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Giving next of kin automatic access to digital assets of the deceased is problematic – we need to balance access and privacy

A Bill to grant a right of access to the digital devices and accounts of a dead or incapacitated person to their next of kin had its first reading in Parliament last week and will be read a Second time on Friday 4 February.

The Bill – presented by Ian Paisley of the DUP – argues for a law where the default position would be that the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated person would automatically gain access to the contents of the digital platforms held in the deceased person’s name on their digital devices.

Stephen Moses, CEO and Founder of Digital Estate Planning firm Zenplans says he understands the principle but has concerns about granting automatic access to next of kin.

“The issue of access to digital assets of the deceased is an important topic to address, especially given our growing digital footprints, but I’m not sure that next of kin having automatic access to devices and accounts should be the default position; there is a need to balance accessibility against privacy.

“As our lives become more and more digital, as a society, we need to be thinking about what this means in terms of the security, privacy and accessibility of our digital assets, both in our lifetimes and after we have passed. There is a level of responsibility on us, the consumer, to get these things organised, but there is also a huge responsibility on platform providers and tech giants to work towards creating clear, simple and robust ‘legacy access’ functionality.”

Moses says that while  a handful of providers already offer legacy options –  Google’s Inactive Account Manager and Facebook’s Legacy Contacts have been in place for some time now, while Apple recently included digital legacy its recent upgrade – they all have different terms and conditions, meaning users have to configure the appropriate settings for each device or account individually, which can be off putting resulting in low take-up.

He concludes: “Digital estate planning platforms offer a way of securely organising, recording and selectively sharing all of life’s important information – including information about accessing digital assets – in one place, making it easy to manage in life, and easy for you to decide who has access when you die or lose capacity.

“One of Zenplans’ functions is a step by step guide on how to configure legacy settings with different providers with reminders to review these on a regular basis. This makes it easy to have the appropriate legacy settings in place and maintained over time.”

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