EXECUTORS AND THE DIGITAL AGE

In the not-so-distant past, information/documentation pertaining to a deceased’s affairs was easily accessible; which made it relatively straight forward for an Executor to reconstruct the affairs of the deceased person. I remember quite distinctly, back in 2010 while working as an assistant to an Executor for a major bank, grieving family members would walk into our offices with files containing bank statements, receipts and all the necessary documentation required to assist the Executor wind up the affairs of the deceased person as swiftly as possible.

With the rise in technology, and password-protected electronic documents; the jobs of Executors may be slightly challenged in the foreseeable future.

According to David Knott of Private Client Trust, the fiduciary services division of Private Client Holdings, and a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa, all that was required was for the Executor to go through your current mail to ascertain where your investments and banking accounts were domiciled, what your income tax return contained and where monies might be owing on trade accounts.

All documents of title were also hard copy recorded.

These days, however, it is far from easy as most correspondence and invoices are dispatched via email and your computer or tablet is invariably password protected.

“Without these passwords it is extremely difficult for your Executor to access details of assets and possible claims against your estate,” warns Knott.  “In some instances the Executor might even overlook assets if a clear record is not easily found.”

”Before too long, one has accumulated a number of passwords of varying permutations. As different institutions demand passwords containing varying numbers of letters, upper case, numerals or special symbols, one soon needs to record these passwords somewhere and instinctively one records them within a special folder on your computer or tablet, thinking that they are quite safe there.

“However, should you lose your computer or tablet all your passwords are also lost. In addition, even worse than loss of the computer or tablet, a bigger threat comes from a cyber-hacker who need not even enter your property to steal your passwords. The first indication of cyber-crime would be when your accounts have been cleaned out,” he said.

He suggests that you record all investment passwords other than the computer access password within a battered book which lives on a book shelf in your study.

“No burglar would waste time going through a pile of books to find items of value when he could merely grab the flat screen TV, the computer and other valuables,” he said.

“A trusted family member or close friend should know the computer access password so that following your demise, your computer may be accessed by the executor and the battered password book recovered from the bookshelf. The efficient administration of your estate may then get underway.”

Incidentally, a will must still be paper based and must comply with all the formalities.

“We are still some way away from digital Wills or video Wills being accepted by the courts,” concluded Knott

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