Accessing a person’s digital assets on death

Wills

In the unfortunate but inevitable event that a member of your family passes, you often think of the most important affairs to deal with in the first instance. What you don’t usually think of is how to access that person’s digital assets to obtain the little mementos of their life like the story that they leave behind through photographs.

Since technology has evolved so dramatically over the last decade, this is now becoming quite the problem. Recently, you may have seen in the media that a widow fought for three years with Apple to get access to her deceased husband’s photographs that she desperately wanted for their young daughter to remember him by.

The deceased has thousands of photographs and hundreds of videos embedded within his Apple account and during the long three-year battle, his wife unfortunately had to spend thousands of pounds to finally get the result she required for their daughter.

Rachel, the deceased’s wife, explained that ‘he recorded our life as a family and Matilda’s life growing up. When he died his phone shut down and I didn’t have the passcode to get into it.’

She explained to the media that her first port of call was to ask a member of staff at Apple to access the account for her; the member of staff refused by saying that there was a process for these queries and that they didn’t have access to it.

Rachel later was informed that she needed a grant of probate. In her case this took 6 months to finalise, but obtaining such a grant can take longer. The problem lay in that the grant only allowed Rachel to close the account, she then needed a court order to access it.

Under UK law, relatives of people who pass away are not entitled to access any information held in online accounts unless the deceased, prior to their death, had specifically stated that the relatives were to have access to it.

In our story, Rachel had to bear the burden of the costs of seeking a court order merely because her husband had not stated that she could have access upon his death.

Rachel made a statement that will perhaps resonate with the legal system and bring about the necessary change. She stated that the ‘battle to gain access to the imaged and videos on her husbands’ phone contrasted with the easy of his other assets and dragged out the grieving process’.

After three years, the Central London County Court finally awarded Rachel access to her husbands’ phone. Judge Jan Luba, during his judgment stated that there needs to be a call for change in the law and a simpler way to settle these cases in the future.

Here at Laker Legal Solicitors we are invested in ensuring that your loved ones are guided through the grieving process and that affairs are dealt with as quickly and as efficiently as possible so not to prolong any upset.

When taking instructions from our client’s regarding new Wills, the question is always asked as to whether you have any digital assets that loved ones should have access to.

A simple clause within your Will can avoid the unnecessary strain on any of your loved ones following your death, so that your family do not have to relay a story like Rachel’s.

For further information regarding digital assets please see the following.

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/digital-legacies-need-legal-protection-say-lawyers/5061412.article

https://www.thegazette.co.uk/all-notices/content/101190

All information is correct on the date of posting.