Many legal minds making NZ LAW work

We are an association of independent legal practices, proactively sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of our clients.

Protecting your Digital Assets

Published: 11th February 2015

Author: Greg Kelly, Greg Kelly Law Ltd

Ten years ago the idea of protecting your digital assets after your death, or if you lost mental capacity, would have been regarded as absurd. Many of us now regard this as critical. However, there’s very little guidance available on how best to ensure these assets are identified and dealt with in these situations. Protection of digital assets does not fit neatly into traditional asset planning concepts or inheritance plans.

First let’s define the key assets in this digital arena;

  • ‘Digital assets’ are emails, texts, images, data, social networking, health care records, usernames, passwords, insurance records, loyalty points, etc
  • ‘Digital devices’ include laptops, mobile phones, desktops, tablets, smartphones, servers and so on, and
  • ‘Digital accounts’ include email accounts for social networks, social media, file sharing, domain registration, web hosting, etc.

A digital estate

‘Digital estate’ is sometimes used as the umbrella term to encompass digital assets, digital devices and other digital accounts*.

Important reasons to protect or make provision for your digital estate are that it may have financial or sentimental value; there could be security or financial threats; and if incorrectly managed, liability may result.

One of the key decisions is who should manage and have control over your digital estate when you die or if you lose mental capacity. Another important decision you’ll have to make is who will receive or benefit from your digital estate. For example, can you transfer or gift your airpoints and, if so, who should you give them to? It would be a normal presumption that your surviving spouse or children should take over control of your digital assets, as they would the rest of your estate. However, if they have limited technological skills, it may be that there are other people who are best suited to take over this particular role.

Decisions may also be required as to which digital accounts are to be closed, digital devices cleared of content and whether printouts of certain digital information should be provided to specified people.

Once appointed the attorney or estate executor may need the skills, or at least may need to employ others with the necessary skills, to:

  • Manage financial arrangements that are conducted online
  • Pay debts or outgoings relating to digital accounts
  • Decide the form in which digital assets should be given to the beneficiaries
  • Decide who owns your digital accounts
  • Specify who should have access to your digital accounts, and
  • Ascertain whether digital accounts should be closed, transferred or sold.

In practical terms, it may be best to include in Enduring Power of Attorney documents the ability for the care and welfare attorney to access medical or dental records and for the property attorney to access digital accounts. Similarly executors named in Wills may need to access digital accounts, change passwords and manage financial affairs in the digital arena.

A letter of wishes may also be desirable in some cases. It can be helpful for trustees, or for a property attorney, to be guided by a non-binding statement of your wishes regarding your digital estate. It would be wise also for an inventory of your digital estate to be provided to the executor or attorney and to be held in a secure place.

Dealing with digital assets is an area that will only increase in importance over coming years. It’s important therefore for us all to start thinking about these issues sooner rather than later. While there’s no legislation in New Zealand dealing with protecting digital assets when you die, some states in America do have specific legislation in this area (**).

(*) See for example “Digital life after death” by K. Martin and P. Womall, STEP Journal, Volume 22 issue 10.

(**) Delaware has adopted a Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act.

Related Articles

  • Auckland
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Canterbury
  • Coromandel
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Manawatu - Wanganui
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Northland
  • Otago
  • Southland
  • Taranaki
  • Waikato
  • Wairarapa
  • Wellington
  • West Coast

Simpson Western

Simpson Western is a leading law firm in Auckland North, with offices in Takapuna and Silverdale.

The firm has ten partners, supported by a team of specialist lawyers, legal executives and a general manager, together with a team of excellent support staff.

Region: Auckland

Phone: 09 486 3058

Rejthar Stuart Law

A long established law practice providing comprehensive and specialised legal advice and services to a diverse range of commercial and private clients.

Established in 1997 the firm has grown over the years to become a two solicitor, two legal executive firm representing both private and commercial clients.

Region: Bay of Plenty

Phone: 07 577 6565

Corcoran French

Corcoran French is a firm of Christchurch and North Canterbury lawyers with over 120 years experience in providing legal services to Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region. We have offices in Christchurch City and Kaiapoi. We can also meet you at shared offices at Akaroa.

