Widow succeeds in legal action against Apple over deceased husband’s online photos

Posted May 28, 2019.

When you lose someone close to you who had made a proper and comprehensive will to cover the disposal of their possessions and assets, it may come as a surprise how hard it can be to be granted access to their online content, in particular those unique and cherished photographs and videos . 

With the rise in people storing their ‘digital lives’ online in password-protected accounts such as iCloud and One Drive, there is a growing demand from UK lawyers for the laws protecting such assets to be updated. A recent legal action against tech giants Apple illustrates this perfectly. In this claim, Rachel Thompson took action against Apple to force them to ‘unlock’ the online account of her deceased husband Matt, who had tragically taken his own life in 2015.
Mrs Thompson’s initial attempts to access over 4,000 photos and videos were rejected by Apple on the basis that Mr Thompson had not indicated who else could have access to his account.  Mrs Thompson soon learnt that under current UK law, the family of a deceased person does not have any legal right of access to information, including personal photos and videos, stored in an online account. Such restricted access was in sharp contrast to the relative ease in transferring the rest of her late husband’s assets, and the inability to access such personal records and happy memories left Mrs Thompson and her ten year old daughter upset and angry.
However, having spent a significant sum of money in challenging Apple’s position, a recent court order made at the Central London County Court means that Apple will be forced to provide access to the account. In addition to the court order, the Judge also called for a change in the law regarding access to digital assets and online accounts, comments that have been widely supported by solicitors and law firms in the UK. In commenting on the case, Barrister Matt Himsworth said:

“Photos used to be kept in physical photo albums but now they’re kept online. 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? The UK needs to deal with this issue as more and more of us use cloud-based accounts and social media…there should be a universal process in order for heirs of estates to access the data held in these accounts."

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(01252) 744637  and speak to Simon, our Estate Planning Manager, or email simon.speed@bakerssolicitors.com