digital “life vault” where everything can be safely stored until the time comes.
If you would like a free and friendly discussion about identifying and accessing your digital legacy on your sudden death or incapacity – making sure your loved ones are looked after properly and nothing gets lost in cyberspace, please call either Nathan or Nicola now on 01795 472291.
Nicola Manning is Wills & Probate Solicitor at Jarmans Solicitors