Del. Lawmakers Take Look at Access to Deceased's Digital Assets - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Lawmakers Take Look at Access to Deceased's Digital Assets

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - A new proposal in Delaware looks to make it easier to deal with a person's digital legacy after they die.

It's a reality of 21st century life that much of what we consider ours only exists on the Internet - everything from emails and social media accounts to online photo albums and storage. But when people die, the executors of their estates often find it difficult, if not impossible, to get access to all of that.

The reason boils down to privacy. User agreements often say the only person who is legally allowed to access the connected account is the actual user, not the executor of an estate. It's that issue the new bill looks to address.

It was in 2010 when Donna Johnson's father, Ray, unexpectedly died. And Johnson saw firsthand just how hard dealing with someone's online presence can be after they pass away.

"Trying to access his email to get access to plane tickets, car rentals, information about notices of when different bills were due that was sent electronically, access to financial accounts, insurance accounts - all of that proved to be very difficult if you didn't have the person's log-in and password," she said.

Eventually the family got access to some accounts, some information but definitely not all of it.

Johnson knew this couldn't be a problem just for her family. She went to State Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, in 2012 about creating a bill.

He introduced it last week, and it requires companies to grant account access to the executor of deceased person's estate.

Tech companies have pushed back against similar bills in other states in the past. Rep. Scott is hopeful that won't happen based on work done at the national level to help state lawmakers in this area.

"Uniform law that's being drafted has been developed in cooperation with and with input from the tech companies," he said. "So, I'm hopeful based on those conversations and us using that as the basis for our law that we'll be successful in passing this legislation."

Passage of the law would mean a lot to Johnson and her family after the headache they went through.

"Perhaps all of the challenges my mother and my family faced won't be in vain. It will actually do others some good moving forward."

The bill does not stop someone from leaving specific instructions for their online presence in their will.

Johnson says she made a will soon after the issues she experienced with her father's accounts. It includes much of her log-in and password information.

Rep. Scott says if his bill passes, it would be the most comprehensive law on the topic in the country.

Seven states have laws allowing various levels of access to a deceased person's online presence. That includes Virginia.

About a dozen more states have seen bills at least introduced but then fail. That list includes Maryland last year.
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