Estate Planning News Alert: Influential Commission Working to Grant Loved Ones Access to Decedent’s Online Accounts

The Uniform Law Commission, a group of influential lawyers appointed by state governments to help standardize state laws, endorsed a plan to give loved ones access to, but not total control of, all digital accounts of a decedent, unless otherwise specified in the decedent’s will.

As we’ve ventured into the digital age, virtually everyone has vital information and profiles saved and published online. When someone suddenly passes away, it can be a huge hassle to gain access to their online accounts to either shut them down or retrieve important information like account numbers and/or passwords. Also, a decedent’s postings, photos and videos can have financial value. For example, think of the digital files being amassed by someone of historical value, such as Bill Gates or Hillary Clinton. Those files would have significant monetary value.

So here is how the proposed law would work: the personal representative of the decedent would be able to access, but not have total control of, a decedent’s digital files, as long as the decedent doesn’t prohibit this access in their will. This law would supersede access rules listed in a company’s terms of service agreement, though the personal representative would still have to abide by other rules including copyright laws, according to the Virginian Pilot. For example, a widow who just lost her husband, could gain access to his Gmail account, but can’t send emails from that account. The widow could also gain access to his music and video files, but not copy the files, if doing so would violate licensing agreements.

Okay, so if the Uniform Law Commission endorses this legislation, will it automatically become law? No. To become state law, this legislation would need to be adopted by your state’s legislature. For example, Virginia passed a law regarding access to digital assets. We published an article on this new law here.

Hopefully, more states embrace this type of digital access legislation. Losing a loved one is already heartbreaking and stressful. Allowing access to their digital accounts will likely help bring a sense of closure and allow the personal representative to fully utilize all of the decedent’s vital information in managing their estate.