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Tales from the Crypt 1: Apple does not bother responding to parents of 24-year-old decedent whose cause of death was ‘undetermined’.

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In 2016, Ryan Coleman tragically passed away at the ripe age of 24. He was a high-achieving and generous young man, journeying down the promising path he had worked hard to manifest. You can read more about Ryan and his life here. Today, we will discuss the hurdles his administrators faced in trying, and failing, to gain access to important data on his iPhone.
In 2018, Ryan’s parents, the administrators of his estate, filed a proceeding seeking to court order Apple for access to Ryan’s iPhone. They wanted access to his phone to:
  1. Determine if Ryan, whose cause of death was ruled ‘undetermined’, may have suffered from a medical issue that could also affect his siblings
  2. Determine if any legal action on behalf of Ryan’s estate may be appropriate
  3. Identify and collect Ryan’s digital and non-digital assets
  4. Marshal any of Ryan’s digital assets as part of the estate administration
  5. It is important to note that Apple begins deleting data from inactive iCloud accounts after only one year of inactivity. It is likely that by this point in 2018, some of Ryan’s data had already been deleted. Nonetheless, his parents were likely unaware of this and still wanted to see what could be recovered. Unfortunately, though, Apple was cited on this petition, it defaulted in appearing.
    Given that Ryan had not left behind a last will and testament which contained explicit directives relating to his digital accounts, or had used the iCloud Legacy Contact (which hardly works anyway), Ryan’s parents were not granted access to Ryan’s accounts. Federal privacy laws prevented the fiduciaries from accessing digital accounts without some type of explicit directive or action having been taken by the grantor.
    Using RUFADAA, Ryan’s administrators were able to recover some pieces of ‘non-content’ digital information. To be specific, they received:
    1. a catalogue of electronic communications (sender, recipient, timestamp)
    2. calendar information
    3. his contact list
    4. This information would be sufficient for them to get some hints as to where Ryan might have banked, important accounts he may have had, and contacts who may need to be notified of his passing. Without using some type of planning tool like Bequest, this is all a fiduciary can retrieve by default. While the loss of a digital legacy is tragic for Ryan’s family, Apple could not have granted access to more information even if they wanted to. Data custodians are obligated to protect their user’s privacy first and foremost.
      Much of our digital lives should not be locked up in probate. Photos, notes, and memories are sentimental and should be easily transferable to assigned beneficiaries. Just like a physical photo album, grantors should have the ability to filter their photos and assign them to beneficiaries easily.
      Health, administrative, and messaging data was crucial to Ryan’s parents potentially receiving closure relating to his death and would have hastened his estate’s closure. Bequest is the first tool that allows grantor’s to filter their data on an ongoing basis and assign non-probate beneficiaries. No court-orders, no password-sharing, no lost data.
      Thank you for checking out the first post in our Tales from the Crypt series, see you next time!

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