What will happen to the virtual you when you die? Who will own your email, bank, social media and other online accounts?
In probate lingo, these online accounts are known as Digital Assets, but the law governing digital assets is stuck in a "cloud" at the moment. Digital assets technically become part of your estate, but the problem is often how to access those accounts without prior authorization.
Do you have a list of passwords for all of your accounts? Have you authorized someone to access these accounts and use these passwords on your behalf should something happen to you?
There is a national Uniform Law Commission, which has provided a Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. This Act is a proposed set of laws to address this issue. States are free to adopt these laws or a variation thereof at any time. It's really just a matter of motivating the sometimes lethargic state Legislature. Delaware was the first state to adopt an earlier version of that model law this summer.
Currently, Florida law does not provide guidance on a fiduciary's authority to access your online accounts after your death. A group of progressive attorneys in Florida is trying to change that.
The Digital Assets Committee of the Florida Bar's Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section (RPPTL Section) drafted some proposed legislation to address this issue. This proposed legislation still needs to go through the lengthy legislative process, and would not be voted on until the summer of 2015 at the earliest. Check out this article discussing this issue and the proposed law written by Jan Pudlow, senior editor of The Florida Bar Journal.
The law would essentially provide personal representatives, guardians, agents, trustees, and other fiduciaries with the authority to access your online accounts when necessary.
Certain criminal and intellectual property laws would limit the access, but the fiduciaries would be able to access property held in online accounts as long as the applicable paperwork was in order. This is just another reason why having your estate planning documents in order is so vital.
The law would simply extend a fiduciary's existing authority over your tangible assets to include your digital assets. The same fiduciary duties to act for the benefit of the represented person or estate remain in place.
If you have an estate plan, or if you plan to have an estate plan prepared in the near future, ask your attorney to include a "Digital Assets" clause. Granting your fiduciary access to these important online accounts is critical in today's online world.