Progress on digital legacy planning from internet service providers

Two leading tech firms have announced significant changes to digital legacy options.

Apple

Robert CaringtonApple is to offer a digital legacy service for user accounts, according to reports from CNET and Digital Legacy Management. The move, announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, follows reports of families taking service providers like Facebook to court to gain access to deceased family members’ accounts. Users can either permit access to a named individual, the ‘administrator’, or choose to have their accounts deleted. The new function is expected to be released later this year, though no date has been set.

The administrator will sign in through a ’legacy contact Apple ID’ and will need an access key to see password-protected data on Apple devices. He/she will also be able to view data stored in iCloud, Apple’s cloud service, which can then be downloaded, but will not have access to payment information, such as stored credit cards, or logins stored on a user’s Keychain.

While the service has not been officially released, Apple has already set up a dedicated web page. The user needs to enter their Apple ID login to get to the digital legacy page, which gives them the option to specify that their account be deleted when they die.

However the main question, which is yet to be answered by Apple, is how the service will work if the designated legacy contact does not use any Apple products. It is also unclear whether the administrator will be able to access the new system from devices using other operating systems, such as Android.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn also now offers options for those authorised to address a deceased person’s account, memorialise or close a deceased member’s account, according to a blog by Sharon Hartung TEP. Whilst these are not classed as pre-planning tools (advance selections) with respect to addressing an account member’s wishes and preference upon death, they do allow the fiduciary to either request a LinkedIn profile to be closed or memorialised.

Next steps, and STEP’s Thought Leadership work

Both moves follow in the footsteps of Google’s inactive account manager, which has been going for some years. It is hoped that other vendors and tech providers will respond to consumer expectations and follow suit.

In the meantime STEP continues its Digital Assets Thought Leadership work, which is focusing on engagement with service providers, and documenting the difficulties that professionals and members of the public may encounter with digital assets and service providers across various jurisdictions, in particular regarding estate planning and digital legacies.

STEP and the Microsoft-funded Cloud Legal Project at Queen Mary University of London have recently jointly undertaken a survey to ascertain the awareness, experiences, and concerns of practitioners in dealing with digital assets, in relation to both estate planning and digital legacies. The information gathered will subsequently inform and set the framework for resulting activities and education of value to practitioners, service providers, policymakers and the public.

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP

Invitation to STEP/Law Commission free webinar on its 14th Programme of Law Reform

Emily Deane TEPThe Law Commission of England and Wales has announced a public consultation on its 14th Programme of Law Reform and has published a scoping document providing background on the programme and ideas for potential projects.

STEP is hosting a joint webinar with the Law Commission on 19 May to discuss the proposals in further detail. The major areas of focus are:

The Wills Project, paused in 2017, will review the Wills Act 1837 to give it a radical overhaul, including possible reform of key principles of the legislation, modernising the language and reforming any ambiguities. Many consider that reform in this area is long overdue and there is a need to review testamentary capacity, statutory wills, supported will-making, the formalities, the protection of vulnerable testators, and of course digital aspects such as electronic signatures and execution. We understand that the Commission hopes to pick this project up again by early 2022.

The Trust Project will be an initial scoping study investigating problems with English trust law, with a view to modernising and updating it in line with international standards. It will explore the current limitations with trust law and examine how it could be updated to facilitate more competitive trust services in a global market.

The project will review alternative trust and trust-like structures available in other jurisdictions, for example, Jersey’s Foundation Law and Cayman’s Star Trusts, and will consider whether similar structures could be implemented. The project will also review the law governing certain categories of statutory trust, and identify technical trust law issues that may need general updating and reform.

The scoping document acknowledges that English trust law has not been comprehensively reviewed since 1925 and notes that Singapore and New Zealand have updated their laws and been creative in maintaining a healthy trust market, whilst other countries have implemented new trust and trust-like structures to meet demand.

