Despite all the amazing technology in our lives, when someone dies and you try and access their digital accounts it’s like the wild west. You’re at the whim of the site or service you’re trying to access. Some services make it easy, others not so much.
But it seems like there’s a new sheriff in town and its name is the Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act. It doesn’t sound as catchy as Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood, but since when did proposed legislation ever seem cool? Regardless of the long bureaucratic name, this has the potential to be extremely helpful for millions of people.
We at Everplans have always been very interested in what happens to digital accounts after a person dies, as evidence by our State-By-State Digital Estate Planning Laws, What Happens To Email When Someone Dies and How To Close Online Accounts. Here are some quick bites of info with some personal thoughts sprinkled throughout about the proposed legislation and the digital estate issue as a whole.
What It’s Called And Who Created It
Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act by the Uniform Law Commission.
To allow executors, trustees, or the person appointed by court ("conservator" or "fiduciary") complete access to deceased's digital assets.
Why It's A Big Deal
This would supersede a site's current terms of service, forcing sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Google to grant access, which is something they don't currently allow. The only way a person can prevent an Executor (or “fiduciary”) from accessing any or all of their online accounts is if they specifically state something to that effect in their Will.
It’s About Time
This is a long time coming and a step in the right direction. Digital assets, including email, photos, and entertainment like music, books and movies, have been a part of our lives for a generation. Yet there's still no easy way to handle these accounts when someone dies. There are ways to memorialize or close down accounts, but you still have to jump through hoops, making it incredibly frustrating at a time when you're probably not in the best state of mind.
A Modern Problem That Requires An Immediate Solution
The Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act is proposed legislation and has a long way to go until it's the law of the land. Plus, it has opponents, many of which are powerful digital companies like Facebook and Google, so what do people do in the meantime?
While some states have passed legislation to address it (Delaware being the most recent to adopt something very similar to the FADAA that goes into effect in 2015) you still need to let your loved ones know what you want done with these accounts if something happens to you. Not to toot our own horn, but this is one of the primary purposes of Everplans: Give people the ability to easily share their wishes with people they trust. Digital assets need to be treated the same way as physical ones.
Privacy Advocates Aren't Happy
The people opposing this legislation worry that automatically sharing this information is a breach of the deceased's privacy. However, once someone is gone privacy isn't often the top priority. Settling an estate, grieving and attempting to move on with your life are most important. Again, if a person is worried about private things being revealed upon their death, then that person needs make their wishes clear about what they want done with these accounts and assets after they die. An executor doesn't need to ask permission to clean out a desk or closet after a death, why should they have to beg strangers for information that could be vital towards providing closure?
Technology Moves Fast, Laws Move Slow
Some digital services, like Apple, state in their terms and conditions that all purchased assets revert back to Apple upon death. They have gotten away with a lot since the laws have yet to catch up to the technology. In the past you'd pass down books and CDs to loved ones, now it all just disappears? Seems unfair. But unless you share your digital information with someone you trust, you're no longer in control.
In Conclusion: Everplans Gets Up On The Soapbox
This is a now problem. Death doesn't wait until you're organized or until laws are debated and passed. It's great people are finally addressing it and trying to come up with a reasonable solution, but until you're actually faced with this issue, as many are each day, the importance is difficult to fully comprehend.