When a loved one passes away it is extremely difficult to get access to any digital data they may have, including what might be stored on their cell phones. This is the case even when getting access to the data might help explain how the loved one passed away as is problem for one family in Minnesota.
One cold night in December 2013, Jake Anderson left a party near the University of Minnesota campus and was never seen alive again. He was later found dead of hypothermia and his death was ruled an accident by officials. Anderson's parents, on the other hand, are not sure and would like to know more about their son's last night. They believe information might be found on his password-protected cell phone. However, even though the phone is in the parents' name, they are not allowed to access it without a search warrant.
KTSP has more on the story in an article titled "Family Fights to Access Late Son's Digital Data."
This is a common problem for many families who want to view digital data of deceased relatives. They are unable to do so without approval of the courts, which can be difficult to obtain.
For their part, the Andersons are lobbying the Minnesota legislature to change the law. Some state legislatures have passed laws making access easier. However, others are concerned about honoring the privacy of the deceased.
Digital assets are becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. Make a plan now to share those assets appropriately with those who may need it. For guidance and to make your plans legally binding, consult with an estate planning attorney.
Reference: KSTP (January 20, 2015) "Family Fights to Access Late Son's Digital Data."