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15 January 2013

Legal Eagle: Password protection

Legal Eagle is a fortnightly column from Buckinghamshire solicitors B P Collins.

If you have a legal problem you’d like advice on, please email legaleagle@bpcollins.co.uk and the team will select one question to answer in each column. The B P Collins team can help with a wide range of issues, including family and matrimonial, property matters, employment law, disputes at home or at work, wills and probate and business law.

The increasing way we spend our lives online is something many of us take for granted.

From bank accounts to social media pages, passwords are commonplace as we quite rightly seek to maintain our privacy and personal information. Here, Craig Williams, partner in the wills, trusts and probate team at Gerrards Cross-based law firm B P Collins LLP, responds to an enquiry about what to do with password information.

Q. My brother-in-law recently died quite suddenly and his family has found it very difficult to access all his online information. If he had written his passwords down somewhere it would have been much easier, but we’re always being told not to do that. What’s the right answer?

A. It’s quite right that passwords shouldn’t be easily accessible as this rather defeats the object, but increasingly the issue of what to do about them is proving problematic for executors.

Some people may be tempted to list their internet passwords in their will, so that their executors can readily access their web-based assets. Leaving aside the issue that passwords may later be changed, caution should be used here, as the will is a public document when probate has been granted.

It is probably better to keep a list of passwords to internet assets in a secure place and to make sure the location is known to your executor. Of course, it is essential to update this list regularly.

It’s especially important if any business information is held online, such as in ‘the cloud’ as access may be of critical importance for business continuity.

Our suggestion is to think sensibly about the sort of data you have and how it is accessed, then to make sure that your executor has a list of:

• data held that has value, and what it is used for;
• the devices or web locations that hold the data; and
• the means of access to the data.

The internet is creating challenges for many executors. Giving advance consideration to what those might be for the executor of your estate, and taking the appropriate steps, will make their job a lot easier and can save a family a lot of distress.

For expert legal advice on will matters, please call the team on 01753 279030 or email privateclient@bpcollins.co.uk.

This advice is written in general terms only and should not be relied upon in individual cases where specific legal advice will be required. The writers accept no liability for any direct or indirect loss arising from any reliance placed on replies.

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Phone: +44 (0) 1753 889995

Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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