As more and more of our lives move online, it is becoming critical to document information about accessing your online accounts and assets (photos, videos, etc.) on the internet. Making sure you leave locations (URL) and digital passwords is critical. Why?
Matt Thompson very sadly committed suicide in July 2015 and left no will. What he did leave was 4,500 photos, 900 videos along with a devasted wife and daughter. Of course they would want access to these files to help them remember and possibly understand why he left them. His widow was forced to spend money and time to hire lawyers to get a court order to gain access.
In 2016, 72-year-old Peggy Bush was forced to obtain a court order to get her husband’s iPad password. Bush had all the items Apple requested — a will leaving everything to her, a notarized death certificate and serial numbers for his device. The family was told to get a court order, despite being able to transfer the house title and the car using a notarized death certificate and will.
If you do a Google search you will find many other similar heartbreaking stories and even a multitude of articles about ways to gain access to an iPhone etc. There are also ones about Apple’s role and responsibility: to intervene or let privacy rule? It is still a hotly debated topic and it is not abundantly clear whether or not Apple has a way to retrieve passwords and will have to “hack in” to a phone as would anyone else in many cases.
And then there is the confusing and yet important issue of ownership. Yes, you own the photos and the videos, etc. but you may just be licensing the account itself or the digital space depending on the platform. Facebook and some other digital spaces have begun to make allowances for retrieving or even planning for such a situation, thus making it easier for users. But other platforms do not.
The bottom line: This can easily be avoided with some simple planning. Take the time to document your online accounts and passwords and make sure your loved ones — or maybe even a digital executor — know(s) how to access them. Even better, include this in your estate planning and documents.
If you’d like some guidance, that is a service I can provide so that you are able to have the comfort of memories and any information you may need. A small investment of time and perhaps money now will protect you from a larger, more stressful one later.