As two state legislatures consider laws regarding access to online accounts, tech-savvy Floridians may want to consider whether their estate plans address the fate of their virtual estates. Although many people view estate planning instruments such as wills and powers of attorney as tools for distributing assets, probate courts increasingly face the question of who has authority to administer a decedent's online legacy.
While two states are working on legislation that would authorize third-party access to accounts like Facebook and Twitter during estate administration, so far only Oklahoma has such a law on the books. The lack of any statutory law about access to a decedent's online accounts means that Florida estate administrators may have to turn to the probate court for an order authorizing account access and management.
In some cases, an estate administrator may need access in order to cancel online accounts, but in other cases the administrator may have reasons to keep an account active. For instance, in Oregon, the mother of a man who died in a motorcycle accident petitioned the court for an order to keep his Facebook page active as a way to remember her son's life and relationships.
State laws authorizing access to online accounts have the potential to both complicate and simplify matters for families and estate administrators when a person dies without a will or estate plan. But advance planning for the management of online accounts can no doubt help ease the burden on loved ones.
Questions remain about how issues will be resolved when state laws or estate planning instruments clash with terms of service associated with different Internet accounts. Nonetheless, including online accounts in a comprehensive estate plan is worth considering in an increasingly Internet-connected world.
Source: wfit.org, "Who has the rights to our Facebook accounts once we die?" April 3, 2012