Posted: December 2nd, 2014
By: Alec Roberson* | Staff Writer
In an age of social media and instant communication via emails, most people may not consider what will happen to their online accounts after death. Currently, there are roughly 30 million Facebook accounts still active that belong to people who are deceased. Likewise, it is estimated the about 1.5 million Facebook users and close to the same amount of Twitter users die each year. The question that lingers is what actually happens to these digital assets when you die and how can you transfer them properly to preserve your digital legacy?
The reason this is such an interesting question is because each state has their own set of laws governing the transfer of these types of assets and each email/social media provider likewise has their own set of proscribed rules governing access on death. This issue came to a head in 2005 when John Ellsworth wanted access to his deceased son, Justin Ellsworth’s, Yahoo! email account in order to recover emails and photos sent and received during his son’s military duty in Iraq. Yahoo!’s terms state that a user’s email account and all of its contents terminate at death with no right of survivorship or right of transferability. John was able to receive his son’s email contents only after a probate court in Michigan made the order.
Different providers have different terms though. Google allows you to designate who can access your account (including Google Plus, Gmail, etc.) or whether you want your data deleted after three, six, or twelve months after death. Facebook does not give access to anyone but allows family members to contact Facebook so that the deceased’s account can be memorialized, meaning no one can login, add or delete friends, and that person will not be suggested to other people to add as a friend nor will their birthday show up as a notification to others. Twitter allows the deceased’s family to request for the account to be deactivated as long as they can show a death certificate and details that show the account belongs to the deceased. In theory, any family member or friend that has the ability to get or knowledge of the deceased’s passwords could log on to those accounts themselves; however, under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act this may violate federal law and the Stored Communications Act may prevent someone from sharing the deceased’s information available on these digital assets. Continue reading »