Personal Law

This week a widow won her long legal battle to gain access to her late husband’s online Apple account.

Rachel Thompson started fighting for access in 2015 when her husband died without leaving a will or any instruction to allow others access to his account in the event of his death. Being an avid photographer, he took and stored all of the family photographs on his iCloud account and when he died, his wife had no access to any of them.

Apple referred to their terms and conditions which stated that a user account is not transferable and that the right to access the content ends on the death of the user, unless it has otherwise been provided in law. They also advised that the only way that access could be granted was by court order. Ultimately, Judge Jan Luba granted Mrs Thomson access to her husband’s account and made clear that changes to the law need to be made in order to avoid the need for such a protracted and expensive action in these situations.

As technology is evolving at an extremely fast rate, the need to consider reforming legislation to cater for these circumstances is becoming more and more important. These digital issues arising on death are only going to continue to occur, as we increasingly rely on technology for every aspect of our lives.

We previously discussed a way technology giants, Facebook and Google, have attempted to avoid such issues, here. Both platforms allow users to appoint a friend or family member as a ‘legacy contact’ to access parts of their account in the event of their death. This means that the appointed person would have access to their photographs, profiles and other data, excluding private messages and avoids the situation that Mrs Thompson faced.

In an increasingly digital age, it is encouraging to see the outcome of this case and greater recognition of the fact that the process for dealing with these types of assets needs to be simpler.

This serves as a reminder to discuss your digital assets with your legal adviser and how these are to be dealt with on your death or incapacity as part of your overall estate planning when preparing your will and power of attorney.

Should you wish to discuss this please contact your usual contact in Brodies Personal and Family Department on 0131 228 3777.