CBC Forum: What happens to passwords when you die

The ownership of digital property after death a murky issue, says estate lawyer Daniel Nelson. Our Go Public story about widow who went to Apple to get her dead husband's password has raised many questions.

  • I agree, John. However, even 'leaving instructions on how to access..." with a trustee is frowned on in many offices. The trustee may find the instructions technically out-of-date. The world of information changes in a heartbeat. When I made my will and gave addresses for beneficiaries not living 'in town' the lawyers said 'forget about that, it's not done'. The only instructions that are considered useful are the value division of the will and the legal names of those who are beneficiaries.
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  • A death certificate coupled with the request for info from the lawyer who executed the will should suffice. This can't be the first time apple has encountered this situation - sounds like apple is nickle and dime-ing its clients. FIPPA requests don't require court orders - apple should adopt the policies of the gov't' where the client lives.
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  • Sorry, Apple is right.
    You get your husband's pension through a legal process. Apple can not do it. Apple does not know who is alive or dead. Apple does not know who you are.
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  • Wayne: A copy of the will and a notarized death certificate isn't enough?
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  • I don't want anyone requesting my passwords and receiving them. Talk about opening up another level of scams....especially on the elderly.
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  • Are a person`s secrets allowed to die with them? If you trust a company to protect your privacy, does that agreement die with you? A company granting access to those left behind by a death could be violating that trust.
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  • They have no way of knowing if the Will is valid or not - the lawyer's word on that subject is of absolutely no legal significance - or if it was superseded by some later Will. They have absolutely no way of knowing if someone will challenge the Will as can be done in, I think, every single province by something that used to be called "the Wills Variation Act". They would be absolute fools to give this out without a Court Order.
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  • @soccerdad: And yet the family had no problem getting pensions and benefits.
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  • When you buy something online, aren't you basically renting a service? The company still owns everything, the games and services and all, and all you've done is buy the right to access them and specifically for yourself. The games and servers aren't inherited by you since the deceased person didn't buy them, and the license never pertained to more than one user in the first place. Now, if it did pertain to multiple users, that's a different issue. However, one can argue that the account was licensed to one user, but that user can then authorize access to another limited sets of users.
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  • Apple should be able to transfer the account, but as for the passwords, a reputable company like Apple will never have had them. Sending passwords over the internet is a terrible security practice. There are simple ways to verify identity from a password without ever seeing it. What that means is that decrypting someone's private files after they are gone, for example, is as it should be, a non-starter.
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  • If (when?) you read the TOS of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple it does actually state what rights of survivorship you have. Generally you have none, zero, zilch. Even with a court order Yahoo gives you nothing,except to confirm that they deleted the account! I went through that while helping a family deal with a sudden death. As part of life, you need to be somewhat organized. You will likely have listed your life insurance policies and credit card/banking details. You must also include online accounts login information! Our executor has the pw and file for all our passwords, we update that regularly. Anything less is foolish IMHO.
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  • Google has a very elegant way of dealing with this. All users who have a Google account, should check it out. Apple would be well served to do something similar.
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  • Apple is right. I do not want anyone, even my next of kin, to be able to get into my life in that detail. The solution is easy: set up a password for each user on shared accounts. Set another password for secret, not to be share accounts.
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  • Facebook is the worst. My Partner passed away 3 years ago and her FP is still up and running.
    The issue is no one has her old access to cull or delete what she wouldn't want. In her name but certainly not in her memory.
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  • To John, I like the new format. It's a great improvement over the usual mess in the comments section. It would be nice to have more back-and-forth approved though. Keep up the good work!
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  • Thanks, Michael. It's something new we're trying. We'll have a new topic every day.
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  • @jc, google still requires a court order, if you didn't do something in advance. You also won't get access to the account, only the data.
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  • Feel there's something missing in this story. Generally in agreement with Apple, however, surprise that Apple Rep hadn't gone through the 'iforgot' option to reset password. Would require having the ability to receive email (may then need that password too) belonging to deceased husband, or answer security questions which were setup by original user. Birthday and 2 of 3 questions will be asked. A spouse may/will possibly know the answer. Or setup you OWN AppleID and download the game fresh. Not wanting to sound cold, but the account shouldn't be 'used' now anyways one would think? IF this happens to you, start by going to an Apple Store or an Apple reseller (ie Simply Computing in Victoria) as they may be able to aid in this. Sometimes easier than on the phone. Security is KEY.
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  • A further issue comes up when someone has files that are encrypted, e.g. a personal journal in OneNote or EverNote. Even paying to have that password recovered is unlikely to succeed. Been there, done that.
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  • Apple wants to sell another licence, plain and simple. When these clients went to the media, Apple became helpful all of a sudden. Elderly clients require better customer service, and a little more consideration. Apple does not have to allow access to personal info/correspondences, but access to tools/applications from a household computer should be possible, and fairly simple to pass on to your spouse with verification
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  • "Apple wants to sell another licence, plain and simple." - this is patently false, please stop trying to spread misinformation. It's simply how all IT policies work, and this lady did not follow the correct procedures.
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  • @StephenMarshall: But even Apple has admitted that the correct procedures shouldn't require an order from a judge.
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  • Thanks, everyone. It's been an interesting discussion this morning. I'll hand the hosting of CBC Forum over to John Mazerolle now. Have a great day.
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  • Hi, everyone. John Mazerolle here, happy to be hosting this interesting discussion.
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  • A couple of ideas are being repeated a lot in the comments. For one, we have people who feel online security trumps all, and are happy to know Apple is being so protective. 
    This is the correct procedure. No one better get access to my internet history when I die.Sask1973at 12:46 PM

