Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Digital Property After Death

DigitalIt is becoming extremely important to add "digital planning" to a person's estate plan.

The following is from Katherine Rosman, Passing on Wills . . . and Passwords, Wall St. J., Sept. 1-2, 2007, at A8:

The digital age is adding a new dimension to the list of delicate topics to broach with aging or sick loved ones.

In addition to planning for life insurance, living wills and funeral arrangements, estate planners are recommending that clients leave instructions to survivors on unraveling their electronic accounts, including a list of passwords and security codes.

If your loved one did not provide password data before dying, most Internet-based companies have instituted guidelines to help.

According to the article, here is how some major companies handle the death of a user:

  • AOL -- Will allow access to the personal representative upon presentation of a death certificate and proof of appointment.
  • eBay (seller) -- Similar to AOL.
  • eBay (buyer) -- No access.
  • Facebook -- Profile moves to "memorial state" but no one may obtain the login password.
  • Gmail -- Similar to AOL plus an email showing that the decedent had sent an email message from th Gmail account to the person seeking access.

The article also explains the situation of a client of Elaine King, a certified financial planner:

[A] man in his thirties died. His family could not even determine what financial accounts it needed to close until it could access his email account. The deceased man’s Internet service provider required the family to get a court order granting it entry to his account.

“It can be a very lengthy process,” said King who adds that her firm now advises most clients to leave a list of electronic passwords along with a will.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


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