“I thought it was ridiculous. I could get the pensions, I could get benefits, I could get all kinds of things from the federal government and the other government. But from Apple, I couldn’t even get a silly password. It’s nonsense,” 72-year-old Peggy Bush told Go Public.
Experts warn this is a growing problem, as more people die leaving important information and valuable digital property on computers and electronic devices.
Bush lost her husband David to lung cancer in August. The couple owned an iPad and an Apple computer. Bush knew the iPad’s log-in code, but didn’t know the Apple ID password.
The Bushes could get a new Apple ID account and start from scratch, but that would mean repurchasing everything they had already paid for.
After many phone calls and two months of what she describes as the “runaround,” Donna provided Apple with the serial numbers for the items, her father’s will that left everything to his wife, Peggy, and a notarized death certificate — but was told it wasn’t enough.
“I finally got someone who said, ‘You need a court order,'” she said. “I was just completely flummoxed. What do you mean a court order? I said that was ridiculous, because we’ve been able to transfer the title of the house, we’ve been able to transfer the car, all these things, just using a notarized death certificate and the will.
A court order can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on if a lawyer’s services are required.
Peggy Bush said she couldn’t believe it either. After waiting months to get that password reset, she bought herself a laptop. It’s not an Apple MacBook.
That’s when the family contacted Go Public.
Apple won’t talk policy
“More and more people are transferring their lives online and it’s going to become a greater and greater proportion of one’s estate … [it could be] a gambling account, video game account — all have value — tremendous value in some cases,” he said.
Nelson said the problem is that while users own the material online for the most part, access to it is controlled by providers like Apple. Therefore, those companies have the right to set the rules when it comes to accessing what we put online and the content we buy.
Nelson said Apple’s demand for a court order seems heavy-handed in Bush’s case, especially considering the low monetary value of the Apple account.
He also said providers need clear policies when it comes to dealing with digital property and access, and Canadian laws need to be more clear about who owns or controls what is put online after someone dies.
“When it’s digital property it gets murky. While that photograph on Google cloud or on Facebook belongs to you, the access belongs to the service provider,” Nelson said.
“It would be useful for legislation to clarify that … executors have authority to log into accounts and extract digital assets, including changing passwords.”
His advice is that until laws are updated and service providers change their policies, Canadians should include clauses in their wills that allow the executor to deal with digital assets.
Nelson said wills should include information on where to find passwords, but not the passwords themselves, for security reasons.