With the rise in case law relating to access to a deceased person's digital assets, it is evident that digital assets are an important part of a person's estate and require attention when succession planning.

According to a recent ruling by the Central London County Court, Apple has been ordered to give a deceased's widow access to 4,500 photos and 900 videos that were stored on her deceased husband's iPhone (the Digital Assets). The deceased was an avid photographer and the Digital Assets mainly comprised of photos and videos of his child growing up and of family times.

  • Upon the deceased's death, the deceased's widow visited an Apple store and was advised to obtain a Grant of Probate in respect of the deceased's estate in order to access the Digital Assets. Upon presenting the Grant of Probate to Apple, the deceased's widow was further requested to present a court order authorising Apple to grant her access to the Digital Assets. Apple justified this through its standard terms and conditions, which state that user accounts are non-transferable and rights to content terminate upon death unless otherwise required by law.

This meant that the deceased's widow had to bear the cost of obtaining a Grant of Probate and thereafter, any additional costs and time spent obtaining a court order to grant her access to the Digital Assets, which were of immense sentimental value to her, from the deceased's phone.

Bearing in mind the above, it is important to understand the terms and conditions of each service provider relating to access and ownership of digital data stored on each platform that you use. For example, Google allows users to nominate a person who can access their account upon their demise.

We have, in our legal alert dated 16 January 2019, which can be read here, discussed how to consider succession planning in relation to digital assets. With the rise of social media and various other forms of digital interaction and transactions in our daily lives, it is important to take time out to plan effectively so that your loved ones are not faced with the frustration of spending unnecessary time and money to access what may form an integral part of your legacy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.