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

Illustration for article titled 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.

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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 finalize 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.

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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]

Image: Maksim Kabakou

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DISCUSSION

A friend of mine is going through this now. Her spouse died recently (unexpected) and she's having trouble accessing things that she NEEDS. Bills that weren't in her name, accounts with financial info, etc. At a minimum, I think your spouse or will executor should get access to your accounts.