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Who gets access to your online accounts after you die?

An older woman sitting in a chair using a laptop

You may have a plan for what to do with your physical belongings after you die, but what about your online accounts? In today’s social media-dominated world, your digital presence will likely exist online even after you are gone. But who has the right to access those accounts? States have begun addressing this issue with new digital access laws.

Under current Facebook policy, if an account member dies, Facebook will remove the account at the request of “an immediate family member or executor of the account holder”. Facebook also allows “memorializing the account” at the request of “a family member or close friend”. But it is difficult for family members to get access to the account itself. Family members may want access to a deceased love one’s account to read messages left by friends or to have access to download the account data if they have prior consent from the deceased or if it is mandated by law.

Such mandates are beginning to appear. In 2010, Oklahoma passed a law giving estate executors the power to access, administer, or terminate the online social media accounts of the deceased. Under Oklahoma’s law, the executor automatically has the power to act on behalf of a deceased individual and access a Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail account. See Oklahoma Statutes § 58-269. The executor does not have to go to court to get access to such accounts. Other states have followed.

In 2016, Minnesota passed the “Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act“. This act allows you to decide through estate planning documents whether to grant or prohibit access to your digital accounts after you die. It also allows you to grant access to another during your lifetime through a power of attorney.

Anyone with significant digital assets, especially those that reside online, should consider an estate plan that addresses them. A modern estate plan will address not only watches and necklaces, but also Bitcoin and Instagram photography. Contact us to discuss whether this is something you should add to your will or power of attorney.