Summary: Who owns your digital assets after you pass away? Social networking platforms each have their own policies in place. Georgia has enacted legislation that allows an estate executor or personal representative to access digital accounts with the owner’s permission.
Who owns your digital assets after you die? You own them now, subject to lengthy user agreements of course, but the upshot of most of the commonly used website’s agreements is that you own the content. Once you die, however, the answer isn’t quite as clear, and, if you don’t make provisions to answer this question, things can get very confusing and difficult.
Social networking sites each have their own rules. Facebook accounts can be handled with prior consent from the deceased or as mandated by law. Twitter accounts can be handled by an estate representative or an immediate family member. LinkedIn accounts can be handled as permitted by law or as necessary to comply with the law. Google says they only allow an authorized representative access to an account in “rare cases.”
In some states, your executor may have authority to handle your accounts even if you haven’t specifically designated anyone. Several states have passed laws addressing this issue and Georgia may soon follow suit.
Georgia has H.B. 274 pending in the General Assembly. It provides for access to the digital accounts of a decedent. The bill defines digital account as “any account of the decedent on any social networking Internet website, web blog Internet website, microblog service Internet website, short message service Internet website, electronic mail service Internet website, financial account Internet website, or any similar electronic services or records, together with any words, characters, codes, or contractual rights necessary to access such digital assets and any text, images, multimedia information, or other personal property stored by or through such digital account.”
H.B. 274 allows the decedent’s will or a court order to restrict the personal representative’s access to these digital accounts, but otherwise authorizes the representative to “take control of, handle, conduct, continue, distribute, or terminate any digital account of the decedent.” The bill also requires providers to grant access to the accounts within 30 days of receiving the letters testamentary or letters of administration.
As you can see after looking at the quick examples of the few policies listed above, this kind of legislation could be very helpful. However, it may be awhile before this happens in Georgia, even though the issue is on the legislature’s radar. H.B. 274 was introduced a year ago on February 9, 2015 and received a second reading on February 11, 2015, but it hasn’t made any progress since then.
In the meantime, you can and should designate an owner and authorize access to your accounts in your will. The things that are posted online are often very personal and have immense sentimental value to your family and friends. It is just as important that you make sure these assets are preserved and passed on as to designate who gets your personal property.
If you have additional questions about your digital assets or would like to set up an estate planning appointment, you can contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via the contact form on our website.
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