By the end of this century, the number of dead people on the popular social media network, Facebook, is expected to outnumber living members – turning it into the world’s biggest ‘virtual graveyard’.
Due to the strong interest in social media and our ‘online life’, the trend of people looking to leave farewell messages to their loved ones via various social networks is also becoming more common. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that more people are thinking about what happens to their social media accounts when they die.
A YouGov survey, published in early November 2018, revealed that 26% of people would like the content of their social media accounts to pass to their loved ones once they have died. Additionally, the survey results showed that 67% of respondents wanted their social media accounts taken offline after their death and only 7% wanted them to remain online.
Each social network has different rules regarding what happens to your account when you die. Facebook and Instagram will memorialise a person’s page once the death has been reported or they will remove the account if an immediate family member makes a request.
Facebook has also added settings which allow you to plan for what happens to your account after you die. You can set a legacy contact to manage aspects of your page once it’s been memorialised. Twitter will delete any account if there is no activity or logins for six months.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows you to make plans for what happens to your account after you die. You can choose to grant a loved one access to your information or request that your account is automatically deleted.
Beyond each of the main social media networks, there are other ways to manage your digital assets – enabling you to communicate with your family and friends online after you’ve died. Dead Social’s goodbye and legacy builder tool permits its users to schedule posts after they have passed away. Users are able to choose text or video posts and assign a digital Executor to send the message once they have died. Due to the popularity of the tool, Dead Social is currently updating the service. They are currently not allowing new users to join, but the tool is expected to grow once version two is released.
Other networks are looking to create different ways for us to live on virtually after we’ve died. ‘Eternime’ collects your thoughts, stories and memories and creates an avatar that looks and speaks in your manner. Before you die, you begin speaking to the avatar so that they learn about you and your personality. As of December 2018, over 42,000 had already signed up and Eternime is currently calling for more people to sign up to their private beta.
Digital legacies can cause issues linked to privacy rules and data protection regulations, highlighting the question of who ‘owns’ your virtual life. Online assets are being viewed as an increasingly important subject and some people are even including clauses about them in their Wills. It is not clear what happens to data collected during a lifetime after someone passes away, which could potentially cause upset to family members if there is any uncertainty. It is important to discuss your online accounts with your Executor so that they can handle your digital legacy as per your wishes.
On 17th January 2019, HM Courts & Tribunals Service announced that their online service for probate applications would be expanded to make applying for probate simpler and easier. It is claimed that this updated service will enable people applying for probate to do so from the comfort of their own home.
The system allows up to four joint Executors to apply, pay and even swear a statement of truth online. This reduces the need for Executors to visit a probate registry or solicitor’s office.
Anyone can now apply for the Grant of Probate online if:
The advances in online probate applications are part of the £1billion programme of court reform. The programme aims to introduce new technology and bring the justice system in line with modern ways of working.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service Chief Executive, Susan Acland-Hood said: “Making probate simpler and more convenient, and removing the need to attend a probate registry and swear an oath in person, helps bereaved people at a very challenging time - those who have tested our new service have told us how much difference it makes. I am delighted we are now able to offer this new, simpler way of doing probate to the public at large. It is part of the work we’re doing to make the justice system easier to navigate for everyone.”
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has stated that they will continue to make improvements and add more features. They already have plans to extend online applications to those dealing with an estate where the deceased did not leave a Will. They are encouraging users of the online service to share their feedback.
Although the online probate application process may have got easier, administering a deceased’s estate can still take a significant amount of time and effort. Applying for the Grant of Probate is just one small part of the estate administration process. The Executor(s) must also deal with all their assets (such as property, shares and personal possessions), paying debts, paying any Inheritance Tax and Income Tax, and transferring inheritance to the beneficiaries of the estate. Estate administration can be extremely complex and is required after every death, whether or not there is a Will.
Executors named in the Will are financially and legally responsible for administering the estate but they are by no means obliged to take on the responsibility. They have a choice of whether or not to accept the role, the right to seek advice from a professional, and can even ask a professional estate administrator to manage the estate on their behalf.
