Wills, Trusts & Estates: Plain and Simple – What Happens to Social Media and Other Digital Life When You Die?

Farrell Fritz, P.C.

Over the holidays, it’s likely that you or a loved one received some type of computer or device that connects to internet websites, email, and applications. Or that pictures were taken and stored on such a device, or that posts were made on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more. Or that bills were paid electronically. What happens to these digital assets when you die? New York enacted a law in 2016, which may be helpful in dealing with your digital life after your death. This law allows executors and other representatives to deal with someone’s digital assets upon death. Prior to the new law, digital service providers (ex. Facebook, Google) frequently refused to grant access to a decedent’s accounts, relying on federal privacy laws. Now, a user may direct by means of an “online tool” (assuming offered by the service provider) the disclosure of some or all of the user’s digital assets, including the content of electronic communications. The directive set forth in the online tool overrides any contrary communication in a will or other instrument. If there is no directive set forth in an online tool, then the user may direct disclosure by will or another instrument. The new law makes a distinction between the disclosure of “digital assets” versus the disclosure of the “content of electronic communications.”

Originally published in Lloyd Harbor Life, January 2019.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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