Jim Berets asks:
The 7/2/2014 New York Times included an article entitled “How to Digitally Avoid Taking It to the Grave” regarding access to and control of online content on death. Massachusetts seems to be in the process of drafting legislation, but limited to access to email accounts only. Can you comment on this legislation’s progress and your perspective? I found the following (somewhat dated) document useful in understanding where other states stand: “August 2013 List of State Laws and Proposals Regarding Fiduciary Access to Digital Property During Incapacity or After Death“.
Thanks for the question, Jim. It is timely. The Senate did pass legislation to address the ownership of electronic assets last session (didn’t get across the finish line). We did report out of my committee, the Judiciary Committee, a similar bill. That bill is now pending in the House as House 4243.
There is still a lot of confusion about the issue, however. Google and others have been lobbying against the draft. On the one hand, heirs might really need to access electronic information of the decedent to find assets. On the other hand, the decedent might really have a privacy interest in not exposing his or heirs to all the correspondence in his electronic archives. Not sure where we’ll get to in this session.