Dealing with your online life before death

ryan_zerbeSTEP’s North America News Digest recently covered the launch of Facebook’s ‘Legacy Contact’ feature. In the past Facebook froze the accounts of deceased persons, however this new option allows users to designate a person who will receive limited posthumous access to their account. This option represents a significant change for one of the most-used online services in history (Facebook had some 1.39 billion users in December 2014) and highlights the growing importance of how online accounts are treated after an accountholder dies. A recent report from the Co-operative’s Funeralcare found that 94 per cent of British adults had online assets but only a quarter of them have plans for these assets after they die. The report also found that 78 per cent of relatives had difficulty managing a deceased loved one’s online assets with 20 per cent of them ‘unable to manage the process at all’. In light of Facebook’s new Legacy Contact feature and the expanding —and often complicated— need to plan for online accounts after death, here are a few starting points practitioners may wish to consider when helping clients take stock of their online accounts.

Facebook Users have several options for how their Facebook account is managed once they die. Should a client wish to have their account permanently removed a representative will need to provide a court document confirming power of attorney, a last will and testament and birth and death certificates. Alternatively a Facebook account can be ‘Memorialised’ allowing others to post on its timeline but the account itself cannot be updated. Finally, as mentioned above, a user can nominate a Legacy Contact to manage parts of the account. The Legacy Contact may be notified at the time they are nominated or by Facebook when it becomes aware of a user’s death. It’s important to note that the Legacy Contact feature is not available in all countries yet, however it has just been introduced in Canada.

Google Google was the first online service to develop a tool to manage accounts for inactive users. The ‘Inactive Account Manager’ feature allows users to designate contacts that can access some features of their Google account after a specified period of time (this also applies to users who simply stop using their Google accounts). A death certificate, full email from the deceased’s Gmail address and proof of legal authority over the estate are required when advising Google that a user has died. Social media death

YouTube YouTube has been a subsidiary of Google for nine years so creating a legacy account after death depends partly on when it was created. If a YouTube account was created before May 2009 and not accessed since 2011 it is not part of a larger Google account. This can be rectified by linking the YouTube account to a Google account which brings it under the Inactive Account Manager feature mentioned above.

Twitter Unlike other platforms, Twitter does not yet have a dedicated function to manage an account after the user has died. To gain access to a Twitter account the user name and password will actually have to be provided to a relative or trusted associate prior to death. To deactivate a Twitter account a representative must provide death certificate and identification. Twitter will liaise with executors of a will as well as relatives of the deceased.

Apple Apple accounts are often directly linked to online purchases of music or films. These digital format assets are deleted with an account, however the Family Sharing feature access to digital assets to up to six other people (this must be done prior to death). Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads are treated differently. By submitting a death certificate and a will specifying that they are being bequeathed to a beneficiary, Apple can deactivate any locks on devices for future use by the new owner. Including the deceased’s Apple ID number will expedite this process as one London man discovered last year.

There is no single way to manage all online or social media accounts once a person is gone. The features put in place by Facebook and Google are comprehensive whereas other platforms depend on the deceased leaving passwords in order to better facilitate access for their loved ones. In the case of Yahoo and its subsidiary sites and assets are not transferable at all, not even to relatives of the deceased. For these reasons, a record of all online accounts, email addresses and their passwords is a valuable starting point and can be included with other important documents for handling by an executor. Practitioners may also find the following articles in the STEP Journal useful when helping clients plan what to do with digital assets:

– Digital life after death (December 2014)

– The digital museum (December 2013)

– Digital assets (May 2013)

– I’m shutting down now (November 2012)

Ryan Zerbe is STEP’s PR and Media Executive.

STEP International News Digest wrap-up – March’s top stories

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March was a busy month in the private wealth sector as jurisdictions around the world looked to build stronger information sharing agreements and increase transparency. Welcome to the wrap-up of the top ten most popular stories in the STEP International News Digest throughout March 2015. In case you missed them, here are the worldwide industry news stories most viewed by our readers.

