By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate & Probate Administration Attorney
I read about this problem an Executrix was experiencing when finalizing the Estate. Here, the husband died unexpectedly. The Wife asked Apple for his passwords and they required a court order.
Another welcome to the world of digital assets and the 21st Century.
Some, if not most, service providers have explicit policies on what will happen when the individual dies, others do not. Even where these policies are included in the terms-of-service (TOS) agreement, most consumers click yes on accepting the terms without reading it.
So your first step is to obtain and read Apple’s TOS agreement that the decedent likely accepted by clicking “I accept” to determine what happens on death. It may very well be that Apple requires a court order to release the passwords and other account information to the decedent’s wife.
Second, did the decedent have a Will? Some Last Wills include a provision that the Executor has the power to access, manage and control any and all forms of electronic communications and/or digital assets in which the decedent had an interest at death. This language gives the fiduciary the power regarding digital assets, but that doesn’t mean the service provider will say ok, here is everything you asked for.
A fiduciaries’ access to digital assets if far from clear, and is subject to federal and state privacy laws as well as state probate law. A minority but increasing number of states have enacted legislation on fiduciary access to digital assets. Numerous other states, including NJ, are considering legislation under the Uniform Fiduciary Access to digital Assets which passed the Senate and Assembly before heading to the Governor for approval, which will be likely.
To discuss your NJ Estate & Probate Administration matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.