Wills and probate solicitors at Coles Miller are warning people not to forget their digital assets when considering their bequests and other final wishes.
Internet bank and savings accounts, bitcoins, betting accounts, social media profiles - all these online assets and intellectual property could all be lost if the owners die without passing on the details.
Solicitors are anxious that these assets should be preserved but are warning people to be careful how they go about it.
A will becomes a public document when a grant of probate is issued so Coles Miller is urging people not to write their online account passwords in them.
Instead the solicitors recommend listing passwords and what should happen to social media and other online accounts in private information documents that the law firm can store securely with the wills.
People should leave clear instructions about what should happen to their online accounts after their death and how the platforms can accessed so their instructions can be carried out.
Like wills, these private information documents should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain current and are still in keeping with the owner’s financial and family circumstances.
Coles Miller Associate Stuart Bradford - a solicitor in the firm’s specialist Wills, Tax and Trusts department - is seeing increasing numbers of cases that involve digital assets.
“This is going to be more and more of an issue as more people have online banking, betting and PayPal accounts,” said Mr Bradford.
“Each successive generation will leave a larger digital footprint - creating more potential difficulties for bereaved relatives when it comes time to go through their effects.
“The low visibility of some digital assets can make them difficult to find, meaning that families run the risk of losing some of them forever,” he added.
And it is not just people making wills who need to consider their online accounts - the issue can also affect those considering powers of attorney.
Powers of attorney are legal documents that allow people to nominate in advance deputies to take decisions on their behalf in the event of them losing the capacity to do so.
They are often used by elderly people to delegate decisions to loved ones and trusted professional advisers but can be taken out by people of any age.
Mr Bradford said: “As with wills, it is important to consider what will happen to an individual’s online assets and accounts when they are no longer able to manage them.
“The popularity and importance of online assets is yet another reason why people should consider taking out a power of attorney.
“Loss of decision-making capacity can affect people of any age - accidents can happen to anyone,” added Mr Bradford.
Dorset-based law firm Coles Miller helps individuals with a wide range of legal services including wills, tax and trusts; powers of attorney and Court of Protection applications.
Services also include conveyancing; residential leasehold property; family law; personal injury; clinical negligence; employment law; disputes and litigation; debt recovery and planning.
The firm has offices in Bournemouth, Poole, Charminster, Broadstone and Wimborne.
For more information about wills, probate, tax, trusts and powers of attorney, please contact Coles Miller Associate Stuart Bradford, 01202 673011.