Law Hands Social Media Accounts to Relatives After Death

A plan to untangle our digital lives after we’re gone (NPR, 23 July 2014) – Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions – precious stones, gilded weapons and terracotta armies. But unlike these treasures, our digital property won’t get buried with us. Our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die. Or maybe not. Last week, the Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act , a model law that would let relatives access the social media accounts of the deceased. A national lawyers’ group, the ULC aims to standardize law across the country by recommending legislation for states to adopt, particularly when it comes to timely, fast-evolving issues. “Where you used to have a shoebox full of family photos, now those photos are often posted to a website,” notes Ben Orzeske, legislative counsel at the ULC. That shoebox used to go to the executor of the deceased’s will, who would open it and distribute its contents to family members. The will’s author could decide what she wanted to give and to whom. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act aims to make the digital shoebox equally accessible. “This is the concept of ‘media neutrality,’ “ Orzeske explained. “The law gives the executor of your estate access to digital assets in the same way he had access to your tangible assets in the old world. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paper or on a website.” It turns out those terms-of-service agreements Internet users usually click through without reading include some strict rules: The small print on sites like Facebook and Google specifies that the user alone can access his or her account. But the ULC’s proposed law would override those contracts, Orzeske said. [see also Tech seeks life after death for accounts (The Hill, 24 July 2014)]

Provided by MIRLN.

Image courtesy of Castillo.