We welcome new clients and are committed to building strong long-term relationships that are rewarding for our clients.

Region: Canterbury

Phone: 03 379 4660

Purnell Lawyers

There is nothing as inevitable as change. Since opening for business early last century, we at Purnell Lawyers have seen many changes both in name and in the people who have made up the members of our team. We have been privileged to have served the public throughout all of these times. 

We are confident that we will continue to bring top quality legal services to our clients well into the future.

Region: Coromandel

Phone: 07 868 8680

Woodward Chrisp

At Woodward Chrisp we strive to meet the needs of our clients by providing a wide range of high quality legal services within a supportive and collaborative environment.

Woodward Chrisp is the amalgamation of two long established Gisborne legal firms: Woodward Iles & Co and Chrisp and Chrisp. Today’s partners are Ross Revington, Adam Simperingham, Jeff Allen and Ellie FitzGerald.

Region: Gisborne

Phone: 06 869 0900

Gifford Devine

For all life’s matters, the team at Gifford Devine have your back. Since 1896, our lawyers have been providing straight-talking, practical advice and advocacy to people, families and businesses in Hawke’s Bay.

As your legal champions, we’ll serve you as a trusted adviser, listen to your needs, offer plain English advice, and find a solution to get you the best possible outcome.

We have the expertise to identify potential legal issues, to help you make important decisions, and to realise your goals. We’re your legal champions for all reasons and at all stages of life.

Region: Hawke's Bay

Phone: 06 873 0420

BMC Lawyers

BMC lawyers has built a reputation for providing quality service and delivering real results. Our strength is our broad-ranging legal experience that gives us the ability to match clients with the right mix of legal skills for their particular needs.

Our legal professionals are passionate about what they do and work alongside a talented team of support and administration staff to make a real positive difference to our clients.”

Region: Kapiti Coast

Phone: 04 296 1105

Horsley Christie

Horsley Christie is a successful law firm based in Whanganui which offers a diverse range of legal services to the Whanganui Region and beyond and has done for over 100 years.

When you deal with Horsley Christie you do so in the knowledge that the firm is one of many law practices nationwide who are members of NZ LAW.

Region: Manawatu - Wanganui

Phone: 06 349 0090

Wain & Naysmith

Based in Blenheim, Wain & Naysmith Lawyers is a full service law firm, and a powerhouse for property, family and business law.

We pride ourselves in providing clear and cost effective legal solutions and practical advice for you, your family and your business.

Region: Marlborough

Phone: 03 520 6103

Knapps Lawyers

As a firm, we promise to look after you and treat you in a manner that we would expect to be treated by a professional services provider; we promise to use every available legal remedy available to us to resolve your issue and to do what you ask us to do in a timely manner.

We will hold in strict confidence all information that we acquire through our work for you and which concerns your business or personal information.  The only exceptions are where you authorise us to disclose such information or where we must do so by law.

Region: Nelson

Phone: 03 544 7888

Thomson Wilson

Thomson Wilson is a full service law firm based in Whangarei. We’ve been trusted lawyers for the Northland community and beyond for 75 years.

We act for individuals and families, businesses, public sector and other organisations. Whether you need no-fuss advice on a simple matter, or a team of legal experts. 

Our staff provide advice in most areas of the law, including property law, business law, trusts and estates, separation and divorce, resource management, criminal law and more.

We also offer expertise in specialist areas such as Maori land, local government law, farming and forestry.

Region: Northland

Phone: 09 430 4380

Mactodd

MacTodd is a leading South Island law firm with a national reputation for its experience and expertise across a wide range of the law.

Serving the local community and national and offshore clients for over 40 years, MacTodd prides itself on being a fully comprehensive law firm with an innovative approach, meeting the demands and time zones of its diverse clientele.

MacTodd's hallmark is our friendly and professional approach. Our state-of-the-art technology provides an accurate, efficient and cost-effective service.

Region: Otago

Phone: 03 441 0125

Cruickshank Pryde

We are proud to provide a full suite of legal services to the regions of Southland and Central Otago. With our offices, located in Invercargill, Gore and Queenstown, equipped with the latest modern technology, we can service wider New Zealand and international clients with ease. Our areas of expertise include commercial, rural, business, employment, family, criminal, property, resource management and estate planning law.