The Commission has clarified that the trust project will not make recommendations regarding the taxation of trusts, for which HM Treasury has policy responsibility, and the project will therefore exclude the law of mistake which has significant tax consequences.

STEP members and non-members are welcome to join our free webinar on Wednesday 19 May at 4.30pm (BST) entitled ‘Modernising trust law for a global Britain’ in which we will explore the Law Commission’s 14th Programme of Law Reform with a specialist Law Commission and STEP panel.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

STEP’s Special Interest Groups under the spotlight

SIG Spotlight Sessions 2017The end of November saw STEP Special Interest Groups’ (SIGs’) annual day of conferences, the ‘Spotlight Sessions’, held at the Montcalm Hotel in London and attracting over 300 international delegates.

The day started early with a breakfast-time Philanthropy Advisors SIG session. Outgoing chair Suzanne Reisman TEP welcomed attendees and contributed to a panel discussion, which also included Keyvan Ghavami of Act On Your Future, Jacqueline Lazare TEP of Royds Withy King and Julie Wynne TEP of Froriep. A lively discussion ensued, the takeaway point being that advisors are missing a business opportunity if they do not at least raise the issue of charitable giving with their clients.

The International Client SIG session began with Joseph Field TEP of Withers Bergman LLP delivering the keynote lecture on the changing landscape for international clients, quipping that events move so fast, that if you miss the news for 15 minutes, you can get completely behind. Tony Pitcher TEP of LGL Trustees Limited moderated a discussion on tax regimes, which included contributions from Luxembourg, Cyprus, the US, the UAE, Italy and Switzerland.

Bill Ahern TEP of Ahern Lawyers, David Russell QC TEP of Outer Temple Chambers and Wendy Martin of EY – Channel Islands discussed ‘attacks on intermediaries’ and practical issues in relation to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Wendy said that implementing CRS was a massive challenge, and depended hugely on how you interpret the law. She asked what might happen to all the data required, and what could go wrong, before pointing out the gaping contradiction with data protection legislation that mandates privacy. David expressed his concern that regulatory requirements are making it increasingly difficult to open a bank account and many entirely legitimate people are being excluded from the banking system, and Bill noted that in a number of countries there were very good reasons for not wanting the government to know about your financial affairs, not least personal security.

The day marked the official launch event of the newest of STEP’s SIGs, the Digital Assets SIG. Leigh Sagar TEP of New Square Chambers gave an introduction to digital assets and the issues they present for estate planning and administration. Together with the panel, he presented the audience with some quite alarming scenarios which left not a few squirming in their seats. If someone has your computer password, they could empty your bank account. If you let someone else use your Facebook account, you’ve committed an offence. If a family member dies, you may not be able to read their emails, or access their accounts. If your relative left online gambling debts that needed to be paid, but you didn’t have the passwords, you would not be able to settle their estate. The panel discussed a number of ways of ensuring passwords stay secure and yet are accessible to those who need them. One of the simplest ideas was to keep a list in a sealed envelope. The session concluded with discussions on electronic signatures and wills and the important, and growing, subject of cryptocurrencies and their taxation.

This year saw the Mental Capacity SIG and the Cross-Border Estates SIG partner on connecting sessions looking at cross-border capacity. Drawing the largest attendance of all the sessions, the panels comprised speakers from 12 jurisdictions providing a round-up of existing and new laws in each, followed by an active panel discussion.

The Business Families SIG session then explored the unique considerations an advisor must consider in an advisory position to a family business wishing to sell, as opposed to non-family entities. The audience heard first-hand accounts from family business owners Ian McKernan of Molecular Products Group and Alex Scott of Sandaire, alongside experts from the advisor community.

The final session was presented by the Contentious Trusts and Estates SIG and focused on the rules against self-dealing, fair dealing, no conflicts and their exceptions, considering the rules in light of recent decisions. Their session welcomed speaker Vicki Ammundsen TEP, who had come all the way from New Zealand.

Joanna Pegum, STEP PR & Media Executive