    Apple is right. The day they start giving out passwords or reset accounts they will get sued.MBat 11:56 AM

    I am pleased that Apple takes privacy very seriously. I am displeased that CBC screams a headline that this is somehow unjust. However, they would scream equally loudly if Apple was somehow manipulated to give up a password...John Scottat 10:41 AM


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  • Several people have also wrote in about similar situations:


    I haven't but my Sister did when she lost her husband in 2008. Aeroplan denied her all the points that were in her Husbands account. They used one account for purchases for points collection and when she called them to get access to them they told her she had no right to them. I couldn't believe it when I heard that. She had no recourse so she let it go.Timely Lionat 12:02 PM

    This happened to me. I bought a second hand iPad (not stolen) but is locked with someones iCloud account and now it's useless!!! I'll never buy another Apple product again!!!The Next Warat 11:47 AM


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  • I wonder if calling in and telling them that the credit card is no longer valid as the user is deceased will allow them to reset/transfer the user info to the next of kinNice formatat 12:57 PM

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  • Am I missing something is there a reference story to this? Either way once you are gone, who cares? Is there anything that important that anyone will want? A bunch of silly apps maybe some pictures, and a made up virtual life on something called face book...format move on. My family knows how to get into my devices as I know how to get into theirs. If you have a bit of knowledge of your loved one password recovery is easy.Jo Swayze at 12:53 PM

    Jo Swayze, this is the story our discussion is referring to:

    'Get a court order,' Apple tells widow seeking late husband's password

    A Victoria widow is outraged over Apple's demand that she obtain a court order to retrieve her dead husband's password so she can play games on an iPad.



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  • 'Find my iPad (or any Apple device) is a security feature and yes, you need to know the AppleID and PW of the original owner. This becomes extremely important to turn-off anytime an Apple Device changes user or ownership. This helps prevent theft. We do want privacy as well mez thinks?John Gilesat 1:12 PM

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  • To Stephen Marshall - if this is common practice, then tell the client - why were they asked for a court order after 2 months/several phone calls? Why is Apple now working with the client without this court order? Why defend any corporate entity - Apple doesn't love you, they want your dollars and analyticsdeemiat 1:11 PM

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  • An App like 1Password may help some going forward. In 'this' story the Passcode was know to get info iPad contents. Password managers have you create a master PW to get into then ALL (or as much as you wish) is revealed. Passwords and logins. Just need to share the '1'. Also like the safety deposit box comment. For me, specifically regarding the AppleID, start FRESH. It's really the thing to do. Are speaking of a card game? Yes, the Players history will be gone...John Gilesat 1:09 PM

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  • Though we laugh and make parodies about not reading the "terms and conditions", I am pretty certain it says in there that all your online purchases are "non-transferable". The fact is, after you die, your Apple purchases are gone. It is no different than trying to sell your Apple device with all the apps intact. You can't (under the terms and conditions). The only way the buyer can use the device with the Apple store is to reset it.Tim Smithat 1:15 PM

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  • Tim Smith, that's the way it is. Do you feel like it's the way it should be?
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  • There are two parts to this really:
    1) Property rights. Digital assets are no different than any other sort of asset, they have value and must be transferable as part of the estate/will
    2) Accounts & Internet History. This is very different and engages privacy. Unless specifically granted access as part of the estate, all accounts should be deleted once any property is transferred out.