Revised guidance on residence and domicile: The UK tax authority has published a revised guidance note for residents and non-residents on the residence, domicile and remittance basis rules for tax years 2012-2013 onwards.

Battery of good news for property investors: An expert in French property taxation discusses the recent positive changes in the real estate tax regime. They include: the single 19 per cent rate for all taxpayers; the end of the social contribution levy on non-residents’ rental income and capital gains; and the removal of the obligation on non-residents to appoint a fiscal representative when selling French property.

US highlights jurisdictions of ‘primary concern’: Part II of the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report assesses ‘governments’ efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing’ in relation to the international drug trade. The report has named over 60 countries in its list of ‘countries of primary concern’ for money laundering and financial crimes.

UK government repeats registry demands on Overseas Territories: The UK government has written to the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands repeating its demand that they set up a central registry of private companies’ beneficial ownership, and asking them to supply an implementation timetable.

Nil reporting requirements and reporting deadlines: The US Internal Revenue Service has posted new clarifications of its guidance regarding the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, relating to Form 8966 reporting deadlines and nil reporting.

New Swiss-EU treaty will replace Savings Tax Agreement: Switzerland has signed an agreement to exchange bank account information automatically with the European Union from 2018, superseding the existing Savings Taxation Treaty. The European Commission is advising member states to encourage ‘regularisation of the past’ before automatic exchange is introduced.

RBC’s trust unit under investigation by French prosecutors: French prosecutors are attempting to bring charges of complicity in tax fraud against Royal Bank of Canada’s Bahamian trust subsidiary. RBC is opposing the prosecutors’ application to a French investigating judge concerning ‘actions taken relating to a trust for which RBC Bahamas currently serves as trustee’, which RBC says did not violate French law.

Regulations laid for CRS automatic exchange of information: The UK government has issued new regulations allowing it to automatically exchange bank account information with other jurisdictions under the OECD Common Reporting Standard (CRS) system, or under the relevant European Directive and its FATCA agreement with the US.

Trusts with no US Reportable Accounts need not file ‘nil returns’ with HMRC: UK financial institutions (FIs) (including many trusts) with no US Reportable Accounts will now not need to file ‘nil returns’ to HM Revenue and Customs under the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. This has been welcomed by STEP, which notes that practitioners should still ensure that, where necessary, trusts have been registered with the US Internal Revenue Service and that the required due diligence is completed to establish if there are US Specified Persons connected to a trust.

Switzerland passes on to OECD phase two: Switzerland has been admitted to phase two of the OECD tax transparency forum’s peer review process, having satisfied the assessors that its law on international administrative assistance is adequate. The phase two assessment – to check whether Switzerland is providing effective exchange of information on request – is due in the second half of 2016.

The STEP Industry News Digests provide a round-up of relevant industry news for trust and estate practitioners and other professionals in the wealth management sector. They provide brief summaries of topical news stories gathered from news providers internationally, providing a quick reference for busy practitioners to all the relevant news and issues. The News Digests also feature job listings from our recruitment site and list local STEP branch events and conferences. STEP’s digest services include twice weekly UK and Wealth Structuring (international) editions as well as a bi-weekly North America Digest focusing on the US, Canada and Mexico, and a Latin America Digest.

To subscribe to STEP’s digest services you will need to first register here: http://www.step.org/register

STEP UK News Digest wrap-up – March’s top stories

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Some major developments came out of Westminster this month with many impacting private client advisors. Welcome to the wrap-up of the top ten most popular stories in STEP’s online UK Digests throughout March 2015 as clicked by our readers.

