Death and Passwords

Some time ago I wrote about the issue of what happens to a person’s digital property when he or she dies.

So on the news today, there is a story about that exact problem:

From the story it actually sounds like Apple isn’t really on top of this either, and the law in Canada is about a century behind.  Until everyone catches up, what to do?

The simplest solution (though by no means the best) is to give someone you trust access to all of your passwords.  There are so many problems with this idea that I don’t even know where to begin.  Hands up, everyone who has the same passwords today as you did, say, a year ago?  (you with your hand up, you need to fix that pronto).

Not only that, but for things like online banking, you can actually lose your protection from fraud if the bank finds out you have shared your password.

One solution that might work is to have a provision in your will giving your executor the right to access your digital accounts when you die.  In that case, if Apple (or any of the gate-keepers at other service providers) demands a court order, your executor can provide a copy of the grant of letters probate, which is an order of the court confirming your executor’s appointment.  That would put digital assets in line with all other kinds of assets for which probate is required.

The unfortunate thing is that you may have planned your estate and affairs so that your executors doesn’t need to probate to transfer your assets.  It sounds like that was the case with the lady in the above news story.

Still, it’s better to have a plan (by adding that clause to your will) than to ignore the problem all together.

And in other news:

About Maria Holman

I am a lawyer with over 28 years of experience in drawing up wills, trusts and estate plans, helping clients with probate and estate administrations and advising business owners and families about planning for the future. You can find me at Webster Hudson & Coombe LLP in Vancouver, BC
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