In 2005, college student Loren Williams was killed in a motorcycle accident. His grieving mother, yearning to feel closer to her son, wanted to use his Facebook page. More than just seeing the site, she wanted to see his correspondence, to read his messages, in hopes of understanding her son better.
A 25-year-old federal law, however, barred her from accessing his account.
Digital media has evolved at breakneck speed, giving lawmakers little time to catch up. The latest federal law concerning digital media after you die is from 1986, while Oklahoma, of all places, has the most progressive and up-to-date law about digital estate on its books.
The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act prevents disclosing stored communications unless there’s a court order. Oklahoma’s laws, on the other hand, allow disclosure to estate fiduciaries.
Facebook refused Williams’ mother, Karen, access to his account and even changed the password when Karen got it from a friend. She eventually retained a lawyer and sued Facebook in 2007, finally getting the court to issue an order to allow her access.
When you sign up for a website, you are agreeing to terms of license, so any “assets” under that license fall under licensing rules, says Florida-based estate planning lawyer David Goldman.
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