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Delaware First State to Grant Heirs Access to Online Accounts
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Digital Inheritance Passed in Delaware

SummaryDelaware has become the first state to pass a law allowing heirs to inherit digital access to online accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other services.

What happens to your online identity when you die? So far, as far as the law was concerned, it simply died with you. After all, Facebook explicitly warns against giving your password to anybody, even your spouse, and as for those interested in accessing the account of a Gmail account of a deceased relative, they’ve had to wait for months for Gmail to get the confirmations for this. Delaware has changed things.

  
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Delaware has become the first state to transfer digital assets to heirs and executors. Under the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” which was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell last week, families of the deceased will be able to access their digital world, their private accounts, databases, and so forth, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google.

Though Twitter, Facebook, and Google are all located in Delaware, the law applies only to residents of that state.

“If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of this estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345,” said Kelly Bachman, spokeswoman for the Delaware governor’s office, as reported by Ars.

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“But if a person dies and his will is governed by Delaware law, the representative of that person’s estate would have access to the decedent’s Twitter account under HB 345. So the main question in determining whether HB 345 applies is not where the company having the digital account (i.e., Twitter) is incorporated or even where the person holding the digital account resides.”

To many this sounds like the law finally catching up with technology. But others are concerned about privacy. Such access opens up “digital assets such as email, cloud storage, social media accounts, health records, content licenses, databases and more,” said the statement from the Delaware House Democrats.



Jim Halpert of DLA Piper, who is general counsel to State Privacy and Security Coalition, representing Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, has complained about the law.

“There could be pretty confidential information in those accounts,” he said. “The law provides maximum convenience to the executor to an estate without regard to the privacy interests of people who communicated with the person who passes away.”

Such private information could be correspondence between the deceased and his lawyer, psychologist, priest, or whatever else, and those people would find their own part in the correspondence compromised.

Whether other states jump on board with such a law will depend on how these sensitive matters are addressed.

 

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