Digital Asset Planning: Who Will Care for Your Pokémon When You’re Gone?

Apple Demanded Court Order for Widow’s Access to Husband’s Apple ID Password

Apple Demanded Court Order for Widow’s Access to Husband’s Apple ID Password

Following the death of David Bush in August of 2015, his widow, 72-year old Victoria, B.C. resident Peggy Bush, was outraged when Apple demanded that she get a court order in order to obtain access to apps on the couple’s iPad.

Bush knew the iPad’s login password, but did not know the Apple ID password that had been set up by her husband and which would have allowed her access to all of their downloaded apps. In his will, David had left her the family home and car, as well as most other things that he owned. However, there was no mention of digital assets such as online passwords.

After contacting Apple multiple times over the course of two months, and providing the tech giant with a notarized death certificate, a copy of the will, and the iPad’s serial number, Apple still demanded a court order. Bush then contacted the CBC’s “Go Public”, which contacted Apple on her behalf. Apple has since apologized and is now working with Bush to solve the issue without a court order.

Currently, Canadian digital property laws are unclear as to the inheritance of digital assets such passwords and digital accounts. However, it may be prudent to take certain steps, such as:

  • including information of where to find passwords in wills;
  • putting passwords in a safety box, and willing the box and all of its contents upon death;
  • expressly giving executors the right to have access to accounts, as well as the right to extract digital assets; and
  • paying attention to the terms and conditions when registering an online account, as some policies explicitly state that accounts are non-transferable, and that all rights to an account’s content terminate upon death.
Why You Should Do a Digital Inventory of Your Assets

Why You Should Do a Digital Inventory of Your Assets

Why You Should Do a Digital Inventory of Your Assets

Last month, several media outlets reported that Apple required a Canadian woman to get a court order before gaining access to her deceased husband’s iPad. According to reports, the woman simply wanted to play card games her husband had downloaded to the tablet.

While that incident seemed particularly egregious, orphaned passwords and social media accounts occur with greater regularity.

For example, it’s not unusual to hear anecdotes about Facebook urging people to wish happy birthday to a deceased friend or relative. Such events may bring up strong emotions. But orphaned social media accounts may be less worrisome than lack of access to passwords and other digital assets after an investor dies.

Many investors understand the need to update their account beneficiaries or plan for tax consequences of passing along money to heirs. However, when it comes to leaving easy access to passwords and digital account information, many people fall short.

Gathering passwords and lists of online accounts may save survivors the effort of making stressful calls or waiting for a death certificate before accessing important data. With online bill paying and investment-account management so prevalent, lack of access causes serious problems for survivors unable to log in and process transactions like paying monthly bills.

In the future, service providers, such as financial advisors or estate attorneys, may play a greater role in helping clients pass along digital information, says Keith Fenstad, partner at Tanglewood Wealth Management in Houston.

“Login info is unique to each person, and we are not privy to it, so we don’t directly provide that info to anyone. However, as a part of their planning, clients should consider putting together an inventory of all this info. User names, passwords, location of account, answers to security questions would all be valuable to executors and/or heirs,” Fenstad says.

He adds that people may also wish to leave a list of all their devices, such as phones, laptops or tablets, along with screen lock passwords.

“What’s becoming more and more important is dealing with these digital assets,” he says. “That’s not just financial accounts but email accounts, gaming and social media profiles, such as Facebook or YouTube. While these assets may not always have a lot of monetary value – although it’s very possible – they have a lot sentimental and personal value.”

Fenstad notes that many social media accounts also contain personal data that must be protected. “Think of how we are living our lives through pics and videos, and how valuable that would be for our loved ones,” he says.

He suggests that people specify how they would like social media accounts handled after their death. For example, accounts may be deleted entirely, the information passed along to heirs or the account transformed into a virtual memorial.

“Many user agreements state this info is simply deleted upon death. The laws have not kept up, and each account may operate with different rules,” he says. “For a retiree client’s account login information, how is this passed onto others after somebody’s passing? Do you simply have a sit-down with the heir to those specific accounts and give the information? Is there a plan put into place? Broadly, is the intergenerational jump difficult with clients?”

Cataloging passwords and other information may be relevant in work situations as well, should an account owner die suddenly.

Aaron Klein, CEO of Auburn, California-based Riskalyze, which helps financial advisors determine investor risk tolerance, found that a disorganized array of passwords made it difficult for co-workers to share information.

“As the CEO of a financial technology company, I’ve got passwords and access codes for personal and company finances and much more. My executive assistant and [chief financial officer] needed access to some of them. And they were a mishmash of trouble – too simple, all the same, shared over text message,” he says.

Klein acknowledges that the process of collecting and streamlining passwords isn’t pleasant, but it is worthwhile. He implemented LastPass, which allows users to digitally store and manage passwords.

“I won’t lie – it was hell for a solid week while I changed my passwords everywhere by generating new, secure ones in the app. But now that it’s done, it just feels so good to know that I’ve done everything I can to keep my digital life and my company’s finances safe and secure. And as a bonus, about 80 percent of the time I can auto-fill passwords on my iPhone and iPad using my fingerprint,” Klein says.

While younger generations are more attuned to the significance of their devices and passwords, today’s generation of retirees may not think about that so readily. “Unfortunately, too many retirees don’t go the extra step of getting their loved ones and professionals on the same page before an unexpected crisis like a death or a disability,” says Tom West, senior associate at Signature Estate & Investment Advisors, in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Those steps include being transparent about priorities. In other words, don’t leave survivors guessing about your wishes for any of your assets, including the intangible, such as online accounts. Sharing information with the appropriate parties, such as attorneys or financial advisors, is a crucial part of the process, West says. In addition, families must be informed of which outside parties possess relevant information.

