UPDATE 13 DECEMBER 2021
On 13 December 2021, during the release of its iOS 15.2 update, Apple officially released its Digital Legacy feature, which lets people choose the specific people (up to five family members or friends) who will be able to access their account after they die. The chosen contacts will then be able to access data stored in iCloud, like photos and documents, after the original user dies, so long as they have a special access key and a copy of the death certificate.
This feature is accessed through Settings on the iPhone, and then selecting Password & Security and then choosing the Legacy Contact option. An access code will be received and Apple advises users to keep it in a safe place with their other estate planning documents. The selected Digital Legacy contacts will then need to provide that code and a death certificate to access the account.
Access can be granted through this link for Legacy contacts: https://digital-legacy.apple.com/
ORIGINAL POST – 10 JUNE 2021
Two leading tech firms have announced significant changes to digital legacy options.
Apple is to offer a digital legacy service for user accounts, according to reports from CNET and Digital Legacy Management. The move, announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, follows reports of families taking service providers like Facebook to court to gain access to deceased family members’ accounts. Users can either permit access to a named individual, the ‘administrator’, or choose to have their accounts deleted. The new function is expected to be released later this year, though no date has been set.
The administrator will sign in through a ’legacy contact Apple ID’ and will need an access key to see password-protected data on Apple devices. He/she will also be able to view data stored in iCloud, Apple’s cloud service, which can then be downloaded, but will not have access to payment information, such as stored credit cards, or logins stored on a user’s Keychain.
While the service has not been officially released, Apple has already set up a dedicated web page. The user needs to enter their Apple ID login to get to the digital legacy page, which gives them the option to specify that their account be deleted when they die.
However the main question, which is yet to be answered by Apple, is how the service will work if the designated legacy contact does not use any Apple products. It is also unclear whether the administrator will be able to access the new system from devices using other operating systems, such as Android.
LinkedIn also now offers options for those authorised to address a deceased person’s account, memorialise or close a deceased member’s account, according to a blog by Sharon Hartung TEP. Whilst these are not classed as pre-planning tools (advance selections) with respect to addressing an account member’s wishes and preference upon death, they do allow the fiduciary to either request a LinkedIn profile to be closed or memorialised.
Next steps, and STEP’s thought leadership work
Both moves follow in the footsteps of Google’s inactive account manager, which has been going for some years. It is hoped that other vendors and tech providers will respond to consumer expectations and follow suit.
In the meantime STEP continues its digital assets thought leadership work, which is focusing on engagement with service providers, and documenting the difficulties that professionals and members of the public may encounter with digital assets and service providers across various jurisdictions, in particular regarding estate planning and digital legacies.
STEP and the Microsoft-funded Cloud Legal Project at Queen Mary University of London have recently jointly undertaken a survey to ascertain the awareness, experiences, and concerns of practitioners in dealing with digital assets, in relation to both estate planning and digital legacies. The information gathered will inform and set the framework for resulting activities and education of value to practitioners, service providers, policymakers and the public.