Posthumous Email and Social Media Rights

Will recently quizzed us on whether heirs should have access to a decadent’s email accounts. He didn’t specify any other logins, but all are potentially relevant probate issues. This is a thorny knot of issues that his question only grazes. Giving heirs access to just email archives is a lot more complicated than he lets on.

One could grant permission to control one’s email accounts in one’s will, which could and should provide login credentials. The will might authorize its executor to share them with one or more named survivors. If the credentials aren’t specified in the will, then the email provider must be petitioned to provide access to the account. Getting the provider to cooperate is the issue that concerns Will, I presume. But that is but one facet of one’s life-in-the-cloud.

How does this work now? Is there any uniformity among service providers or any current state or federal legislation that specifies if and how they should be notified, respond to, and be held accountable to requests from an estate?

My sense is that this and related issues are far from being settled law. What, then, does Will hope to achieve in this area? Can any one state hope to dictate what email and social media providers must do, under what circumstances, and who will have standing to make these private companies divulge content to them?

My advice: Write into your will what kind of continuity your inline presence should have, who should be privy to it, and who should have the power to pull the plug. If this isn’t spelled out sufficiently concretely, your ghosts may be speaking for you in ways you might not approve.

Published by Geoff Dutton

Belmont resident since 1998. Technical write/editor and essayist.

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