Trusts & Estates

Widow says Apple wanted death certificate, will and court order to reveal spouse’s password

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When David Bush died last year, he provided for his wife, Peggy, in his will.

But it didn’t occur to the Victoria, British Columbia, couple that they needed an estate plan concerning access to his electronic devices.

Although Peggy Bush had the password to her husband’s iPad, she didn’t know about a separate password to his Apple ID account. When she asked Apple to provide it, company representatives said they needed copies of his death certificate, his will and a court order requiring the disclosure, reports CBC News.

Eventually, after months of wrangling and intervention by the Go Public unit of CBC News, the company relented on the court order, to which Peggy Bush had objected because of the time and the expense required to get it. (She wanted access to her husband’s devices so she could continue to use applications without having to repurchase them.) However, she hopes the story of her saga may help others avoid the same problem.

When initially told by Apple that a court order was needed, “I was just completely flummoxed,” she recounted. “What do you mean a court order? I said that was ridiculous, because we’ve been able to transfer the title of the house, we’ve been able to transfer the car, all these things, just using a notarized death certificate and the will.”

Attorney Daniel Nelson of Toronto said legislation would be helpful to clarify the “murky” situation. While material in online accounts belongs to the holder, the service provider sets terms of access, he notes.

Unless and until new laws are passed and providers change their policies, Canadians should have wills that expressly give the executor authority to handle digital assets, he told CBC News. Wills also should direct executors about the location of passwords, but should not, for security reasons, list the actual passwords, he recommended.

Similar issues can arise in the U.S., although some states have enacted laws to address the disposition of digital assets after an individual account-holder’s death.

Hat tip: Washington Post (reg. req.)

Related coverage: “Delaware is first state to adopt model law that says social media accounts can be inherited” “What Happens to Your Facebook Page After Death? Nebraska Bill Gives Say-So to Estate Representative” “Facebook will allow users to name ‘legacy contact’ in case of death”

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