    Unfortunately very few, if any, companies have the ability to do this nor the desire to make it part of their operating procedure as it's a logistical nightmare that requires expert staffing who can tell the difference between phishing attempts and legitimate death certificates. It also bumps up their bottom line to have people re-purchase assets they've already purchased on a spouse's account.Jdevat 1:17 PM

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  • We're getting quite a few comments about how Apple is a bad company/bad corporate citizen, but they stop without elaboration, so I'm not approving them. If you feel that way, why?  
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  • In response to a question about whether Tim Smith thinks 'the way things are' in Apple's terms and conditions is the way things should be:
    No, I don't. Software and online media has always been sold as you 'having access to' but not 'owning' the media. Maybe this is part of protecting the copyrights because owning it means you can alter it, etc. etc. but it's a restriction consumers have never really understood. There will have to be a complete rewrite of copyright laws soon I think, and we start taking into account the 21st century reality, instead of the 19th century when they were written.Tim Smithat 1:20 PM

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  • Here are the two main sorts of comments we're getting, each arriving within a few seconds of each other. Is it a privacy issue, or a matter of corporate control? 
    I think there are two issues here.
    Does the dead person want you to have the pass word. Just because he's dead dosnt mean he loses his privacy.

    Secondly, without a court order anyone could pretend to be someone they are not to gain privileged informationWayneat 1:23 PM

    Good move Apple. As if we didn't have enough reasons to h8te you already. They want control over EVERYTHING you read, watch and listen to. And everytime you want to do just about anything, you need to do it through them.Charles Knowltonat 1:22 PM

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  • I agree with Apple on this one. I absolutely would not want anyone to access my passwords when i die. If i wanted to share my account with anyone they would already have my password. He set up the account and purchased the apps on his account. She should have set up her own Apple id like apple suggested. Im sure the card game app was free or very cheap anyway.moiat 1:20 PM

    Apple is right ! Having Access to Pensions , Benefits is just having access to rightful money. Access to "Private Information" is different.stephanienyusaat 1:18 PM

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  • From our story, which includes an interview with Toronto estate lawyer Daniel Nelson.

    Nelson's advice is that until laws are updated and service providers change their policies, Canadians should include clauses in their wills that allow the executor to deal with digital assets.

    Nelson said wills should include information on where to find passwords, but not the passwords themselves, for security reasons. 


    And a few comments to the live blog:
    Clearly, password rights will have to be written up in an affidavit, and detailed in ones will, henceforth.Mitchat 1:18 PM

    I'll leave it in my willRunninonemptyABat 1:17 PM

    Put your passwords in your will. Change probate laws to allow your executor to have access to them.Justin Thymeat 12:54 PM


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  • Many of our readers are not subscribers to the Apple fan club.
    Apple won't give passwords out to relatives because they won't make money that way. If they were to give you the password, you would have access to anything your dead relative may have purchased while they were still alive. This goes against Apples business model. They want you to buy everything all over again.scarface0040at 1:32 PM

    Part of why I do not buy Apple. Expensive, awkward and over priced. Why can't they let the widow in? She now clearly owns it.dave777at 12:31 PM

    I am alive and I can't get mine from them...so I avoid Apple and use MicrosoftDenis O'Brienat 12:32 PM

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  • Two sides:
    I'm with Apple on this issue. An Apple ID plus password gives access to everything I have on iCloud, including email. I store it there because it it private, period.Maggie Purchaseat 1:34 PM

    I'm in the market for a new computer and Apple just lost my business. This is not the first question I have about their company. But it is the last.Tingtreatsat 11:34 AM


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  • Which now could bring up the 'Family Sharing' option with AppleID's where you CAN share purchases. Part of Apple Business model I suppose...John Gilesat 1:36 PM

    8 biggest changes in iOS 8

    Apple users eagerly anticipating the arrival of an updated mobile operating system on Wednesday will find iOS 8 offers features that not only address long-standing complaints but also pave the way for more streamlined use of all their devices.

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  • Perhaps the will is out of date. I did mine three years ago and they have a form requesting passwords to accounts and what should be done with each account. That said, common IT practice is to change accounts every three months if not more frequently and you do not want to constantly update the will for that.

