Should Your Family Get Access To Your Online Accounts When You Die?

It’s a question that will eventually — hopefully not soon! — confront you, me and every other person reading this: Should our loved ones gain access to our digital lives, from email to Instagram to financial accounts, after we die? A cadre of state-appointed lawyers are creating a bill that would allow for just that.

This is one of the more important legal dilemmas of recent years, and only a few states have clear laws on whether, say, a parent should gain access to their child’s Facebook if the child dies, or whether a wife should get access to financial information locked in her deceased husband’s email account. This week at its annual meeting, the Uniform Law Commission — a Chicago-based group of lawyers who are appointed to write clear and stable language for new legislation — will finalise its recommended language for a law that would give loved ones access to all of your digital accounts after you die. Unless you specify otherwise.

As the AP reports today, the bill would create a legal process for gaining access, which can be incredibly difficult today:

Most people assume they can decide what happens by sharing certain passwords with a trusted family member, or even making those passwords part of their will. But in addition to potentially exposing passwords when a will becomes public record, anti-hacking laws and most company’s “terms of service” agreements prohibit anyone from accessing an account that isn’t theirs. That means loved ones technically become criminals if they log on to a dead person’s account.

And that’s assuming they even have the password. Going up against giants like Google makes the process even more difficult. And for a grieving family, it can be all but impossible.

The bill would give access — but not control — to loved ones unless they specifically wrote in their will that they wouldn’t allow it. There are plenty of privacy landmines hidden here, though. Should we really have to create a living will to ensure that our parents, children or spouses can’t access particular email accounts? [AP]

Picture: Maksim Kabakou