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Think of all the photos and videos you have taken with your iPhone. There are probably thousands of them stored in your iCloud account. Pictures at family gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, school functions – the gamut for pictures is endless any more.

Now, imagine that your spouse does most of the picture-taking. And while he may have shared photos with you on your own device or through email, he still has possession of the entire library stored in his iCloud account.

And then, things come apart, and there is a divorce – or worse – a death. Who gets custody of your life in photos/videos? That is something that is now being addressed by one couple who, unfortunately found themselves dealing with a death.

Matt Thompson was only 39 when he died, leaving behind his wife and a young daughter. Because he died intestate – or without a will – his estate passed to his wife Rachel. However, the family were not able to access Matt’s iCloud photo albums.

The life of their 6-year old daughter, Matilda, was captured lovingly: family ski trips, horseback riding lessons, dance recitals, birthdays, and just the special, incidental moments of everyday life. Matt’s account contained thousands of such memories.

Rachel Thompson assumed, as most would, that his estate included the photos amassed over the years. Like most families, the Thompson’s had entrusted the safe-keeping of this photo library to iCloud, an online storage service controlled by Apple.

But when Rachel tried to access the library, she was denied, and discovered that ownership of all these treasured photos reverted to Apple on Matt’s death.

If you read the fine print, which most of us don’t, you will see that user accounts are non-transferable, and that rights to content terminate on death unless otherwise required by law. In this case, Apple said it would only release Matt’s iCloud account under a court order.

Rachel Thompson’s legal battle with Apple went on for almost four years. Her legal team eventually agreed to work for free. And last week, a court ordered Apple to release the iCloud account of her late husband.

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

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