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In The News: Apple Announces New Digital Legacy Feature

June 25, 2021
Apple recently announced a new legacy feature called Legacy Contact. Learn more about why this is a revolutionary move.
Written By Sharon HartungJune 25, 2021

At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, they announced the rollout of their Digital Legacy program which will include a pre-planning Apple function, called Legacy Contact. Although Apple’s feature has the same name as Facebook’s, they likely won’t work the exact same way. We will know more details once Apple adds Help and Terms of Service specific to the implementation of the Legacy Contact feature across their eco-system of products, once it’s officially launched.

Whether you’re an Apple fan or not, there’s no question they are a major player in the technology space. Apple leads the world in innovation with iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Apple’s five software platforms — iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS — provide seamless experiences across all Apple devices.

To catch the 14-second clip of the announcement, fast forward to 57:00 on Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference replay on YouTube.


Why this announcement is significant for the world of estate planning

This announcement is significant in three ways:

  1. Apple hasn’t had any pre-planning options for the will-maker/testator, nor have they had after-the-fact tools for the executor/fiduciary.
  2. Up until this announcement, Apple’s terms of service have been at odds with beneficiaries when families or litigators turn to the media or the courts to access a deceased person’s data. Consider the case of Ms. Noble, as reported by the CBC, “Apple blocks widow from honouring husband’s dying wish,” when she was locked out of her deceased husband’s account. Then, there is the case in New York from 2019 where a surviving spouse went to court to gain access to his deceased husband’s Apple iCloud account to retrieve family photos. The court order happened two years after his death.
  3. You don’t have to be an Apple user to realize that when a tech leader like Apple sets the standard, it raises consumer expectations for other tech and service providers to follow suit.

Until Monday, June 7, 2021, the only two FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google/Alphabet) in the digital assets estate planning game were Facebook and Google. I’ve mentioned Facebook’s pre-planning option called Legacy Contact, whereas Google’s pre-planning tool is called Inactive Account Manager. As a group, social media platforms are generally the first of the service providers to address personal computing needs for a testator/will-maker.

It didn’t take long for Twitter to be a-buzz with post-Apple announcement excitement. From what I’ve seen, the best analysis of what users can expect is from technologist Mark Krynsky, where he tested the web addresses shown in Apple’s broadcast to determine if the technology was live. For those with Apple accounts, it appears part of this new functionality is accessible at https://digital-legacy.apple.com/ (logging in with one’s Apple ID is required). We’ll continue to see others provide their analysis from privacy, legal, and estate perspectives.

What this means for the future

Whether or not one has Apple kit as Robert Carington’s Society of Trust and Estate Practitioner (STEP) article points out:

It is hoped that other vendors and tech providers will respond to consumer expectations and follow suit.
Robert Carington, STEP

This adds to the growing list of digital legacy options offered by Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. I am looking forward to the more than ever important upcoming STEP member survey results on Digital Assets.

How to protect your social legacy

I’ve developed a Social Legacy Scorecard in collaboration with Epilogue to determine how well a social media platform stacks up when it comes to pre-planning and fiduciary options. Pre-planning tools allow an account holder to set up specific wishes in advance of death and/or incapacity. Fiduciary options allow someone, like an executor, to address the death and/or incapacity of an account holder.

So far I’ve assessed the following out of a total score of 5:

To help you begin your journey to protect your digital legacy Epilogue has launched a Social Media Will for capturing your wishes and preferences for your social media accounts.

And now… we wait

I await further details, help screens, and the full functionality detail from Apple before testing and offering any deeper assessment of their new Legacy Contact tool from an estate planning perspective.

Estate planning in the digital age requires some out-of-the-box thinking and for technology companies to develop features specific to pre-planning. Whether you use an Android phone (Google) or iPhone (Apple), Apple’s announcement is newsworthy and hopefully a catalyst for more fulsome legacy planning options from other big tech players.

Written By Sharon Hartung
Sharon Hartung, Captain (Ret’d), PEng, TEP, is the founder of Your Digital Undertaker®, which provides Digital Executor® webinars and consulting for advisors and clients on the tech management aspects of digital assets in estate planning. Sharon is the author of “Your Digital Undertaker” and soon to be published “Digital Executor®: Unraveling the New Path for Estate Planning”. Sharon is a committee member on the STEP Digital Assets SIG. Twitter @Undertakertech and website: Your Digital Undertaker