According to current U.S. law (which was written before the age of the commercial web), digital assets aren't something you can leave to someone in your will. So what does this mean for you, your digital assets, and your survivors? This week the Wall Street Journal took a close look at the digital legacy situation as it exists today, and sums it up this way:
In 1986, Congress passed a law forbidding consumer electronic-communications companies from disclosing content without its owner's consent or a government order like a police investigation. Although that law predates the rise of the commercial Internet, courts and companies have largely interpreted it to mean that the families can't force companies to let them access the deceased's data or their accounts.
This means that once you die, your family can't legally obtain access to your online accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts. For those of us who spend time building online profiles, personas, and communities, when we die, those profiles and personas die, too. And by losing access to those accounts, we may lose so many of the mementos that our survivors may want to hold on to: pictures, status updates, emails, blog posts, tweets, and other artifacts of a modern life.
Some states have started allowing executors to take control over digital assets, but national action isn't expected for over two years. Given how much time and energy most of us spend online, we anticipate that these legal changes are on the horizon, though.