In their latest update, Apple have this week added an important new feature – a legacy contact feature – which brings them in line with some other digital platforms such as Facebook and Google.
Undoubtedly digital pre-death planning tools are not an exciting new feature for many, but for family members who have had to deal with accessing a deceased's data, the process up until now has been complex and fraught with difficulty, often requiring a court order. This development provides users with an element of control not previously available.
The new legacy contact feature (found under 'password and security' settings) enables a user to nominate up to five family members or friends to receive a code enabling them to apply for access to an account after death. This will provide access to data stored on the iCloud, including photographs and other documents, many of which may have sentimental rather than financial value.
The legacy contacts will have to produce the relevant code and a death certificate to obtain access. There seems to us that there is an obvious tension as to who has authority where there may be competing parties seeking access for different purposes. For example, where one individual has a Grant of Probate, confirming their authority to manage a deceased's estate, where do they stand when a sibling or friend has been nominated as a legacy contact and they also seeks access? There may be competing interests and concerns around privacy and security. We will have to see how this plays out but for now a tool providing greater user autonomy (and some freedom from the service provider) should be a welcome development. We would recommend that all digital assets, whether purely sentimental such as iCloud photographs or of significant value such as Bitcoin, are addressed in your will.
If you would like to discuss the issues arising from the latest Apple update (including how other service providers manage digital assets after death) please get in touch with Bethan Byrne or your usual Mishcon de Reya contact.