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Dying Matters Awareness Week

Doran MitchellNext week (9-16 May 2016) heralds the beginning of the annual Dying Matters Awareness Week. Started in 2009 by the National Council for Palliative Care, the aim of the week is to raise public awareness of dying, death and bereavement.

While the loss of a loved one or the thought of our own death is never a pleasant one, it is very important to have frank and open conversations around the topic, to ensure that when the time comes, we are not bringing even further confusion and stress into our own or our family’s lives.

A report from Dying Matters commissioned in April this year, found that, while death is the one certainty we all face, seven out of ten people were financially or practically unprepared when their partner died.

It can take a great burden from the minds of those left behind when they know how someone wanted things to be dealt with.

Having such choices formalised in a legal way, such as in your Will or via a Power of Attorney, gives even more reassurance and support to those you leave behind. 

But often people may not realise that their Will can extend beyond naming someone to inherit or leaving a legacy to charity. 

People’s assets today stretch far further into the digital world than ever before and although they may not have a physical presence, their value – whether monetary or sentimental – is most certainly real. 

Legislation around how companies deal with the death of an asset holder is still to catch up with the technology itself and there is an increasing consensus that an industry standard be introduced to regularise the way in which online assets are dealt with after death.

Facebook, for example, has a Memorial Pages function to deal with this issue. Through your privacy settings you can choose whether to have your account deleted on the event of your death, or you are able to select someone as your Legacy contact who will run the page as a memorial account.

Other websites however may have no such option in place, which can cause confusion and upset to those left behind.

Sites which can hold funds, such as PayPal, gaming sites or cashback sites, should also be noted as part of your estate. Similarly itunes or other media retailers could store files worth a considerable amount of money and these should be able to be identifiable and accessible by your executor to ensure they are not trapped in cyberspace unknown to your loved ones.
 
Dealing with this issue can be as simple as including instructions within your Will to your executor on how you wish them to deal with your online assets and accounts and noting your passwords within a confidentially sealed envelope to be stored alongside your Will. 

While we wait for legislation to catch up with the rapidly accelerating world of online assets however, as with all questions around preparing for end of life, the most important thing is to ensure we are having open conversations with our loved ones about what we would like to happen after we die.
 
As the slogan for this year’s Dying Awareness Week runs – ‘talking about dying won’t make it happen!’ However it can ease the stress and burden for your loved ones - a wish which will resonate with us all.

Doran Mitchell is a solicitor in our Edinburgh Private Client team. Contact him on 0131 624 6821 or via email for more advice on Wills or Powers of Attorney, or Trusts.

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