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Handling the digital assets of the deceased

In a number of our posts, we discuss the importance of having a comprehensive estate plan so that your personal belongings, assets and property may be distributed according to your wishes. Most people think about tangible assets (i.e. furniture, heirlooms and clothing) when they think about what to leave people upon their death. However, they may not realize that digital assets must be considered as well.

With more people than ever having a social media account, in addition to an email account, it is important to consider how these Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts should be transferred. 

The law on transferring digital assets is murky. The federal Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibit unauthorized access to digital assets, but how these laws are enforced are anything but certain since they were put on the books in 1986, long before Facebook and Twitter were ever contemplated. Additionally, most service providers have strict policies prohibiting access to other people’s accounts, and they don’t generally allow the transfer of such assets. For instance, Yahoo requires a court order before a person may access a deceased’s account, However, Twitter, iTunes and Amazon will allow assigned fiduciaries to manage or close a deceased’s account without court intervention.

Because of this, it is imperative that new wills include provisions allowing an executor to make decisions about a person’s digital assets. An experienced estate planning attorney can fashion language to ensure that an assigned person may have proper access.

The preceding is not legal advice. 

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