Peggy Bush, a 72-year old Canadian woman whose husband died in August, was told by Apple that she needed to obtain a court order so that she could continue playing a card game app on the couple’s iPad device. The couple owned the iPad and used one Apple ID to purchase apps, including the card game app that Peggy enjoyed playing. She knew the password to access the iPad itself, but she didn’t know the password her husband used for the Apple ID associated with the iPad.
When the family contacted Apple to reset the Apple ID password, Apple told them a court order was required. However, it can be costly and time-consuming to obtain a court order. On the positive side, at least Apple will permit the family to reset the Apple ID password with a court order—some online service providers refuse to reset or reveal a user’s password after the user has died.
An excellent news report by Rosa Marchitelli of CBC News describes the family’s struggle with Apple’s customer service. Peggy’s daughter was quoted in the article saying, “What do you mean a court order? I said that was ridiculous, because we’ve been able to transfer the title to the house, we’ve been able to transfer the car, all these things, just using a notarized death certificate and the will.” Peggy was quoted in the news report as saying, “I could get the pensions, I could get the benefits, I could get all kinds of things from the federal government … [b]ut from Apple, I couldn’t even get a silly password. It’s nonsense.”
When CBC News contacted Apple to ask about its official policy for users seeking to reset Apple ID passwords or to obtain data of family members who have passed away, Apple told them it would not comment.
This is an excellent reminder of why it’s important to plan ahead for access to your digital property—passwords, online accounts, and electronically-stored information—in your estate plan. By planning ahead, you can arrange for full access to your digital property, keep administration costs down, and ensure that no valuable or significant digital property is overlooked.
Compared with traditional types of property, digital property may have four additional, significant obstacles for fiduciaries and family members to overcome: (1) passwords, (2) data encryption, (3) criminal laws regarding unauthorized access to computers, and (4) data privacy laws. These obstacles can make it practically impossible for fiduciaries and family members to access your digital property if you don’t plan ahead.
How should you plan ahead? First, make a list of your important passwords, online accounts, and digital property, and specify what should be done with each item on your list if you become incapacitated or after you die. Keep your list up to date, store it in a secure location, and let your fiduciaries and family members know how to access it. A “My Digital Audit” form to use for your list can be downloaded here: http://www.digitalpassing.com/digital-audit/
Second, if you store valuable or significant digital property in the cloud, back up your data to a local computer or local storage device on a regular basis. Fiduciaries and family members can access the local computer or local storage device without the obstacles that may prevent them from accessing your data stored in online accounts.
Third, work with an estate planning attorney to update your will, power of attorney, and revocable living trust to address digital property. Your estate planning documents should: (1) specify your wishes about the distribution of or deletion of your digital property; (2) provide your consent to divulge the contents of your electronic communications to your fiduciaries; (3) authorize your fiduciaries to access your computing devices, storage devices, accounts, and data; and (4) permit your fiduciaries to bypass, reset, or recover your passwords on your computing devices and to decrypt your encrypted data, if desired. But, don’t list your passwords in your will, power of attorney, or revocable living trust documents—that isn’t secure. Instead, store your passwords securely, and let your fiduciaries and family members know how to access them.