Years ago, when a person passed away, personal property and documentation were tangible items. Items such as book and record collections, photographs, and important paperwork were all items that could be physically touched and handed to the person who was inheriting them.
In today's electronic world, however, many people own a multitude of digital assets and records. The question thus becomes, who is the owner of these this digital property when the owner of record dies? What happens to online musical libraries, kindle collections, social media accounts, and cloud storage files?
Many courts have struggled with that answer in the past, but the state of Delaware may have come up with a solution with a first of its kind digital asset law. Called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, the law provides a way for families to access a loved one's digital assets should the person become incapacitated or die. The law allows access to these assets by fiduciaries or heirs of a person's estate.
Delaware lawmakers based the bill on model legislation that was developed earlier this year by the Uniform Law Commission. The commission urged all states to adopt the model in order to have uniform laws governing digital assets across the country. But so far, only Delaware has passed legislation. This means that the law only applies to wills which are governed by the state of Delaware. However, this legislation could be passed in any other state, and is definitely important to consider. Only time will tell.
A person's digital property, including social media content, emails, video, audio, sounds, images, computer programs, software, computer source codes and software licenses, will all be covered in the new law. Currently, if a person has accounts with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google or Yahoo, access to those accounts end upon the person's death. But the Delaware law changes that, stating, "A fiduciary with authority over digital assets or digital accounts of an account holder under this chapter shall have the same access as the account holder, and is deemed to (i) have the lawful consent of the account holder and (ii) be an authorized user under all applicable state and federal law and regulations and any end user license agreement."
Including your digital assets in with your estate planning is a fairly new idea, but one which people should begin to address. An experienced DuPage County estate planning attorney can help you decide the best course of legal action to take to ensure that all your assets, digital included, go to those desired. Contact us today.