Region: Southland

Phone: 03 214 4069

RMY Legal

Having been a cornerstone in the New Plymouth and Taranaki legal community since the 1930s we offer in-depth knowledge coupled with legal expertise and always put the needs of you and your business at the heart of what we do.

Not only do we offer a first class service to clients throughout Taranaki, we are passionate about what we do and our success stems from delivering advice in clear and understandable terms.

Region: Taranaki

Phone: 06 769 8080

Allen Needham & Co Ltd

Sir Stephen Allen, founder of the firm, was admitted to the bar on the 7th of December 1906 and subsequently set up practice in the building illustrated below on the present site of our offices at 52 Canada Street, Morrinsville on the 1st of January 1907.

Mr Arthur Needham was admitted to the bar on the 1st of March 1923 and Mr R. B. Morton on the 24th of November 1924. They joined Sir Stephen in partnership under the name of Allen, Needham & Morton.

The firm was subsequently called Allen, Needham, Sanford & Lang when the partners of the firm were John Needham (son of Arthur Needham, and father of Rod Needham, a present partner), Howard Sanford, Fred Lang and Graeme Ashmore.

Graeme Ashmore left the firm in 1972 and Howard Sanford retired as a partner in 1974 when Greg McDonnell became a partner with John Needham and Fred Lang.

The firm changed its name to Allen, Needham & Co. in 1986 when new partners Rod Needham and Bob Craven joined the firm. In December 2010 the firm became an incorporated company.

Region: Waikato

Phone: 07 889 5062

Gawith Burridge

Gawith Burridge traces its history back to 1875 when Charles Gawith first set up his practice. Since then the firm has undergone many changes, including a merger between Gawith & Co and Burridge & Co in 1998 to form our current practice.

Our firm draws on the breadth of expertise available from some of the region’s most senior legal practitioners, as well as the skills of those who have moved here from larger corporate environments.

As a result, we provide clients with a comprehensive range of legal services right here in the Wairarapa. We can provide you with legal assistance whether you are an individual or a company, with everything from setting up a Will to selling your farming business. 

Region: Wairarapa

Phone: 06 370 0000

Greg Kelly Law Ltd

Greg Kelly Law Limited is a boutique Wellington law firm specialising in trust and elder law. Our practice areas are wills, estates and trusts.

We act for private and institutional clients establishing and administering trusts, wills and estates. We also provide quality advice to legal and accounting firms in New Zealand and overseas. In particular, we can assist with legal opinions, obtaining and resealing probate, and estate and trust litigation.

Region: Wellington

Phone: 04 499 5193

Hannan & Seddon

The Law Firm of Hannan & Seddon dates back to September 1867.

The firm's offices were in Werita Street from 1867 until 1982 when the firm moved to Tarapuhi Street and then to its current spacious premises at 61 Guinness Street in 1998.

The name Hannan comes from Mr Michael Hannan whose son John Hannan (Jack) joined the firm in 1908. Jack Hannan remained in partnership until he passed away in 1974 at the age of 90!

The name Seddon comes from Mr T E Y Seddon (son of Premier Richard John Seddon from Kumara) who joined the firm in the 1920's. The other prominent Solicitor at Hannan & Seddon was Cyril McGinley who joined the firm in the late 1920’s and retired as a Consultant in 1997 aged 87.

Currently we have two Partners within our firm. Tony Sullivan who has been with us for 29 years and Colin Smith, 26 years. The firm also has two long serving Legal Executives Elaine Knowles and Beverley Walsh.  

Region: West Coast

Phone: 03 768 4169

All the information published on this website, or in any article herein is true and accurate to the best of the authors' knowledge. Information on this site should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by NZ LAW Limited, or individual NZ LAW member firms for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on information published on this site. Views expressed in any article are the views of the authors individually and do not necessarily reflect the view of NZ LAW or their member firms. Information appearing on this site may only be reproduced with prior approval from NZ LAW Limited Head Office, and credit being given to the source. © NZ LAW Limited