Digital assets and passwords for on-line accounts are an important consideration in estate planning. A recent CBC article, found here referencing a situation experienced by a woman named Peggy, highlights the difficulties that may arise in failing to include such assets and information in an estate plan.
Peggy was the sole estate trustee and beneficiary of her husband’s estate. Although Peggy knew her husband’s log-in code to his iPad, she did not know the Apple ID password, which is required to download apps from the App Store. As such, Peggy was unable to re-download her card game app once it stopped working.
Although Peggy could have created a new Apple ID (username and password), it meant that she would have had to re-purchase everything under her husband’s account. As such, to avoid this, Peggy contacted Apple in order to obtain the Apple ID password. Although Apple had initially requested that Peggy provide the Will and death certificate, they later required a Court order before releasing such information.
The good news is that Apple is currently assisting Peggy and is no longer requiring her to obtain a Court order. However, the process has taken many months, and understandably caused Peggy considerable frustration as she considered this to be a simple problem. She just wanted to play her digital card game.
As no such digital asset law exists yet in Ontario, corporations such as Apple, Facebook, and Gmail, are left to their own devices when addressing digital asset ownership and succession.
At this point in time, I have no hesitation in saying that almost all of us have Apple (or Android) products, and rely on Facebook and Gmail accounts. The importance of addressing such assets in an estate plan is therefore clear. Although there are a myriad of products which can assist in managing associated passwords, this is just one step in preparing a thorough estate plan. An experienced lawyer can assist to ensure that all types of digital assets are addressed, that a testator’s instructions are clear and definitive, and proper wording is included in a Will.