Could contesting a will evolve to include digital assets?

Published 30 Nov 2016

What we consider valuable has always changed over time. Think about how seemingly old and unwanted cars always seem to grow into bona fide classics with a price tag to match. Now, the same thing is happening with digital assets, a fact that could drastically change the way people contest a will from now on.

The simple fact of the matter is that digital accounts and files are now financially and sentimentally valuable to people despite inherently being worth little, if anything at all. It's a process that could pose some difficulties as it develops, however, especially when it comes to mapping what is valuable and how beneficiaries can access these assets in the event of a claim.

Could uncancelled accounts cause a problem?

For all beneficiaries to receive fair compensation and avoid the difficulties that arise when contesting a will, it's essential that the deceased's estate is secure. This was challenging enough when people only dealt with physical assets. Now, digital accounts and similar assets are splitting individuals' wealth up even more and it isn't always clear how to access it.

In many cases, people simply leave a deceased person's online accounts open after they pass. It seems innocent enough, but eClosure notes that financial accounts such as PayPal and eBay that aren't shut down are often the perfect openings for fraudulent behaviour. If criminals get into these accounts and commit fraud, it could impact the amount left in the estate for beneficiaries.

How can beneficiaries ensure they get a fair settlement?

The key to having an accurate view of a person's digital wealth comes from ensuring that it's accessible after they pass. However, it isn't always clear about what the best way to do this is. Some people believe that distributing passwords to a trusted individual or storing them online or physically can help, while others note that this could imperil their security while they're still alive.

Choice advocated for the addition of a digital executor to work alongside the more traditional form of this role. Instead of being responsible for the regular will, a digital executor would just be responsible for a person's digital assets and wealth. While it could make the process easier, dividing these responsibilities among more people could increase the likelihood of will disputes as others get involved.

To find out more about contesting a will, contact the team at Gerard Malouf and Partners.

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