A recent case involving a widow who wanted access to her late husband’s digital data has once again highlighted the importance of keeping a will up to date.
Rachel Thompson sought access to photos and videos stored by her late husband from Apple, so that she could show their 10-year-old daughter the visual content of her father to help her to remember him. However, Apple would only release the digital content under a court order, as 39-year-old Mr Thompson had not outlined what access others could have to his accounts upon his death.
Currently under UK law, loved ones of people who have died do not have the legal right to access data held in the online accounts of the deceased. However, Mrs Thompson was successful in a court order to force Apple to allow her access to the account, where the videos and photos were stored. She had battled with the tech giant since 2015 to gain access.
The judge in the case called for a change in the law and an easier process to settle such cases in the future. Many in the legal field have supported this demand, highlighting that companies like Apple should have a ‘digital duty of care’ towards families who have lost loved ones.
Facebook, for example, has created a legacy contact feature, whereby a Facebook account holder can appoint a person as their legacy contact to look after their memorialised account upon their death, or have the account permanently deleted from Facebook. Those with Facebook accounts can also choose to permanently delete their account upon their death by changing their account setting to ‘delete after death’.
Louise Williams, partner and head of probate, wills and trusts at Hutchinson Thomas, said:
“Photos and videos of loved ones who have passed away can be just as valuable as material assets to those who are grieving. Having online accounts are commonplace, meaning a vast amount of information is stored digitally. With technology continuing to develop at such a fast rate, it is clear that reforms to legislation needs urgent consideration so that a simpler way of dealing with digital assets is established.
“This case further shows the importance of safeguarding your digital assets through a properly drafted will, which can outline how you would like your online accounts to be dealt with upon your death as part of your overall estate plan. While we await updated legislation on this matter, it may be useful to keep a register of digital assets with your will to assist those dealing with your estate. It is always best to seek advice from a legal professional when drafting or updating your will, or when considering sharing online account details, to avoid any potential ambiguities as well as offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.”
For advice on keep your will up to date and safeguarding your digital assets, contact Louise Williams on 01639 640153 or email firstname.lastname@example.org