‘The Dead’s Online Accounts’

Alberto B Lopez, Posthumous Privacy, Decedent Intent, and Post-Mortem Access to Digital Assets, 24 George Mason Law Review 183 (2016). In Posthumous Privacy, Decedent Intent, and Post-Mortem Access to Digital Assets, Alberto B Lopez discusses a distinctly modern problem: how much access should a personal representative have to decedent online accounts? Surprisingly few states have addressed this important question, although there is a recent flurry of proposals. Lopez argues that the legislative debate has failed to account for the decedent’s privacy interest and has mostly ignored decedent intent, the lodestar of estates and trusts law. He concludes that when decedent privacy and intent are properly ‘included in the legislative balance’, policies will lean ‘toward non-disclosure for individuals who die intestate and toward disclosure if the testator has instructed [by will] that account contents be available’ (p242). While I would ultimately permit more access than Lopez recommends, his article is a must-read because it highlights an important estate planning problem and makes the reader ponder the appropriate scope of post-mortem privacy … (more)

[Sarah Waldeck, JOTWELL, 19 January]

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