“Retirees need to take responsibility to identify to all relevant parties what their roles might be in the circumstance of some big change. Families need to know the identity of aligned professionals before something happens as well as the location of legal documents that can aid them in times of crisis,” he says.

West says information may be transmitted in a family meeting or simply via a written list of professional contact information that accompanies legal documents and household financial information.

“In a nutshell, if no one knows what your contingency plans are and how to help in a time of crisis, a retiree’s chance of a best-case outcome decreases dramatically,” he says. “Don’t forget!”

Images

Apple grants widow access to husband's Apple ID after demanding court order

Apple grants widow access to husband’s Apple ID after demanding court order

Apple’s strict data protection policies sparked debate over so-called “digital legacy” issues this week, as the company refused to supply a recently widowed Canadian woman with her late husband’s Apple ID password.

According to a report from CBC News, Apple refused to furnish 72-year-old Peggy Bush with her husband David’s Apple ID password after he died in August, saying that to do so would require a court order.

Bush, who was unaware of Apple’s stringent security policies, knew the hardware passcode for David’s iPad, but not his Apple ID. She first encountered a problem when attempting to reload an unnamed card game from the App Store.

Bush’s daughter, Donna, reportedly spoke to an Apple representative who said it would be possible to retrieve the lost password with her father’s will, death certificate and verbal confirmation from her mother. Donna called back after acquiring the requested documents, but the customer service representative denied knowledge of the matter.

Following two months of back-and-forth correspondence, Apple told the Bush family that recovering David’s password would not be possible without a court order.

“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.”

Because a user’s Apple ID and password are tied to payment information and other sensitive data, Apple implements strong safeguards to protect the data from falling into the wrong hands, going so far as to offer optional two-factor authentication via SMS or push notification. Apple IDs are also used to protect against hardware theft via activation lock, though it appears the feature was not activated on Bush’s iPad.

“I then wrote a letter to Tim Cook, the head of Apple, saying this is ridiculous. All I want to do is download a card game for my mother on the iPad,” Donna said. “I don’t want to have to go to court to do that, and I finally got a call from customer relations who confirmed, yes, that is their policy.”

After being contacted by CBC News, Apple apologized for what it characterized as a “misunderstanding” and reached out to the Bush family to fix the issue. The company did not comment on current or future contingencies for transferring ownership of digital property after death.

Apple demands widow get court order to access dead husband's password

Apple demands widow get court order to access dead husband’s password

Media placeholder
Do I need to leave my passwords in my will?

“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.

Peggy and David Bush
Peggy poses with her husband, David. (Family photo)

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.

Donna Bush
Donna Bush spent months going back and forth with Apple trying to get her late father’s Apple ID reset. (CBC)

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

Peggy and daughter Donna Bush
Donna Bush says she was ‘flummoxed’ when Apple told her a court order would be needed to give her mother Peggy access to her father’s Apple ID. (CBC)

“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.

Daniel Nelson
Estate lawyer Daniel Nelson says Canadian laws need to be more clear about who owns or controls digital legacies. (CBC)

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.

How to prepare to join the Internet of the dead

How to prepare to join the Internet of the dead

Online_No_One_Knows_Youre_Dead

In January 2015, security researcher and beloved, prolific geek Michael “Hackerjoe” Hamelin died in a head-on collision that also hospitalized his widow, Beth Hamelin.

Hackerjoe had not done anything to prepare for his unexpected death, and he had an exceptionally complex tangle of IT systems and obligations that no one else was prepared to run — or even rescue.

As the widowed Beth Hamelin recovered from her own injuries, she was faced with the task of untangling Michael Hamelin’s affairs, which ranged from the data needed to pay the household bills to the crypto-keys to access the family photographs and archives, to the authentication tokens and knowledge necessary to gracefully wind down the many hosting/IT businesses he ran without leaving his customers in the lurch.

Andrew Kalat — a close friend of the Hamelins and an IT expert himself — stepped in to help, booting Hamelin’s systems with “crash-carts,” begging companies like Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Goolge to let him recover Hamelin’s data, and trying (unsuccessfully) to recover the keys to unlock the Hamelin family’s personal memories. As of the time of the talk, all of the Hamelins’ photos were considered unrecoverable.

Kalat’s talk is a brilliant example of the premise that “we can’t make back doors than only good guys can get through.” When Hamelin hardened his systems against the attackers who might target him or his customers, he also hardened it against his loved ones.

I wrote about the “Internet of the Dead” in 2012, when my good friend Erik “Possum Man” Stewart, also a prolific and eclectic hacker, died unexpectedly in his sleep and I tried to help his family rescue a little of his digital legacy.

That incident prompted me to create my own digital death plan, which, now that I think of it, is woefully out of date, and, having seen Kalat’s presentation, I realize is also inadequate.

I like Kalat’s proposal that once a year, couples should switch household roles, each paying the bills and taking care of the paperwork the other deals with, just to “stress test” your family’s preparedness for these terrible, unexpected calamities — to make your family a system that fails well, as well as working well.

Most hackers have a massive digital footprint: social media, servers at co-location sites, servers at home, overly-complicated IT infrastructure, and various other IT gear connected in crazy ways. What happens when one of us suddenly dies? How do our loved ones pick up the pieces, figure out all of our random IT crap that we’ve setup, and move forward? This talk explores the challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned as I aided in figure out the IT gear after the passing of a dear friend to the hacking community, HackerJoe, aka Michael Hamelin. I will share details of the challenges Michael’s widow and I faced, how we overcame them, and advice to better prepare your loved ones if you were to suddenly shake off the mortal coil…