Don’t Lose The Keys To Your Digital Estate
The increasing importance of digital
There is no doubt about it, we live in an increasingly digital world, with more and more of our most important information and valuable assets now hosted and managed online. And while this shift from paper to digital has been taking place for some time, it has been accelerated significantly by the pandemic and the need to find ‘remote’ alternatives for life under lockdown, meaning digital assets are more important than ever.
And while owning and managing digital assets is pretty straightforward – as long as you can remember your logins and passwords for multiple accounts and platforms – as a society we haven’t quite managed to come up with a universal working solution for what happens to them all when we die.
The problem – inconsistent policies and a lack of planning
In its recent report Digital Assets: A Call to Action – STEP, the global professional body of estate planning professionals, and the Queen Mary University – discovered that digital assets have become a common part of modern estate planning and estate administration. A fifth of practitioners say they already deal with digital assets at least monthly, while 90% predict that demand for advice in this area will increase significantly in the future, particularly around social media, email, cryptocurrencies and cloud storage.
However, clients are often experiencing difficulties in accessing the digital assets of their loved ones once they have passed, and according to the research, this is causing distress.
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While the issues surrounding each case will differ, there are two key issues. Firstly, while digital assets play a huge part in our lives, unlike physical assets, most people have not thought about what they want to happen to them when they die. This not only makes it hard for those tasked with managing their estate to understand their wishes when it comes to their digital assets, but also, makes it difficult to even know where these digital assets are and how to access them.
And secondly, there is a huge variation in policies for accessing and dealing with digital assets. There are countless different social media, email and cloud-storage providers, and each have different – and often hard to find – procedures for how the clients’ assets can be accessed when they have passed, making it very difficult for those left behind – and the professionals trying to help them – to access the information they need.
The STEP research found that only 6% of estate practitioners who had dealt with digital assets agreed there was a ‘straightforward’ way for accessing them, and one of the top issues was ‘a lack of estate planning by the deceased’.
The solution – better planning and regular reviews
There is a clearly a huge issue around how digital assets are handled after death, and as we move more and more of our lives online, this type of asset is going to become increasingly more significant, not less, so we need to find a better way to manage, protect, access and pass on our digital assets.
When it comes to other assets, like property or investments – we tend to have documents stating what they are, what they are worth and where they are kept, and then express our wishes about what should happen to them when we die in our Will. So why don’t we approach digital assets in the same way?
The STEP research found that 72% of estate planning professionals think their clients should explicitly express their preferences about their digital assets, and of those that were aware of digital legacy planning tools, more than two thirds (69%) said they would advise their clients to use them.
An opportunity for estate planners
There is a real opportunity here for advisers to make use of the various digital estate planning tools available to offer their clients an easy and secure way to manage and share their digital assets, and a regular digital asset review service to ensure the details remain up to date and true to their wishes.
While a Will review tends to take place every five years or so, the ever-changing nature of digital assets – and the terms and conditions of their service providers – means that a more regular review period is needed. Those who take a more active approach, and help their clients to regularly review their wishes about their digital assets – including what they are, where they are and how to access them – will not only take away the stress of trying to deal with them once their client has passed, but they also create more regular client touchpoints, which can help create more business opportunities with their client, but also with the next generation.
Third parties are here to help
Zenplans was launched to give people the peace of mind that when they pass away, their loved ones will not be put under any extra stress or emotional turmoil while trying to administer their estate. The Zenplans platform has been created for estate planners so they can help their clients securely organise, maintain, store and selectively share all their most important personal and financial information, including, of course, their digital assets.
The system also securely stores a clients’ wishes, with the option to selectively share key details with named delegates (e.g. beneficiaries, the executor of the will, solicitors etc).
These delegates can be granted restricted or full access, either immediately or after a particular time – for example, after death, or if the client becomes incapacitated – ensuring that information is quickly and easily accessible by the right people as and when needed. It also works as a key planning tool for advisers, as the step-by-step guidance helps trigger a client fact-find and identifies any planning gaps and helps manage regular reviews. This means all wishes and key information – including the ever-changing policies and procedures around digital assets – are always up to date – enabling advisers to give their clients peace of mind that everything has been thought of and planned for.
To find out how your firm can use the Zenplan platform, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit zenplans.com to request a product tour.
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