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Who Gets Access to Your Online Accounts After You Die?
You may have a plan for what to do with your physical belongings after you die, but what about your online accounts? In today’s social media-dominated world, a person's digital presence lives on online even after he or she is gone. But who has the right to access those accounts? States have begun addressing this issue with new digital access laws.
Under current Facebook policy, if an account member dies, Facebook will remove the account at the request of family or put it into "memorial status," but it is very difficult for family members to get access to the account itself. Family members may want access to a deceased loved one's account to read messages left by friends or to have the ability to contact the deceased's friends. Under Facebook’s policy, the estate can have access to a download of account data as long as it has prior consent from the deceased or if it is mandated by law.
Such mandates are beginning to appear. In 2010, Oklahoma became the first state to pass a law giving estate executors the power to access, administer, or terminate the online social media accounts of the deceased. Under Oklahoma’s law, the executor automatically has the power to act on behalf of a deceased individual and access a Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail account. The executor does not have to go to court to get access to such accounts.
Four other states--Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, and Rhode Island--have also enacted laws giving executors access to online accounts, and 18 additional states are considering bills that address digital property. In addition, the Uniform Law Commission, which provides states with model legislation, has created a committee to draft a uniform law on this topic.
While states grapple with this issue, it may be a good idea to provide some instruction in your will on how to deal with your online accounts once you die. Contact your attorney to determine if this is something you should add to your will. In addition, online services have also popped up that help people pass on the digital keys to their online lives.