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Digital Estates are a Disaster

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Pedro Sobrinho is the newest engineer at Bequest. This is his story.
Six years ago, my father tragically passed away in a traffic accident and I, his then 19 year old son, was appointed as the executor of a very messy estate. As I began to administer his estate, I found myself unable to recuperate important documents and memories that were stored across multiple digital accounts. Today I’ll be sharing my story to shed some light on estate administration in the digital age.
My parents divorced when I was young and I was kept away from my father most of my life due to resentment between my parents. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I reached out to my father and began to fix my relationship with him. Soon we were spending every weekend together exploring nature, waterfalls, and hiking trails. Moments like this strengthened our bond for a little over a year, and we began making plans to visit his vacation home together. Once I turned 18, we got a date on the books and finalised our plans for the trip. I was incredibly excited.
The morning of the trip my father and his friend left early, while I planned to join them later on that day. However, before I could begin the drive, I received the most devastating news of my life. A truck had collided head-on with my dad's car, claiming both him and his friend’s lives. The following day, I went to the crash site, in disbelief, questioning reality and myself.
I began to fall into deep sadness and struggled deeply to come to terms with my father’s passing. My father had no planning documents, and I was appointed as his estate’s executor. I neglected this duty for a year and a half as I continued to grapple with the loss, but eventually I managed to pull myself together and begin the lengthy, bureaucratic process. It ended up being a disaster to try and get needed information from the government and various private companies. I soon realised that the majority of the documents I needed were locked in digital accounts that I had no way of accessing.
Firstly, I wanted to gain access to my father’s photo albums. They were stored across multiple Apple devices to which I did not have access, as well as in a Google folder. Secondly, I needed access to various documents including a copy of his house’s title and his bank statements. I did not expect that all these years later, I still would not have access to any of this information, greatly complicating the estate administration and robbing my family and I of valuable memories.
I started by contacting Apple to try and get access to his iCloud account. Unfortunately, Apple told me they could not help and it would have been up to my father to set up a Legacy Contact. I was out of options. Even if I could get access to his iCloud via the Legacy Contact, I still would not have been able to recover most of his photos, but it would have been better than nothing. In order to access all of my father’s photos, he would have needed to share the passwords to all of his devices. For logistical and privacy reasons, this wouldn’t have made sense. Having no luck with Apple, I moved on to Google. Google sent me their process: I would first have to submit a few documents and provide a notarized English translation. If that got approved, I would then need to submit a court order to Google. If that was approved, I would then receive folders of raw data that I would have to parse myself.
I got the initial documents together and got them translated as my family is Brazilian. I sent the documents, but did not receive a reply from Google. I could have continued to push them, but Google begins to delete data from inactive accounts after two years. Since I had begun the administration process 18 months after my father’s passing, it made most sense for me to focus my efforts on trying to recover necessary documents through the government.
To this day I have not managed to close the estate as all the related documents and processes are completely disjoint. If my father had had a tool like Bequest, he could have stored all his digital information in one place without compromising on his privacy. I would have had access to all of his photos, documents, and emails without needing to contact custodians or take the data through probate. The administration would have taken a fraction of the time and I would have more memories than the polaroids left behind by my father. We all have a much broader digital legacy than we realise, and I urge people to find a tool like Bequest to make sure their digital life is in order for their family.

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