Protecting your digital legacy

Rosalind Oswald

Rosalind Oswald

Rosalind Oswald – Partner and Family Business Advisor at law firm Thrings – talks about how businesses can protect their digital legacy.

The internet is an integral part of our everyday working lives.

It is no longer a question of whether to have a website, Facebook page or Twitter account, but how to manage them successfully.

The World Wide Web has introduced many new issues that have to be taken into consideration when we are planning our afterlives.

However, too few people leave clear instructions about what happens to their digital assets after their death.

The question of succession is always a live business issue.

But our existing tools – wills, trusts, powers of attorney – need a radical overhaul as we join the information superhighway.

There is a fundamental reason for this. Every time we interact with an internet provider, we are constrained by terms and conditions that we may not even have read.

Of course, these contractual issues exist whenever an item or service is purchased. But there is a significant difference, for example, between buying a sign to put outside a shop and obtaining a domain name.

Four easy ways to avoid potentially time-consuming and expensive problems are:

1) List each of the ways your business interacts with the internet

2) Plan how you want each interaction to be managed if you are no longer around

3) Check if what you want to happen can actually be achieved in practice

4) Prepare the documents needed to inform key people what steps they need to take to ensure your plans are carried out

Below are two practical examples:

Example 1: You are a sole trader with a book shop. You conduct business transactions over the internet, your accounts are on your iPad and you use email. Otherwise, everything else is in physical form.

1) Your financial information is stored on your iPad and your clients contact you by email.

2) You need to make sure your executors and accountant can access your financial information and your executors can monitor your email account to ensure no orders are lost and client contact is managed.

3) Read the terms and conditions for the email account. As the laptop belongs to you, accessing information on the laptop should not be a problem provided you make the right preparations.

4) Write down your laptop password on a piece of paper, and together with your laptop details, store it with your will (which sets out who you wish to inherit the shop and business).

As far as the email account is concerned, you will need to check what the options are after your death.

These will depend upon the contents of the terms and conditions which will vary with each provider

Example 2:

You have an online book shop which you run from your home.

You have a successful YouTube channel, and your videos, which demonstrate your encyclopaedic knowledge of harpsichords, support your marketing strategy and earn you significant amounts of income. You do not use paper.

1) Your interactions with the internet could include your website, your domain name, PayPal, email, Facebook and YouTube.

2) You want your partner to take over the online bookshop and your son to take over the YouTube channel.

3) Read the terms and conditions for each of your interactions and establish what will need to happen and what documents will be needed in the event of your death.

4) Prepare the appropriate paperwork to ensure your instructions are carried out.

It quickly becomes apparent that the greater your level of interaction with the internet, the more complex the position.

However, ignoring the issue will not assist you, your business or your relatives. Eventually, there may be a common approach to dealing with these issues.

Until then, it is essential you take control of your digital legacy before it’s too late.