You may have a plan for what to do with your physical
belongings after you die, but what about your online accounts? In today’s
social media-dominated world, a person's digital presence lives on online
even after he or she is gone. But who has the right to access those accounts?
States have begun addressing this issue with new digital access laws.
Under current Facebook policy, if an account member dies,
Facebook will remove the account at the request of family or put it into
"memorial status," but it is very difficult for family members to
get access to the account itself. Family members may want access to a
deceased loved one's account to read messages left by friends or to have the
ability to contact the deceased's friends. Under Facebook’s policy, the
estate can have access to a download of account data as long as it has prior
consent from the deceased or if it is mandated by law.
Such mandates are beginning to appear. In 2010,
Oklahoma became the first state to pass a law giving estate executors the
power to access, administer, or terminate the online social media accounts of
the deceased. Two other states — Nebraska and Oregon — are now considering
similar laws. Under Oklahoma’s law, the executor automatically has the power
to act on behalf of a deceased individual and access a Facebook, Twitter, or
e-mail account. The executor does not have to go to court to get access to
While states grapple with this issue, it may be a good
idea to provide some instruction in your will on how to deal with your online
accounts once you die. Contact your attorney to determine if this is
something you should add to your will. In addition, online services have also
popped up that help people pass on the digital keys to their online lives.