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Digital Death: Law gives heirs social media, online asset passwords

Delaware pioneers

What happens to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts, online texts and other assets, when you die?

You go through Digital Death. Delaware says it is the first state to pass a law authorizing "executors, trustees, agents under powers-of-attorney and guardians of disabled persons to access online accounts and other digital content of the individual with whose care and assets they have been entrusted," just as fiduciary trustees can already access bank, financial, tax and medical records, subject to a will, trust, or power-of-attorney.

People can also order their heirs to never open or change their digital assets.

There was resistance -- see Bob Garfield's June 6 On the Media piece, Data After Death -- from data companies that don't want to be forced to override older privacy restrictions that kept some heirs away.

Trust lawyers including Suzanne Brown Walsh of Cummings & Lockwood in Connecticut drafted a sample law stronger than any federal standard, and local practicioners including Trish Hall of Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington worked to bring the state General Assembly around in support.

Delaware lawmakers are used to cooperating with lawyers: they know around one-fifth of the state's annual budget are collected from corporate fees generated under business-friendly laws and are eager to update them to keep the cash flowing.

In a statement, Hall says the law "also permits a trust to hold title to digital assets. For people with collections of digital photography or artwork, computer code, digital manuscripts or other digital assets, this type of 'digital asset trust' may become an instrumental aspect of their estate planning, ensuring these assets and the value attached to them are managed for the benefit of their loved ones."