Is There Email After Death? What Happens to Online Accounts When Someone Dies
According to a report on Yahoo.com, New Hampshire State Representative Peter Sullivan has introduced a bill that if passed, will allow the executor of an estate to have control over the social networking pages and email accounts -- Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, among others -- of someone who has died.
According to Sullivan, such a law would fill in the blanks between the policies of social media sites and the families of the account holders who have passed away. Sullivan was quoted on Yahoo as saying, "This would give the families a sense of closure, a sense of peace. It would help prevent this form of bullying that continues even after someone dies and nobody is really harmed by it."
In a separate interview on WMUR.com, a New Hampshire news site, Sullivan described the case of a Canadian girl who committed suicide after being bullied, and the bullying has continued online even after her death. The girl's family was unable to delete the bullying comments, and was not able to completely take the page down.
Five other states have already implemented laws addressing one's online accounts after death, although not all of them apply to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
These five states include:
In Connecticut, Public Act No. 05-136 provides an executor or administrator of an estate access to email accounts of someone who has died, although the law does not require an email service provider to disclose any information that is a violation of federal law. This law does not address the accounts of social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, however.
Rhode Island's law is similar to Connecticut's in that only grants access to the deceased person's email accounts to the executor or administrator of the estate. The law makes no mention as to whether or not the representative can also access social media accounts like Facebook.
Indiana's law, IC 29-1-13, appears to require the custodian to give the representative of a deceased person access to any information stored digitally by that person. The custodian is defined as "any person who electronically stores the documents or information of another person." To access the deceased person's information, the representative must provide the custodian with a written request or a court order.
The article on Law and Daily Life reported that in 2010, the Oklahoma legislature passed a law that specifically allows an executor or administrator of an estate to have control over, conduct, continue, or terminate certain social networking, microblogging, or email accounts of a deceased person.
In Idaho, a state law allows a representative of the deceased to control, conduct, continue, or terminate any accounts on any social networking site, any microblogging or short-message website, or any email service website.
As the Law and Daily Life article states, the New Hampshire law is not close to being enacted, and Representative Sullivan is still researching the issue. One thing is clear: Everyone has a strong opinion about what should happen to a deceased person's social media profile, and other states are expected to introduce legislation regarding this issue in the near future.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Jan Hill is a freelance journalist and certified paralegal who has written for newspapers, reference books, websites, and trade magazines such as Paralegal Today. Jan is currently a legal journalist for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen, a Denver personal injury practice with over 25 years experience. Jan has been covering legal and business topics for years.