Yesterday morning Colin and Sue Hehir spoke on BBC Breakfast following the loss of their son Morgan. Morgan was killed on the 31st October and his parents have not been able to obtain access to the content saved on his Apple Macbook since his death.
The Digital Legacy Association’s response
When someone purchases an electronic device (like a computer) it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to keep that person’s information safe. Electronic devices are increasingly becoming places where we store important and personal information. This year’s digital death survey highlighted that we are still not making suitable plans as to what should happen to our electronic devices upon death.
“In the absence of permission for third party access to an account, its impossible to be certain what access a user would have wanted and we do not consider it appropriate for Apple to make the decisions….however in such cases we can assist subject to an appropriate court order.
The Digital Legacy Association’s response to Apple’s statement
It is important that computer manufacturers like Apple start building their devices and services with end of life and data transfer in mind. For example, after purchasing a computer and whilst setting it up an Apple account the following question could be asked:
“Upon death, would you like the content saved on your Apple Macbook to be granted to loved one or business contact”?
When the user says “yes” the user would then decide what level of access their beneficiaries should receive. To complete this process the user could then need to assign the name and contact email address of the chosen account beneficiary/beneficiaries. Upon the person’s death or when the user loses capacity Apple would be able to review the person’s request and ensure that their wishes are adhered to.
If this feature was available for Colin and Sue Hehir Apple would have been certain as to what level of access Morgan wanted for his parents to have. Such a feature would have helped the Hehir family at this very traumatic time.
Dr Ollie Minton a Macmillan consultant at St George’s University said, “it is disappointing data cannot be released but we all now have a enlarging potential digital legacy. This case highlights the need to ensure your wishes including your digital legacy is made clear to friends and family”.
Our advice for those unable to access a loved one’s device after their death
The Digital Legacy Association recommend that those finding themselves in a similar position to Colin and Sue Hehir should first try to locate the deceased’s will and/or social media will. Once this has occurred they should contact the device manufacturer directly. If subsequent proceedings do not resolve the issue they may want to consider getting legal advice in order to obtain a court order.
We strongly recommend that devices that have a monitory value (like computers and mobile phones) are included within each person’s will. We also recommend that user accounts and directions for these devices should be stated both in each person’s will and their social media will.
What the Law Society recommendations
“Your Social media will People should leave clear instructions about what should happen to their social media, computer games and other online accounts after their death. Having a list of all your online accounts, such as email, banking, investments and social networking sites will make it easier for family members to piece together your digital legacy, adhere to your wishes and could save time and money.– The Law Society (UK)
Download the Digital Legacy Association’s free Social Media Will template
Our social media will template can be downloaded (as a Excel document), completed, printed and then kept in a safe place. This is not a legally binding document but provides useful information and can act as a statement of wishes.
Our social media will includes links to a number of independent guides. Our guides have been created to help ensure that each person makes the best decisions based on their preferences, the devices and online services that they use.
To download our free social media will template (excel document) click here