State legislatures throughout the country are currently debating whether a person's digital accounts should remain private after death or be accessible by estate administrators. A new proposal in Virginia strikes a compromise between the two sides.
One the biggest problems estate administrators face today is gaining access to a deceased person's online accounts. Digital accounts such as email, online payment sites and even social media accounts can contain valuable information and clues about the deceased's business and financial dealings. Not having access to that information can hamper administering the estate.
Nevertheless, most technology firms have taken the stance that digital accounts remain private after death and consequently they make gaining access difficult.
In Virginia, legislation is awaiting executive branch action that would allow executors access to digital accounts, if certain conditions were satisfied.
Legislation initially proposed was supported by estate attorneys, but fiercely opposed by technology industry lobbyists. A counter bill was proposed that would keep digital accounts private after death.
The two sides reached a compromise that would allow executors access to information for the 18 months preceding a person's death. However, to actually access the information, prior consent of the deceased would be needed.
Thus, for an example, an executor could see who sent the deceased emails, but could not read the contents of the emails themselves without prior consent.
As reported by The News Tribune in an article titled "Va. legislation seeks to protect digital privacy after death," the proposal has passed the legislature and awaits the signature or veto of the governor.
Reference: The News Tribune (March 7, 2015) "Va. legislation seeks to protect digital privacy after death"