A state legislator in Florida is considering introducing a bill that would try to standardize the ability to access a dead person's digital assets. Because people's on-line lives have grown larger with each passing year, there are quite a few instances in which it is important that someone be able to get into a deceased individual's online accounts.
Unfortunately, at the moment, each individual on-line company has its own policy with regard to who may access an account, and there is a lack of uniformity. In many cases, the only person authorized to use a service is the person who originally set up the account. This, of course, can be a problem if an online asset needs to be used by a relative of a deceased person. While it may seem simple to ensure that a loved one has the appropriate passwords, using that information may technically subject that person to prosecution for unauthorized access. The idea behind the contemplated bill would be to have the law address the issue of who is legally allowed to access the accounts of a decedent.
While a handful of states have passed laws regarding this issue, only one has a law that meets the recommended standards of legal professionals in the estate planning field. At this time, Florida law is silent on the matter. While a well-conceived and executed will may take care of disposing of digital accounts along with other probate assets, it may not legally protect the person using the accounts if they are accused of unauthorized access. Unfortunately, such a case could occur, if, for example, a dispute were to arise in probate court between heirs.
It is important that people consider the entirety of their assets when constructing an estate plan. The aid of a legal professional can go a long way to ensuring that an individual's wishes are carried out in the most effective manner possible after his or her death.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Florida lawmaker addresses digital life after death ," Kate Santich, Oct. 25, 2014