One of the key duties of an executor is to ensure that the value of all assets and liabilities is taken into account when determining the estate of a deceased testator. This is made much easier when all of the necessary information is in one place, and immediately accessible.
Rightly, the main focus of this exercise is to establish how many, how much, and other questions for which the answer is a number. Using the Future Safe Vault will dramatically simplify this activity, and reduce both the time it takes (probate will be shortened by as much as 4 months, according to the Society of Will Writers) and lessen the risk of missing either assets or liabilities. The vault can also be used, however, to deal with other less easily identified qualitative issues that address the question: how do we want to be remembered?
- Identify. Ascertain and list all digital assets of the deceased. If there is a list or memorandum, this should be your starting point.
- Gain access to digital devices. Secure any devices and restrict access. Because the physical property and all the rights to it vest in you as the executor, you are within your rights to circumvent passwords and security measures if necessary in order to gain access.
- Gain access to digital assets. Where the deceased has left passwords for his or her online accounts, ensure that you can gain access. Where you do not have a username/password, there may be another way to request the information.
- Backup. Where possible and appropriate, make local backups of digital assets that may have financial or sentimental value.
- Inventory. List all digital assets for the purpose of accounting to beneficiaries.
- Digital assets having determinable value. Digital assets having realisable present or future financial value should be secured and their value ascertained for probate and accounting purposes. Determine whether the asset is to be transferred in kind to a beneficiary or if it should be prepared for sale.
- Personal and sentimental items. For personal and sentimental digital assets without determinable value, arrange for their transfer to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will or law. If these assets are of a personal nature, they may fall within the Will's "articles" provisions.
- Personal information. Subject to instructions or wishes for dealing with personal information, the executor should protect the privacy of the deceased to the greatest degree possible.
- Liabilities. Determine any liabilities relating to digital accounts and pay them together with other estate liabilities. e.g. Online gambling accounts.
- Close accounts. Attend to the orderly closing of accounts where all useful assets have been recovered and the account is of no further use.
We expect that the administration of digital assets as part of the Estate will continue to evolve as the methods of access, type of information, and value of the assets change over time. It is important that testators and executors ensure their planning and administration keep pace with the evolution.