    One solution is a password-keeper application to store all other passwords. If you don't want it in the cloud, passwords can be stored offline as a Word file on a USB key which is only used to update the other accounts. The will can then list this password keeper account information.

    Big hassle? You bet. It's like keeping the spare key to your front door in a locked box buried under the gnome on the left as you approach the door and then keeping the key to the box in the cap of the garden light near the rose bush that died last summer. Damn, now I have to move the box.D. Rand Rowlandsat 10:54 AM

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  • It seems that a lot of comments fixate on "passwords". The client in question wanted access to apps/tools that were used in the household - this does not apply to the deceased persons personal correspondence, search history, purchasing history, etc, etc. Its pretty clear that they were married, and shared a household (including computer apps and tools.) Restrict the personal data, allow access to the apps/tools.deemiat 1:41 PM

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  • Interesting how the Apple 'hater' or those 'who now are' read this as an Apple thing. What we're seeing is that being 'prepared' for a loved one's passing is key. Private/secure items should be just that. Homeland Security has much more fun with Apple over privacy than this personal instance. (:John Gilesat 1:42 PM

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  • CBC Forum is here to encourage a different kind of conversation. 

    Here's a moderator tip: If you write that you know/presume/suspect what the family in the story is "actually" thinking/doing, we won't approve that.

    Let us know if you have any questions about the format, as we keep this discussion rolling.
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  • If the Will is as clear as the article suggests, a Civil Liberties group or interested solicitor might take on the case pro bono. The Will would have to be probated, and this may not have occurred (depending on jurisdiction). Probate ensures that the Will is genuinely the last testament, and that the named executor has all rights that the deceased did. It protects companies and banks etc that deal with the executor in case someone comes later and denies the executor's right to passwords or money etc.. Most jurisdictions smooth the path for laypeople to probate Wills without legal assistance, and at low cost. It's a sad situation for this family, but a single well-considered case would end all worries.Anywayat 1:55 PMDelete

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  • One must be more diligent these days when it comes to wills....everything has to be covered including this topic!Buzzat 1:55 PM

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  • If the widow didn't have the password while her husband was alive, why should Apple assume the deceased intended for her to have it upon his death? Requiring a court order is Apple's indication that as a corporation, it is not qualified to judge the deceased' intentions. I fully support a company that takes personal privacy seriously.

    It would be beneficial for Apple to adopt a policy similar to Google's that allows Google to transfer access to a named third party in the event the original user does not log in for a fixed period of time.jeff_uat 1:54 PM

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  • A few short takes:
    your secrets should die with you, your privacy should not.colderthanmarsat 1:48 PM


    I'm using one master password and it is in my will.Vyshib'allah Vybivailoat 1:44 PM

    Time to include my passwords in my will, I guess.Poet1369at 1:37 PM

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  • It sound wierd but when i visited the Funeral home to understand what should I be prepared with in case of death, so my family should not go through circles, i was given a book which had a section asking the mobile password and password to utility company autopsy bills etc........I di not see Apple password in there....but I will add it now.....and further to Daniels Nelsons advise keep the passwords in safe deposit box and then give the access to the executor of will.

    Hmm......miles to go before we sleep....forever.....deebeeat 1:43 PM

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  • We would report on both of these things, yes. They're both interesting topics with many interesting and varied reader opinions.

    I am pleased that Apple takes privacy very seriously. I am displeased that CBC screams a headline that this is somehow unjust. However, they would scream equally loudly if Apple was somehow manipulated to give up a password...John Scottat 10:41 AM

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  • While she has a right to the iPad, she doesn't have right to the content if it was purchased through the deceased's account. I can't imagine that the cost of the apps is worth the time they've put in so far, so a simple wipe and new account wouldn't have taken very long and it doesn't sound like she's replacing hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of apps. And also, I've heard lawyers advising people for over 10 years that passords for websites and services need to be prepared as part of a will. Apple doesn't know what's in someone's will and it's better that they err on it being difficult rather than easy because this would be another vector for people to break into accounts and steal sensitive information. People would otherwise scream that Apple is lax on security.RocketRaccoonat 2:00 PM

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  • This conversation is wrapping up for the day.

    Thanks so much for your passionate and insightful comments. 

    We'll be back later today with another CBC Forum on another topic to be decided shortly.





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