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Digital Memories: What Happens to iCloud Photos When Users Pass?

Photo albums are a quintessential family heirloom. Large binders filled with glossy film photos sit in most people’s cosets, holding valuable memories passed from one generation to the next. However, the days of film roles being developed are behind us, and instead we all walk around with thousands of photos in our phones, entrusting iCloud and Google Photos to hold on to our stories. But what happens to these pictures when their proprietor passes, and how can you help your client secure their digital memories? In this post we will review the planning options for iCloud accounts (data accounts for anyone with an Apple device) and demonstrate how Bequest can offer an easy and secure method of protecting data.

iCloud Accounts and Account Deletion

iCloud accounts hold more than just pictures – they hold basically all the data stored on a user’s Apple device. This includes emails, messages, notes, health data, and much more.

It is crucial to note that Apple reserves the right to delete accounts that have been inactive for a year or more. This is not a risk fiduciaries should take when administering the digital portion of an estate, so time is of the essence.

Legacy Contacts

Your client can set a legacy contact on their iCloud account. This is an individual that will get access to your client’s entire iCloud account (health data, messages, emails, photos, call history, and much more) upon presenting Apple with i) a death certificate, and ii) an access token. Here’s how it works:

  • The original user will add a legacy contact to their account and must provide that legacy contact with an access key that they should take care not to misplace.
  • Eventually, when the user passes, the legacy contact will provide Apple with a copy of the death certificate and their access key. Apple will then process the request, though they are not required to release data and can request court orders under RUFADAA.
  • If a legacy contact has not been set or Bequest was not set up, the only potential means of data access is via court orders.
  • While Apple’s addition of a legacy contact is a great step forward for estate planning, it is still far from infallible.

  • Lack of data segregation means the legacy contact has indiscriminate access to vastly different data stores. This may go against your client’s wishes and may pose a hazard to the estate plan.
  • Having a single point of access for important data recovery is never a good idea, and legacy contacts are no exception. Users can set multiple legacy contacts, but this could mess up administration as multiple actors can have access at once, and would further infringe on data privacy.
  • If Apple requests a court order or an access key is lost, actions need to be taken to recover the account within one year of the decedent’s passing to avoid potential deletion. Given the complexities of administration and the various custodians that need to be handled, this can easily lead to lost data.
  • With Bequest

    Bequest allows your client to connect their photo accounts such that their fiduciary can retrieve them in a matter of days upon submitting a copy of the death certificate to Bequest. Bequest does not rely on legacy contacts, so your client will never be exposing all their data. Bequest will:

  • Protect your client’s data security by segregating access: photo accounts can be planned for separately from all other iCloud data such that fiduciaries don’t get access to the entire account (health data, emails, messages, etc.)
  • Bequest will get data released to beneficiaries without requiring court orders: stress-free transfers for administrators and beneficiaries.
  • Bequest’s platform aggregates digital estate plans. Fiduciaires can deal with multiple custodians and account types in one place – no need to plan separately for every single online account.
  • Conclusion

    Planning for digital photos is not as obvious as sharing a photo album, but it can still be an easy process with tools like Bequest. It is important to plan for your client’s digital assets such that recovery by the fiduciary will be as simple as possible. Legacy contact options may be great for more simple plans, but any client with multiple digital accounts to manage or private business/legal affairs that need to be segregated should look into incorporating Bequest.

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