Saturday, July 12, 2014
With nearly four billion registered e-mail accounts worldwide, a large aspect of estate planning concerns what happens to this information after we are gone. Entrepreneurs and legislative groups attempt to offer solutions and build awareness of the complications surrounding digital estate planning after death.
One of the problems with fiduciary access is that it may be a violation of federal privacy law or a computer fraud and abuse act. It may be a criminal act to violate the terms of service agreement. However, the inability to shut down a deceased loved one’s accounts could have unforeseen risks.
The year after someone passes is one of the most vulnerable times for identity theft. Thieves can use a dead person’s information to rack up credit card charges, apply for loans, or even file false tax returns. Even more frightening, much of this information can be found on the internet through something as simple as a shopping account.
To date, only seven states have laws governing online estate planning. Yet the committee on the Uniform Law Commission is attempting to change that by drafting the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which would give fiduciaries the same rights over online estates as they have over physical estates. The bill is currently being reviewed by the Uniform Law Commission and will be voted on for approval on Wednesday. It will then be up to the state legislatures to propose the bill.
See Hari Sreenivasan, Dead and Online: What Happens to Your Digital Estate When You Die? PBS News Hour, July 11, 2014.