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UK private members’ Bill would open up deceased’s records to family

A private members’ Bill to give a deceased or incapacitated person’s family immediate access to their digital data, without having to take legal action against digital platforms, has been introduced to the UK parliament.

The Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill was introduced on 18 January by Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley and is supported by 11 cross-party MPs, as well as Baroness Beeban Kidron in the House of Lords.

Paisley estimates that GBP25 billion of assets in the UK are held in online accounts, cloud storage, social media or other protected electronic storage. This, he says, is in addition to digital assets of mostly sentimental value such as personal photos and videos. It also includes purchased music and games, cryptocurrency, frequent flyer points and similar commercial products. However, owners, especially young people, forget to make provision for access to content in their will or share passwords and access codes. He further comments that many do not have a will.

Much precious material, sentimental and otherwise, can be lost forever because there is no legislation to rights of access to a person’s digital device or account, says Paisley. A deceased or incapacitated person’s successors or carers are ‘at the mercy’ of the various mechanisms laid down by the relevant technology companies to get access.

Paisley believes this Bill would remove these ‘unnecessary’ barriers and unlock access to the next of kin. Its default position would be that the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated person would automatically gain access to the contents of the digital platforms held in the deceased person’s name on their digital device. Where the deceased did not leave access codes for their devices, the tech companies would be responsible for unlocking these devices for the next of kin.

STEP recognises and has highlighted in its Digital Assets: A Call to Action report, published in September 2021, the urgent need for governments to provide clarity on how people can ensure that their digital assets are passed on in accordance with their wishes. ‘Our personal and work lives are becoming more digitally dependant and the digital transformation of the estate industry is being challenged to evolve and adapt’, comments Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel and Head of Government Relations.

‘Digital assets have become a common part of modern estate planning and estate administration, with demand for advice expected to increase significantly in future. We are seeing grieving families frequently experience difficulties accessing digital assets on death or incapacity of a family member, causing distress and frustration. We are therefore urging the government to present a clear legal solution to these issues’, Deane says.

If you would like to discuss a Will please contact Helena Grady  on (0114 2588899).  Helena is a Solicitor and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) with many years’ experience.

Fogwill & Jones Legal Services Limited is an independent niche law firm that trades alongside Fogwill & Jones Wealth Management Limited. The businesses are entirely separate and regulated by different bodies.  The only connection is that they are both owned by Colin Fogwill.  The benefit to our clients is that when financial advice is needed alongside legal advice, these services are available at one location.

Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited remains open during these unprecedented times.  We are conducting meetings with our clients via Zoom, on the telephone or face to face.

Source:  STEP UK News Digest – 24th January 2022