You might think the most difficult part of estate planning would be figuring out how to transfer title to your house or administering a living trust. But for a British Columbia widow, one of the biggest hassles she faced following her husband’s death was gaining access to his Apple account. The California-based technology giant reportedly demanded a court order before it would release the password to the couple’s joint online account.
According to report from the Canadian Broadcasting Company, the widow noticed a game had stopped working on her iPad. It turned out she needed to login to her Apple account, but her husband was the only one who knew the password. The widow’s daughter contacted Apple, but she said customer support gave her the runaround. Nearly two months later, after providing copies of the husband’s death certificate and other personal identifying information, the daughter said Apple told her she needed to get a court order. The family declined to do so due to the cost, but the family told their story to the CBC, Apple acknowledged there was a “misunderstanding” and promised to resolve the issue.
Taking Inventory of Your Digital Assets
This story emphasizes the complications that can arise when dealing with “digital assets” as part of a person’s estate. Many of us keep videos, photos, and other data through online or “cloud” services. Your family may lose access to this data if they are unable to locate your passwords after your death.
In many cases, you also may not own what you think you do. When you purchase a movie through Apple, for example, you actually acquire a non-transferable license to watch the video on your registered devices. You cannot bequeath these digital rights to your heirs the way you could a DVD or other physical media. This is why you should always review the terms of service for any digital content you purchase so you clearly understand your rights.
But with respect to digital content you do control, it is important to make a plan so your executor or other heirs can still access this data. You should keep a list of important passwords in a safe place. You might also consider keeping certain data with a file-sharing service that enables you to give access to other family members who have their own accounts. This way even if your personal account is inaccessible, the data will not be.
Get Advice from an Estate Planning Lawyer
The law will also continue to evolve with respect to digital assets. That is why you should consult with an experienced San Diego estate planning attorney who is apprised of the latest developments and can help guide you through the process of organizing your affairs. While you do not need to include a list of digital accounts and passwords in your will—and that generally would not be a good idea since wills tend to be updated infrequently—an attorney can still assist you with helping to identify an executor or other individuals who can be trusted with your sensitive information. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you would like to speak with an attorney today.