These days, the majority of people will have an online presence, email accounts, personal and company Facebook and Twitter pages, Tumblrs, Reddit accounts etc. Often when a loved one passes away, dealing with this digital online presence can prove difficult for family members or partners because of inconsistency in the law.
Despite recent efforts to create some sort of solid legislation with regards to digital data by a few states, the U.S. and Canada as yet do not have laws in place that would treat digital data and online accounts like physical goods which can be distributed by an estate after death.
As things currently stand, the loved ones of the recently deceased often find themselves trapped somewhere between estate laws (which would allow access to digital data) and privacy laws (which would prohibit access).
Some people counter this problem by creating what have been dubbed “social media wills” or by passing on their passwords to a close family member or loved one. There are also services available like LegacyLocker.com or SecureSafe.com that let people store their passwords. However this is not without its problems too, because as some lawyers have warned, by accessing a loved one’s account after death (even with their permission) you could be breaking the law as this often violates the terms of service for many sites.
In the cases of sudden and or unexpected death when passwords have not be entrusted to someone, families who want to gain access to the deceased accounts will have to follow the guidelines set by whichever company hosted the account. This can prove difficult and confusing as many companies operate using different rules and regulations. For instance, Google will not close down a Gmail account without a court order, however Facebook actively seeks to shut down or “memorialize” accounts whose owners have passed away.
The Wall Street Journal have compiled a detailed summary of how all the major web companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn operate when it comes to the death of user and instructions for how loved ones can gain access to their digital data. For more information on the subject, click here.