A new state law in Delaware is making it possible for estate executors to access a deceased account holder’s digital assets, which includes social media and email accounts. While some internet groups have lobbied that the act violates consumer privacy, legislators who support the Fiduciary Access to Digital Account Act feel it is important for estate executors to have access to digital accounts after the account holder’s death, with or without a court order.
Delaware has passed the law and 18 other states are reviewing the act and may make decisions soon. Delaware has made it possible for trustees residing in the state to access the information even if the account holder does not live in the state. Meanwhile, social media sites are taking necessary precautions to protect the privacy of their users.
How Facebook Helps Protect Your Profile
Facebook launched a setting which enables users to appoint a “legacy contact”. This contact is the sole person who will granted limited access to an account holder’s Facebook account, unless the account holder makes other arrangements. The legacy contact is able to write a memorial message, respond to new friend requests, update public pictures like the profile and cover photo, and with the permission of the account holder, download any public profile information like pictures and posts. The legacy contact will not have access to private messages. While Facebook is protecting their users’ privacy, the law still allows estate executors to access other accounts like email.
Protecting Private Email Accounts
Emails are much less filtered than letters since email account holders trust that their digital mail is secure. The act does grant access to these forms of digital communication which may be necessary to handle other accounts such as financial or joint family accounts. However, family members could potentially find information that they had not expected through email which was meant only for the account holder.
What Does the New Law Mean to Family Members?
The law has made its way to the Southwest, in New Mexico, and it is important to be prepared. Family members should consider that even if they have the username and password to an account, they may be violating federal law by accessing the account after the account holder has died.
In order to avoid legal ramifications, account holders should specify who they want their accounts to be accessed by, and how they want their accounts handled or disposed of. Digital accounts may include valuable assets, from financial information to legal documents, family photos and memories. Collection of these files should be designated to a specific person and account holders should talk to their attorney about how to best protect themselves and their loved ones against violation of privacy and information and/or identity theft.