Digital Assets: Who has Access to your Online Accounts when you Die?

Do you have right to privacy after you die? It might seem like a silly question—after all, you’re dead. But determining what to do with your “digital assets” it is a complex issue that is being debated by major corporations and States across the nation.

digital assets

by Webtreats

It used to be that when a loved one died, the surviving family members would have possession of their material goods and property. But now in this technological society, a lot of our life’s footprints are in the form of data. Whether it is e-mail accounts, Flickr, Google, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, our lives are entwined with the Internet. In fact, the integration of these accounts can be considered our own personal digital estate.

So here is the question…What happens when you die? Who will have access to your online accounts?

Most of these accounts are password protected and the companies running them have specific privacy policies in place that prohibit others access, even if the person is deceased. They might allow you to have a page in their honor, or to deactivate the account, but they will not allow you actual access.

What about the survivors who want to piece together their loved one’s life?

A Wisconsin couple was denied access to their son’s online accounts when he committed suicide and had to serve Google and Facebook court orders for access to his accounts. Even with the court orders, it was a complicated and time consuming process.

In most States, the laws concerning privacy of data are ambiguous at best. To date, only seven states have passed “digital asset” laws. But these laws are still vague and differ from state to state. Nevada just passed a law giving an executor broad access to a deceased person’s online accounts, but after Google and Planned Parenthood fought against it, the law was amended to only allow executors to terminate the accounts.

One of the problems is that many social media and online companies are protected under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which means that even if the deceased person gives permission in a living will and testament, an executor still cannot get access without court orders. The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) has created a committee to find a balance and uniformity between state and federal laws concerning digital assets. This debate will not end anytime soon. Digital assets are becoming an important part of estate planning.

What do you think? Should loved ones have access to your accounts when you’re gone?

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