A growing trend widely reported in the media of people leaving usernames and passwords in their Wills is causing more problems than it solves, warns Francis Durrant, a solicitor and Partner specialising in Wills at Barr Ellison Solicitors.
“I would recommend not putting sensitive information in a Will but rather in a separate note stored with it or, more usefully, along with a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA),” says Francis. “Passwords may change and a note can be updated more easily. There is also an issue from a security point of view of having the information too widely available: Wills become documents of public record when they go to probate and may be accessed by fraudsters.”
Francis recommends that people provide a list of assets (particularly where numerous or complicated) and also details that are necessary for registration of death.
If stored with an LPA or EPA (Enduring Power of Attorney) this information would be readily available for the attorney acting for the deceased person. “Before people start worrying about their Facebook or Twitter accounts they really need to think about the usefulness of a Lasting Power of Attorney. If they get to a stage where they are incapable of looking after their affairs – welfare, finances or property – no one will be able to use online bank accounts or social networking sites even if they know the passwords unless they have legally appointed someone to act for them in this way.”
According to a study of online activity by Goldsmiths College and web hosting company Rackspace, 11% of British adults have left, or are considering leaving, usernames and passwords in their Wills. It’s also estimated that 1.78 m Facebook users will die this year (200,000 over the age of 55) worldwide.
“The very nature of the fast moving world of social media and other online activity means that people are likely to open and close many different accounts during their lifetime, so they should regularly revisit these details”, says Francis. “Even if people keep this information in a separate note from the Will it’s still worth regularly reviewing the Will particularly if circumstances change,” Francis cautions.