Increasingly family members dealing with the death of a loved one are having to tackle the lengthy task of gaining access to a deceased’s digital assets. Although you expect to own all your online assets, including photographs that have been posted onto social media platforms, this is not always the case. In this article I address how this could potentially become a thing of the past.
The Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill (“the Bill”)
This is a private members Bill to grant the next of kin access to a smart phone and other digital devices of a deceased or incapacitated person. It was introduced to the UK parliament on 18 January 2022 by Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley and is supported by various other MPs.
Addressing Parliament, Ian Paisley MP said “Today an estimated £25 billion of our assets in the UK are held online in password-protected cloud storage solutions such as ITunes and social media accounts and for many people digital assets fall into the important category of predominantly sentimental value”.
The Bill would create a law protecting the assets and legacy of an individual’s digital estate, providing the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated person to automatically gain access to the contents of the digital platforms rather than having to pursue lengthy, unnecessary and costly court proceedings, which can also significantly diminish the value of the estate and delay the administration of an estate. This was recognised in the case of Rachel Thompson v Apple, which we have considered previously.
This development is a positive step in resolving the issues family members can face following the death of a loved one when they do not have access to the deceased’s devices, which invariably hold valuable memories for a grieving family including amongst other things photos and videos and where the service provider refuses to permit them access.
Whilst the Bill, if passed, represents a very positive step for the future, with the law as it currently stands it remains very important for testators to ensure their will deals with granting permission for executors to gain access to any digital assets or accounts. It may also be advisable to consider where necessary whether any passwords should be shared with your proposed executors.
Considering the ever evolving digital environment we live in it is likely that many families will face these issues in the future and the introduction of the Bill is a welcome step to, hopefully, ensuring the law is reformed to bring it in line with our modern lives.
The second reading of the Bill has been delayed, but is scheduled to take place on 6 May 2022. We will provide a further update on matters once the outcome of that reading is known.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.