Your privacy is important to us.
How companies handle the death of a customer can cause much unintended upset and distress. In July of this year, Howard Durdle, from Bucklebury in England, experienced first-hand a rather odd example of insensitive and misconceived customer relations, which caused him to take to social media. Shortly after his wife’s death from breast cancer he received an automated default notice from Paypal, addressed to his late wife in respect of her account. The notice stated:
“You are in breach of condition 15.4(c) of your agreement with Paypal Credit as we have received notice that you are deceased.”
It went on to further warn that the company could take action to limit or restrict his late wife’s ability to access her credit limit, terminate the agreement between them and require the immediate repayment of the whole amount outstanding, take debt recovery proceedings and/or notify her executors or representatives of any claim as a creditor. Further, the notice indicated, “This breach is not capable of remedy”. Well, quite.
Ultimately of course Paypal acknowledged their error, apologised for any distress caused and wrote off the debt of around £4,000.00. However, the issue which this story raises is not an unusual one. It certainly seems that, especially in the case of Internet companies which are often younger organisations with less experience of dealing with deceased customers, businesses seem to get this sort of thing wrong all the time.
A couple of years ago there was also quite a stir over the dawning realisation that online services such as iTunes did not provide their customers with an owned collection of music but merely a licence, personal to the customer, to listen to their downloaded songs. Unlike a collection of vinyl records or CDs, this is not something which can be passed on to one’s intended beneficiaries under the terms of a will as the licence terminates on the licencee’s death. The same will be true of other downloaded media such as films and e-books. There have also been complaints that it can be difficult for families to access or close social media accounts after the death of a loved one.
As the world moves into an ever more digital age and we live so much of our lives online these are issues which clients and legal practitioners alike will need to consider more and more. It used to be the case that assets were more clearly tangible – a family home, a painting, a shareholding represented by a paper share certificate. These days, many bank and investment accounts can only be accessed online, and in the absence of the appropriate passwords it can be difficult even to gather the necessary information to proceed with the administration of an estate. The job of an executor is only going to become increasingly difficult.
At Cleaver Fulton Rankin we have extensive experience of dealing with many kinds of estates and many different types of assets. We can also advise clients in relation to the arrangements to be made in respect of their digital assets in the event of their death. Should you require any further information about any of these issues please contact me or a member of my team and we will be glad to assist.
An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither Michael Graham nor Cleaver Fulton Rankin accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article.
Michael Graham is Head of the Private Client team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin and a founding member of the Northern Ireland Branch of the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners. He is also a full member of Solicitors for the Elderly.