Tech companies update post-death policies

Testators need to get proactive about their digital legacies as tech companies update their rules for what can and can’t be done with accounts after a user’s death. 

Professional networking site LinkedIn recently followed the lead of Facebook, giving users the option to permanently delete their account when they die, or to maintain a memorialized version for supervision by an appointed legacy contact. 

Under Apple’s new rules, the company will consider requests for access from people that the account holder previously designated as a “legacy contact,” as long as they can produce a death certificate for the deceased.  

The changes came too late for an elderly Toronto woman who spent years battling Apple in court for control of her late husband’s account, according to a CBC News story on her case.

Although the couple shared the profile while he was alive, the woman was locked following his death because only his name appeared on the file, and she was unable to remember the password.

While the challenges for family members locked out of social media accounts after a loved one’s passing are mainly emotional, the consequences of an incomplete digital asset inventory can also be financially devastating for the friends and family of the deceased.  

Although some foreign jurisdictions have started drafting legislation that deals directly with estate trustees’ rights to access and take control of online accounts, the laws in Canadian provinces and territories don’t offer much guidance.

Privacy protection rules often require a court order before key information can be turned over about a deceased person’s account, and it can cause big problems if an executor is locked out of online bank accounts. 

Even though we’re spending more of our lives than ever online, I find that digital assets still tend to slip the minds of most people when it comes to estate planning. 

That’s why I prompt new clients to make a list of all their online accounts – including social media profiles, email addresses, online banking and even loyalty points – as well as the passwords associated with each. 

And since it’s not a great idea to have all your credentials lying around for someone with nefarious intentions to find, you can deposit the details with your lawyer or another trusted person for safekeeping, along with instructions for their use following your passing. 

That’s generally a better option than a safety deposit box, where the bank’s strict access rules following death of the owner may hold up the process for heirs.

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