Musician, DJ and record producer, Avicii died on 20th April 2018 after reportedly taking his own life. The Swedish electronic dance artist whose real name was Tim Bergling was born in 1989. Despite being just 28 years of age at the time of his death, he left behind an incredible legacy through his musical career and charitable gifts, and a sizeable estate, reportedly worth £20 million.
Avicii was best known for his popular song, Wake Me Up, which topped the music charts in 22 countries worldwide. His debut album True also reached the top ten in more than 15 countries, he received two Grammy award nominations in 2012 and 2013, and worked with some of the biggest musical stars including Robbie Williams, David Guetta, Rita Ora, and Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA.
Despite his fame and fortune, Avicii did not appear to be motivated by money and was publicly known for his charitable nature. In a 2013 interview, he said: “When you have such an excess of money you don't need, the most sensible, most human and completely obvious thing is to give to people in need." And Avicii did just that. He donated all of his proceeds from his 2012 tour to Feeding America, a charity fighting to combat hunger. The following year he donated one million euros to a Swedish hunger aid charity. It’s likely that Avicii gave even more money to people in need out of the media’s spotlight.
Details of Avicii’s estate have now been revealed and it highlights an important lesson for members of the public, especially those of the millennial generation. Tim Bergling had not created a Will before his untimely death, so his estate must now be distributed following Sweden’s intestacy rules. This means that Avicii’s parents will inherit all of his estate, regardless of his wishes.
Due to Avicii’s charitable nature, it raises some questions. Would he have wanted to give some or all of his money to the charities closest to his heart? Would he have wanted any other family members or friends to inherit? Although we will never find out the answers to these questions, it highlights how important it is to create a Will to ensure your wishes are heard.
Surprisingly, only 24% of adults under the age of 35 have a Will in comparison to 75% of adults over the age of 55. The statistics evidently prove that many millennials have not yet created a valid Will, meaning that their wishes may not be followed if they were to die intestate.
This highlights the importance, regardless of age or wealth, of taking the time to create a Will to ensure assets are in protected in the event of death.
In Avicii’s case, his parents will not be expected to pay a hefty tax bill as
Sweden does not have an inheritance or estate tax. However, some estate tax may be due on the assets he owned in the United States of America, including his property. If he had made a Will Avicii could have avoided any uncertainty surrounding his wishes and maximised the estate value by minimising the tax bill.
Keeping a Will is the only way to ensure you retain control of your decisions and your estate is distributed in a way that reflects your wishes.
Last year has been a big year for government-related announcements, including proposed probate fee changes, civil partnerships set to be extended to mixed-sex couples, and recommendations to simplify Inheritance Tax. 2018’s research papers have also revealed some interesting insights about the Will writing and financial service industries.
You should review your Will regularly to make sure it still reflects your wishes, such as adding or removing beneficiaries if you change your mind regarding who you wish to inherit your estate. You will also need to update your Will if you get married, enter a civil-partnership or get divorced as a Will is automatically cancelled by these events.
If you haven’t already written a Will, then you’re not alone; it is estimated that two-thirds of the British public haven’t prepared one. However, what you might not realise is that without one you have no say in what happens to your estate when you die.
Regardless of your age or health, it is important to plan ahead particularly if you own a property or have savings, investments, insurance policies or own a business. There are also numerous other benefits, from ensuring you leave an inheritance to family and friends, to potentially reducing the amount of Inheritance Tax that may be payable on your estate.
If you die without having made a Will, the rules of intestacy apply to your estate. These legal regulations will divide your estate in a pre-determined way and, regardless of whether you are married, in a civil-partnership or have step-children, could result in your assets being distributed to family members that you would not have chosen to inherit from your estate.
On the 5th of November 2018, an update on probate fees was provided by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP. It was announced that new legislation to implement a new, banded structure of fees for a Grant of Probate (also known as Grant of Representation) has been presented before Parliament.
