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Friday, February 25, 2022

Protecting Digital Assets with Legacy Contacts

Apple recently caught up to Google and Facebook in the ever growing need to find a way to protect digital assets and accounts after an individual passes away.  Now, thanks to the new update to Apple’s iOS 15.2, you designate up to five people as Legacy Contacts who can access the data and personal information stored in your iCloud account.  Until this new feature, when a loved one or family member passed away, it was very difficult to access their digital information locked away in their iPhone or other Apple products, unless your loved one knew the pass code.  This is a great feature that Google and Facebook had already offered which can really help protect your digital assets as well as keep safe old messages, photos, videos, and other media that may hold invaluable sentimental worth to your family.

Once your Legacy Contact is set up, your designated contact will have to provide Apple with a death certificate and an access key which is provided when they were first nominated (which may sound difficult but is much easier than obtaining a Court order).  To setup a Legacy Contact on your apple device:

  • Go to “Settings” > (Your Name) > Password & Security – If on a Mac, go to “System Preferences” > Apple ID > Password & Security
  • Under “Legacy Contact,” simply follow the instructions to add a contact. If Family Sharing is on, you can choose someone from that list, or you can add someone using their phone number or email.
  • Next, notify your Legacy Contact and share the access key. If the Legacy Contact accepts, this access key is automatically stored in their Apple ID. If they decline for one reason or another, you will receive a notification.
  • If you want to remove someone, revisit the Legacy Contact screen, tap on their name, then select “Remove Contact” and confirm.

For Google users, Google’s Inactive Account Manager is one of the more complete tools for taking care of your digital legacy.  It allows you to set up a plan for if you’re unexpectedly unable to use your Google Account, such as in the event of an accident or death. You can see, edit or turn off your plan at any time.  You begin by going to the Inactive Account Manager and clicking on Start.  You will then go through three setups: when the inactive account manager will kick in, who to notify, and whether everything should be deleted.  You can also activate a Gmail message to anyone who emails you after the manager kicks in, telling them that the account is no longer active. You can have the message sent to everyone who emails you or only to people in your contact list.  If you prefer, you can also arrange for your entire account to be deleted three months after it is declared inactive.

For Facebook users, Facebook calls its digital legacy feature Memorialization Settings.  The only difference from Google and Apple is that, because Facebook is often used to memorialize people who have died, there are some extra things of which to be aware.  To begin with, on the Facebook site, click on the downward arrow in the upper right corner, and go to Settings & Privacy > Settings. Make sure you’re in the General section (the first category in the left-hand column) and select Memorialization Settings.  The page will open up to explain that you can choose a legacy contact who will be able to manage tribute posts on your site, delete your site, accept new friends, and update your profile. The person you choose will be contacted by Facebook, so it’s probably a good idea to talk to them about it beforehand.  You can also choose to have your account permanently deleted via a link at the bottom of that page.  If you do not choose that option, then as soon as Facebook finds out you are no longer alive, it will “memorialize” your account.  That means that the word “Remembering” will be placed on your page, your content will remain, and friends can leave messages on the timeline.

As of now (and, like all technology, this is ever evolving), neither Twitter nor Instagram offer any such transfer for authority after you pass away.  Twitter allows a loved one to file documentation and a request to shut down a loved one’s twitter account but cannot gain actual access to that account.  Instagram will memorialize your account once it receives proof, such as a newspaper clipping or a death certificate, and family members can also request that an Instagram account be closed if they have required documentation.

Please keep in mind that none of the above replaces the need for proper estate planning, such as a Will and/or Trust, which can designate ownership of digital assets and appoint an individual(s) to have access to digital accounts, including email and social media accounts.

If you have any questions regarding estate planning or digital assets, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.

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