All about the budget: The 2015 UK Budget was, by far, the most significant story for readers of STEP’s UK news digest. In fact, the 19 March edition was almost entirely Budget related coverage. As a result the link above is to the full Budget document, however STEP focussed specifically on these stories:

– Early end to Liechtenstein and Crown Dependency amnesties

– Review of deeds of variation

– Castle Howard case prompts restriction of ‘wasting assets’ CGT relief

– Farmers’ averaging extended from two to five years

– Lifetime allowance for pension contributions reduced again

– Enterprise CGT rules tightened

New form simplifies creation and registration process: The form used to create lasting powers of attorney (LPA) in England and Wales has been amended to amalgamate the instruments for making and registering an LPA. The requirement for two certificate providers has also been removed. The old forms introduced in 2009 can still be executed until 1 January 2016.

Farmer’s daughter granted one-third of farm value: Cardiff’s High Court has awarded GBP1.3 million to Eirian Davies to settle her proprietary estoppel claim on her parents’ Carmarthenshire farm. Her claim on the GBP3.8 million farm was accepted last May by the England and Wales Court of Appeal (Davies v Davies, 2014 EWCA Civ 568), but the parties’ inability to reach agreement have forced her to go to court again to obtain compensation.

Trusts with no US Reportable Accounts need not file ‘nil returns’ with HMRC: UK financial institutions (FIs) (including many trusts) with no US Reportable Accounts will now not need to file ‘nil returns’ to HM Revenue and Customs under the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. This has been welcomed by STEP, but we note that practitioners should still ensure that, where necessary, trusts have been registered with the US Internal Revenue Service and that the required due diligence is completed to establish if there are US Specified Persons connected to a trust.

Executor-beneficiary jailed for false IHT return: A woman who declared the value of her aunt’s estate as GBP285,000 instead of the real amount of GBP1.5 million has been jailed for almost three years. Theresa Bunn came to HM Revenue and Customs’ notice when it discovered she was financially supporting a friend and using her friend’s bank accounts to conceal her assets.

Pre-marital wealth of GBP5 million distributed on needs basis: The ex-wife in S v S (2014 EWHC 4732 Fam) has obtained a financial remedy of GBP5.6 million on the basis of her needs, although virtually the whole of the couple’s combined assets of GBP25 million were brought into the marriage by the husband. Mr Justice Bodey ruled that she needed a GBP2 million house in the country, a GBP65,000 new car, and a London flat worth GBP800,000, as well as funds to provide her income.

TDF examines pilot trusts proposal: A thread on the Trusts Discussion Forum (TDF) discusses the recent changes to inheritance tax on multiple pilot trusts created on the same day. The proposal is in the new draft section 62A to the Inheritance Tax Act 1984, published last December.

CoA dismisses film relief scheme promoter case against HMRC chief: Patrick McKenna, Chief Executive of film tax relief scheme promoter Ingenious Media, applied to the Court of Appeal to challenge the actions of HM Revenue and Customs’ former boss Dave Hartnett, who referred to him in a highly unfavourable context in an off the record press briefing in 2012. The court dismissed McKenna’s appeal.

Comparison of parties’ tax policies: Smith & Williamson has published a comparison of the main political parties’ tax policies for private clients and for companies, as set out in their election manifestos.

Land leased to solar farms will attract IHT charge: Farmers who lease out their land to solar farm operators may be incurring a future inheritance tax charge that outweighs the cumulative income from the lease, according to a farm accountant. Such land no longer qualifies for full agricultural property relief even if sheep are grazed under the solar panels, says Mike Butler of Old Mill.

The STEP Industry News Digests provide a round-up of relevant industry news for trust and estate practitioners and other professionals in the wealth management sector. They provide brief summaries of topical news stories gathered from news providers internationally, providing a quick reference for busy practitioners to all the relevant news and issues. The News Digests also feature job listings from our recruitment site and list local STEP branch events and conferences. STEP’s digest services include twice weekly UK and Wealth Structuring (international) editions as well as a bi-weekly North America Digest focusing on the US, Canada and Mexico, and a Latin America Digest.

To subscribe to STEP’s digest services you will need to first register here: http://www.step.org/register