27 September 2023

Thy Will be done: The importance of including digital assets in a will

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Anthony Caruana* says a recent court case has highlighted the importance of including online assets and personal data in your will.

Photo: Dzenina Lukac

Creating a will is an important thing to do.

Knowing that the assets you’ve accumulated through your life are being distributed according to your wishes after you die can give you peace of mind and it can ensure your family and other loved ones benefit.

It can also help avoid squabbles and legal issues.

A recent court case in London highlights the importance of including online assets in your will alongside your physical and financial assets.

A London court has ordered Apple to release 4,500 photos and 900 videos from an iCloud account.

Rachel Thompson, a widowed 44-year-old has been trying to get Apple to release the photos and videos from her late husband’s online account.

But the tech giant said they would only release the photos under a court order as he made no provision for access to the images following his death.

This is because, under UK law, there’s no legal right to access information held in a deceased person’s online accounts.

Thompson’s husband died unexpectedly at the age of 39 and his account contained photos and videos of their young daughter as well as Thompson’s father, who had passed away not long before.

It highlights an important element of estate planning many people probably haven’t fully considered.

Our online accounts contain a vast treasure trove of information that is valuable.

Perhaps not in the financial sense but certainly in other ways.

There are lots of things you can do but ensuring that usernames and passwords are accessible to your family, as well as defining who can access your account after you die.

Facebook lets you define a “legacy contact” — you can easily add, remove or change a Facebook legacy contact.

Apple doesn’t have such a provision.

In the iCloud Terms and Conditions it says: “D. No Right of Survivorship: Unless otherwise required by law, you agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.”

“Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at https://support.apple.com/icloud for further assistance.”

The best thing to do is to ensure your will includes a stipulation giving someone access to your online accounts and keeping a password vault that someone else can access in the event of your death.

* Anthony Caruana is a journalist and consultant. He tweets at @Anthony_Caruana. His website is run-and-lift.com.

This article first appeared at www.lifehacker.com.au.

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