Court Rules Widow Can Access Deceased Husband’s Apple Account
Rachel Thompson Wanted Access To ‘Treasured Family Photos’
The courts have ruled in favour of a widow wishing to access her deceased husband’s Apple account, paving the way for similar cases with digital assets.
Rachel Thompson, who separated from Matt Thompson in 2014, wished to access his photos for their daughter Matilda after his suicide in 2015. The account also held photos of other deceased family members but as Mr Thompson had not made a Will Apple refused access to the account.
Apple took and maintained the view that in the event of a dead user not making it clear what access others should have to an account, it would only release the documents under a court order.
The legal battle took three years and many thousands of pounds in fees; the judge, Jan Luba, called for a simpler way to settle such cases which could involve a change to the civil procedure rules to make things cheaper and faster.
The ruling is the first of its kind in the UK and Will dispute experts at Irwin Mitchell say it paves for way for tech conglomerates to become more flexible when it comes to accessing digital assets.
Stephen Ireland, a senior associate in the Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team at Irwin Mitchell said: “The recent ruling against Apple will go a long way in making sure digital assets are easier to access without requiring costly and time-consuming litigation. Mrs Thompson wanted to access the files for posterity only.
“Technology now dominates all of our lives and our affairs are increasingly managed in the digital world. It’s therefore crucial that the tech giants make it easier to share information with family members should the situation arise.
Some platforms, including Facebook and Google, allow users to nominate someone who can access their account after death, known as legacy contacts or trusted contacts.
Apple's terms state that user accounts are non-transferable and that rights to content 'terminate' on death unless required by law. To prevent this 'digital Wills' are advised to identify executors who can manage your digital estate, but Apple says unless photos are stored in the cloud, it cannot transfer access even with a court order.
Stephen continued: “The law is fast evolving in this area and it’s likely that Apple and the other tech conglomerates will need to streamline the process for users to make sure treasured memories are not lost forever.
“It’s always advisable to make a Will, but with the dawn of the digital age, assets held on the internet should also be accounted for. Solicitors can advise on how best to include provision regarding digital assets.”
Published: June 2019
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