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A widow’s cautionary tale of digital property and estate planning

As our lives become ever more entwined with online and digital activities, the distribution of digital assets is an increasingly relevant aspect of estate planning. In fact, we discussed the issue in one of our recent posts, “Does your estate plan account for digital property?”

To illustrate the potential problems a family might encounter, consider the predicament of a Canadian woman who struggled for months to obtain her deceased husband’s iPad password from Apple.

The 72-year-old widow said that she was able to get pensions, benefits and “all kinds of things from the federal and the other government,” but getting a password from Apple proved to be the most difficult.

Initially, the problem was that a card game app on the iPad, for which her husband knew the password, stopped working. With her family’s help, she tried to reload the app, but doing so required the password. Without it, she would have to re-purchase items on the iPad that she and her husband had already paid for.

The woman’s daughter called Apple to try to obtain the password, and someone from the company said the password was retrievable if the family could provide more information — specifically, the will, the death certificate and verbal confirmation from the mother.

However, even after the daughter called back with the requested information, Apple would not provide the password. More phone calls ensued, and eventually the family was told to get a court order.

Baffled and frustrated, the daughter wrote a letter to the head of Apple and later contacted investigative journalists at CBC. After all of this effort from the grieving family, Apple finally apologized and began working to resolve the problem.

While this story revolves around access to an iPad game, far more valuable assets may be at stake if no plan is in place to preserve and distribute a digital legacy.

With that in mind, Canadians are encouraged to act now to create an inventory of digital assets and clarify how those assets should be distributed to heirs.

For more on estate planning, wills and trusts, please see Hagel Lawfirm‘s estate planning overview.

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