A recently released report by Johan David Michels, Sharon Hartung and Christopher Millard entitled “Digital Assets: A Call to Action” identifies significant difficulties faced by estates, estate trustees, planners, beneficiaries and their solicitors in dealing with digital assets.

The authors surveyed over 500 members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (“STEP”) around the world.

The key findings of the report are:

  • Digital assets have become a common part of modern estate planning and estate administration, with demand for advice expected to increase significantly in the future.
  • Clients seeking digital asset advice in relation to both estate planning and estate administration, with social media and email accounts topping the list of most-asked-about assets.
  • Clients frequently experience difficulty accessing digital assets on death or incapacity of a family member, causing distress and frustration.
  • Third-party service providers can present practical, procedural and legal obstructions to both estate planning and estate administration.
  • There is wide variation in policies, practices and tools for dealing with clients’ digital assets, highlighting the need for more education for practitioners on best practices.
  • Law reform is needed to enable effective estate planning and estate administration for digital assets.

The report concludes with a call to action. “Accessing digital assets after a loved one’s death can pose a challenge. As digital assets become more prevalent and our lives become increasingly entwined with digital technologies, the need for effective solutions becomes ever more critical. These solutions require a joint response. Bodies such as STEP and its members need to engage with governments and service providers globally in order to produce industry solutions and best practices that will help families plan for their futures with certainty and clarity.

The report also contains links to useful resources for practitioners dealing with digital asset issues.

Thank you for reading.

Paul Trudelle