The value of digital passwords

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An article which appeared in the Daily Mail a couple of days ago emphasised the importance of including digital passwords in a Will, something which Richard Webb’s family wish he had done prior to his death in 2007.

At the time Mr Webb was actively in charge of the family finances. As he had been disabled by multiple sclerosis for quite some time prior to his death, he had maintained his numerous interests via the internet. In fact he had managed very effectively to continue investing in stocks and shares, something which he had been interested in for years.

On December, 10th Mr Webb collapsed and was taken to hospital. During the next four days he was in a coma, and his family decided to sell his shares before he died and the estate entered probate. However they were unable to do so as all his accounts were online and they had no way of accessing them. As his son recalls, they had hit a stone wall and the situation was very frustrating.

It took the family two months to finally unpick his digital legacy, two months which, as it turned out, cost the family just over £80,000 as the share prices plummeted. Whilst Richard Webb’s Will had been updated, no one had thought to ensure that all his digital legacies had a succession plan in place.

Komal Joshi, encountered a similar issue when her father died in 2010. As Joshi recounts, it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack, no one really knew what they were looking for let alone where to find it. Unlike Richard Webb’s family, her father hadn’t even left a Will, and it was this experience which spurred her to create a digital vault to help people manage their scattered digital assets.

As it turns out, Richard Webb’s story is by no means unique. There are currently £25 billion worth of unclaimed assets in the UK and some £2 billion worth of unclaimed insurance policies. The digital era we live in has simplified so much of our day to day transactions and communications however there is also a tendency to take many of these digital assets for granted, to assume they will always be there and we will always be able to access them. We have not yet got the mindset to consider these assets as part of a valuable legacy.

Even if we discount the financial value of many of these assets, the emotional value of digital photos, collections of films and books, through to social media platforms and even emails is enormous. Carefully kept, ribbon-bound letters trigger emotional pangs that we still struggle to associate with say a Facebook account, and yet effectively they are imbued with the same emotional quality and value.

As our digital footprints increases we owe it to the next generations to manage it properly. It is fair to say that whilst the Baby Boomer generation has a relatively small digital footprint we still have amassed a good amount of digital ‘baggage’ which should be stored and passed on. As the new generation comes into the world they will, in many instances, already have a digital presence, sometimes even before they are born (say if parents post ultrasound photos). It is definitely time we took our digital assets much more seriously if we want them to outlast us. For families such as the Webb’s too we need to ensure that loved ones are financially protected and don’t have to go to great lengths to retrieve information particularly at such a difficult time.

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