What does Apple's new digital legacy service mean for my estate planning?

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At the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2021, Apple announced that they will add a “digital legacy service” to their next iOS 15 update, which will be available on all iPhone models from the iPhone 6S onwards. The digital legacy service will allow users to add a “legacy contact” to their phone, similar to an emergency contact, and that legacy contact will be able to access your data after you die.  

Apple’s digital legacy service will be useful in circumstances where someone passes away and has photos or videos on their phone that they would like their family or friends to have access to. The legacy contact will also be able to access other information such as emails related to a deceased person’s billing accounts. However, they will not be able to access payment information, subscriptions or keychain information, such as passwords to various websites. To access the digital legacy service, a legacy contact must be set up before the Apple-user dies. The chosen legacy contact must then show proof of their identity and produce a copy of the deceased’s death certificate to Apple. This request will be verified by Apple employees manually.  

Prior to Apple’s legacy service, surviving family members have not had the option to formally deal with the digital assets of a person who has passed away or lost capacity. Apple previously required a court order and grant of probate to secure access to a loved one’s account. Before the legacy service was announced, Apple advised customers the best way to secure access without delay was to specify in their will who was to inherit digital assets stored on an Apple device. Apple’s legacy service is expected to take effect in near the end of 2021. Until Apple introduces this service in New Zealand and for other digital assets where this service is not available, the best way to deal with digital assets is to make sure your will contains specific instructions on who you would like to access and manage them on your death and supplement this with a detailed succession plan to give clear guidance on what you would like to happen to your digital assets.

Morris Legal offers estate planning services, including the preparation of wills and succession plans. Your succession plan is a good place to list all of your key account information and give guidance on what you want to happen to your digital accounts. Morris can also advise you on the additional steps you may need to take to pass on your digital legacy, depending on what digital presence you have.

For more information about estate planning, contact Morris.