Progress on digital legacy planning from internet service providers

Two leading tech firms have announced significant changes to digital legacy options.

Apple

Robert CaringtonApple 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

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 subsequently inform and set the framework for resulting activities and education of value to practitioners, service providers, policymakers and the public.

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP