What we can learn from clients about digital assets

 In Wills

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The Law Clinic

The Law Clinic is a formal module on the undergraduate LLB Course and is a fantastic way for students to get out of the lecture theatre into the real world of clients and legal problems, which are messy and do not always conform to the examples they are taught in case law. For my colleagues who undertake the Lion’s Share of the student supervision, it is also a way for them to get out of the office and, through the process of teaching others, think about the law in a different way from the daily grind of managing client matters.

Practical probate and digital assets

On occasion I pop into the Law Clinic myself to cover the supervision. Recently I met a client at the Law Clinic who had an issue with the estate of her husband who had died intestate and with an aged debt. The question was whether the debt was owed by him personally or one which was owed by his now defunct company. The students gave sensible advice about the evidence required to show the debt belonged to the company and was not personal, for which she was grateful. But as a Probate Practitioner it was her remarks about digital assets which I found of great interest.

The client told me she had experienced real practical difficulties with her husband’s digital assets in terms of accessing his PC and email account then tracking down various “assets” such as bank accounts held online and information about his business. She came up against many obstacles and is still not sure if she has found everything relevant to his estate.

Her husband had died intestate so I asked her if she had now made a Will. The reply was ‘yes she had’ and she had insisted that the solicitor who drew it up include a clause giving her children, as executors, express power to access her digital assets. She added, she has also left instructions with her children about where they have to look. An example of a forward-thinking client and one from whom we can all learn.

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I firmly believe that in an era where clients can easily have their heads turned with regard to competitor legal services; or, be tempted to go DIY with work such as Probate, we have to always show how we as solicitors can add value to what we offer. Being at the forefront of providing advice about digital assets, both at the Will drafting and estate administration stages, is one very good way to be the professional who wins work and retains clients by adding value.

It is therefore good news that The Law Society Wills and Equity Committee are very much alive to the issue of Digital Assets. Written guidance for the profession is expected by the end of this year.

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