Inaccessibility of Digital Assets
Digital estate planning is becoming an increasingly common practice. However, security measures of internet and technology corporations have the potential to disrupt the implementation of a testator’s plans.
A recent news article tells the story of a woman named Anthea Grant, who purchased an iPad for use during two years of cancer treatment.
The device was used primarily for entertainment during chemotherapy sessions and for video communication with Anthea’s sons, Josh and Patrick.
After Anthea’s death, her sons realized that they did not know their mother’s Apple account password. Anthea’s sons are the sole beneficiaries of her Estate. There is no controversy with respect to the sons’ right to possess the device. However, Josh and Patrick have been unable to obtain access to the tablet to see if it contains any relevant information.
After providing their mother’s death certificate, a copy of her Last Will and Testament, and a letter from their solicitor, as had earlier been requested, Apple is now asking for Anthea’s written instructions that Josh and Patrick are authorized to access her account. As this is no longer an option, Apple recommends that the brothers obtain a court order to prove that Anthea was the owner of the iPad and Apple account, citing the American Electronic Communications Privacy Act as its rationale in denying access.
While Anthea’s sons do not wish to incur the legal fees necessary to obtain a court order for the release of the Apple account information, they wonder if the iPad contains any digital assets of any financial or sentimental value.
A digital estate plan frequently facilitates access to computer accounts, with a list of all accounts and login information. Had Anthea created a digital estate plan, including such information, this issue would not likely have emerged. Nevertheless, legislation in Canada and elsewhere remains an outdated barrier that should be amended to address the prevalence of digital assets in estate planning and administration.
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