In an age of social networking and online media, it is easy to overlook the potential value digital data holds when dealing with the estate of a deceased person.
We all know the importance of estate planning for our investments and physical possessions, but what steps should we be taking to protect the belongings we store online and other intellectual property?
Broadly, you own your personal email and electronic correspondence, which can be left to a beneficiary in a will. However, if a username and password are not specified, a will might be not enough to force some email providers to grant a beneficiary access to your emails.
By way of example, in 2005, Yahoo! refused to release the login and password to the family of a Marine who died in Iraq. The matter went to court and Yahoo! was ordered to release the account details to the family. Gmail and Hotmail will provide a CD copy of emails to a family, provided proof of death and proof of relationship are supplied.
Conversely, you might not actually want anyone to be able to access your email account on death. If this is the case and you want your executors to close your online accounts after you die, you should explicitly stipulate your login details and wishes in a letter of wishes associated with your will.
Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter will provide login details, regardless of what your will specifies, as the Terms and Conditions of both stipulate that a user’s account is the property of the company. On death, Twitter will delete your account after receiving the death certificate from a family member, even if technically this is the prerogative of your executors.
When a member of Facebook dies, their profile can be ‘memorialised’, meaning only the user’s friends are allowed to see and comment on the deceased’s page. Facebook will remove an account if requested by the deceased’s family after they provide a death certificate, although again technically this is the prerogative of your executors.
A patent is a right that allows inventors to prevent another from making, selling, or using another invention that is similar in nature. Patents may be used to protect inventions, machines, devices and processes.
In the case of a deceased owner of a patent, a certified copy of the probate or letters of administration is required. The executor named should then complete an assignment as though he were the owner but where the executor and beneficiary are the same person or the named beneficiary is to be entered as the new owner, a copy of the will or a signed statement of “assent” by the executor may be required.
A trademark is a legal means of identification to distinguish a trader and his or her products from those of other traders. It can be a word, letters, a logo, a shape, numerals, a signature, and even sounds and smells, or a combination of these.
Trademark rights can last indefinitely as long as the owner continues to use the mark to identify its goods or services. The term of a trademark is 10 years, with 10-year renewal terms.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners. If an owner of a trademark passes away, form TM16 must be filed with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to record the change in the register of trade marks. As with a patent, the legal term for a transfer of ownership is an 'assignment’.
If an artist is domiciled in the UK and they have not made a will, then all of the assets which are in their sole name, including all real and personal property, money, artwork, copyright and ARRs, will pass to their next of kin in accordance with the rules of intestacy. These rules dictate how and to whom an estate will be distributed and as such this may not be in accordance with the wishes of the artist. In addition, unexpected inheritance tax charges can follow on intestacy, when some assets pass in trust to children and not just a surviving spouse or civil partner.
A properly drafted will and effective estate planning are essential if you want to ensure that your estate passes to the people you choose it to go to in the most efficient way.
At Stone King we can advise you on the best way to make provision for your family and loved ones, taking all your circumstances into account. Our specialist wills and estate solicitors can also act as your professional executors and trustees, either working alone or alongside others.
If you would like to know more, Brian Miller can be contacted at Stone King, Solicitors or by calling 0207 324 1523.
Disclaimer: This article may not be reproduced without the prior written permission of the author. This article reflects the current law and practice. It is general in nature, and does not purport in any way to be comprehensive or a substitute for specialist legal advice in individual circumstances.