A federal law called the Stored Communications Act can make it difficult for families to retrieve digital information when someone passes away, according to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in "Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act."
The Stored Communications Act is essentially a privacy law. It prevents providers from giving access to some user personal data without the consent of the user.
When someone passes away, one of the many things families often want to do is gain access to the digital accounts the deceased had. These include emails, financial accounts and social media accounts.
Sometimes access is wanted so important financial and business transactions can be completed, if necessary. Other times the families would just like to have access for their own information and to close the accounts.
The terms of services of most digital providers make it difficult to gain access.
In a recent Massachusetts court case, Yahoo cited the act as the reason it could not give access to emails sought by the personal representative of a deceased account holder's estate. The court declared that, under the act, the personal representative could give the necessary consent to gain access to the data. However, the court did not make this mandatory. The court instead decided that it was still up to the company whether to comply with the request.
Many states are attempting to make it easier to access digital information after someone passes away.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and work with you to make your digital information available to your family when the time is right.
Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 20, 2017) "Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act."