Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Our friend and colleague, Professor Naomi Cahn at GW Law, sent us a link to a story published in Slate. The Digital Afterlife Is a Mess recounts the tangle created by the number of accounts a person may have, knotted up by company policies and wrapped around various laws.
Today’s world is different. Many of us have chosen to go paperless, so all of our financial statements are delivered electronically; we even file digital tax returns. Our love letters may no longer be written in ink on paper, our reading and listening and viewing interests no longer documented by hardcover books and magazines, record albums, and VCR tapes, and our photos no longer stored in boxes under out beds.
So once the digital asset owner dies, how does the executor gain access to these digital assets and further, determine their value, if any? The article explains the hurdles, including the potential for committing a crime unwittingly by using the decedent's account and password to access digital files. The article turns to the Uniform Act designed to address this growing problem: the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Revised, which has been adopted by almost 2/3 of the states. The Act "allows a fiduciary to manage much of a decedent’s digital property, giving access to many things other than the content of electronic communications (unless this access has been limited by the user or by a court order) and even permitting access to content in certain limited situations." The article explains the 4-tiered system the Act uses for prioritizing and offers practical suggestions such as starting with inventorying your own digital assets, subscribing to an online account management program, and include coverage of digital assets in estate planning documents.