Rachel Thompson’s husband Matt died in July 2015. Rachel, a property adviser, from Chiswick met Matt when she was 19 and he was 18. They married ten years later and had a daughter Matilda who is now ten.
Matt died without leaving a will or any instruction to allow others access to his Apple account in the event of his death. Matt was an avid photographer and had stored thousands of family photographs and hundreds of videos on his iCloud account. The most important thing for Rachel on his death was to ensure she kept this legacy for her daughter. The photos on his iPhone were of Matt and Rachel’s relationship and Matilda’s early childhood, according to the Daily Mail. There were also images of Rachel’s father who died just 18 months after Matt. Rachel said “Videos are really nice because it is amazing how quickly you forget what somebody looks like.”
Apple referred to their terms and conditions which stated that a user account is not transferable and that the right to access the content ends on the death of the user, unless it has been provided otherwise in law. Apple insisted that access could only be granted by court order.
Rachel raised an action against Apple and three years and thousands of pounds later, the case was eventually decided. Judge Jan Luba granted Rachel access to the photos and videos and called for a change in the law. He also demanded the legal system create a simpler way to settle such cases in the future.
“Photos used to be kept in physical photo albums but now they’re kept online” barrister Matt Himsworth says “Now, instead of looking through a photo album, our loved ones need a username and password to access this material. But what happens when they don’t have this information?”
As technology is evolving at such a fast rate the need for reform to existing legislation to cater for these circumstances is becoming vital. These digital issues are only going to occur with increasing regularity as we rely more and more on technology for every aspect of our lives.
Facebook and Google have now allowed users to appoint a family member or friend as a “legacy contact” so that this appointed person could access photos, profiles and other data excluding private messages when the user dies.
This recent case decision in favour of Rachel Thompson is a timely reminder that your digital assets should be discussed with your solicitor when you are preparing your will and power of attorney.