If the proposal is passed by the government, it will:
Back in February 2017, it was announced that the government planned to introduce tiered fees for obtaining a Grant of Probate which would be based on the estate value. There were a number of concerns that this would be unfair as probate fees would not be relative to the cost of the work involved. The latest announcement recognises these concerns and the probate fees have been revised so that they will never cost more than 0.5% of the estate value.
This announcement also highlights how raising the estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000 would annually prevent around 25,000 estates from probate fees. The proposal suggests that approximately 80% of estates will pay £750 or less in probate fees. Currently, the value of the deceased’s estate is irrelevant and individuals pay a flat fee of £215, whilst professional bodies are charged £155 for probate applications. However, the new, banded fees will start from £250 and may reach a maximum of £6,000. Any income generated from probate fees will be spent on “funding an effective, modern courts and tribunals service.”
The new system appears to be making changes in order to keep up with the digital society of today. Lucy Frazer QC MP announced that members of the public will soon be able to apply for a Grant of Probate online. However, they have recognised that not all applicants will have the skills needed to make a digital application so plan to provide support. The aim is to make it easier for individuals to make applications themselves so they do not need to instruct and pay a solicitor to do it on their behalf.
Lucy Frazer QC MP said “This new banded fee model represents a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services compared to the current flat fee and reflects our commitment to protecting access to justice by ensuring we have a properly funded and resourced courts system. We are also confident these fees will never be unaffordable. The cost of the fee is recoverable from the estate and executors have several options to fund it. Moreover, the Lord Chancellor retains a power to remit a fee if he considers there are exceptional circumstances.”
It is expected that this proposed new system will come into force from April 2019.
A recent article from the Telegraph revealed how a personal representative was left with a staggering Inheritance Tax (IHT) bill of £341,278 when he was administering a £1.2 million estate.
Mr Harris misguidedly distributed the assets to the beneficiaries before all of the Inheritance Tax had been paid. He did this with the understanding that one beneficiary (who received the majority of the estate) would pay any Inheritance Tax that was still owed. However, this did not happen as the beneficiary left the country without paying, leaving Mr Harris to foot the bill.
In this case, Mr Harris was personally liable for paying any Inheritance Tax that was due on the estate, as he had taken on the financial and legal responsibility for the estate when he became the administrator in 2013. Mr Harris was appointed to distribute Helena McDonald’s estate by the court when she died without a Will.
When a Will has been left, a chosen Executor is stated and if they choose to accept the role, they will have this same financial and legal responsibility. Executors and administrators are by no means obliged to take on the responsibility. They have a choice of whether or not to accept the role, the right to seek advice from a professional, and can even ask a professional estate administrator to manage the estate on their behalf.
Mr Harris attempted to appeal his responsibility to pay the £341,278 owed to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on the grounds that he no longer holds the estate’s funds. Harris’ attempt was unsuccessful as Judge Nicholas Aleksander rejected the tax appeal, stating that “IHT is clear. It is the personal representatives of the deceased (in this case, Mr Harris as administrator) who have the obligation to account for any inheritance tax arising in respect of the deemed transfer on death.” He added, “It is no defence to any inheritance tax determination that Mr Harris may have transferred the assets of the estate to a beneficiary on the basis that the beneficiary would be responsible for payment of the inheritance tax due. Nor is it a defence that Mr Harris was ignorant of his obligations, as a personal representative, to pay the inheritance tax owing.”
This case highlights the lack of understanding amongst the public about what to do when someone dies and more specifically, the liability that is associated with administering an estate. Incorrectly distributing the assets or making mistakes whilst handling the estate can be of great consequence, as highlighted in Mr Harris’ case.
Estate administration specialists, Kings Court Trust, have commissioned an independent report which investigates the public’s attitude towards Wills and offers new and insightful findings about the Will writing industry in the UK.
Visit https://willwriting.kctrust.co.uk/ and download your free copy of the research report today.
Legal Services At Home is run by Mr Paul Phillips LLB (Hons) who is an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, whose members are independently regulated by CILEx Regulation.