When Ohio House Bill 432 and Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2137 became effective on April 4, 2017, estate fiduciaries were given new tools for managing a decedent’s digital property.
From social-media profiles, to email accounts, to Apple and Amazon digital libraries of music, movies, and media, more and more people are dying with digital assets stored in various clouds. Upon Chapter 2137 becoming effective, executors, administrators, and trustees can request a catalogue of the decedent’s digital assets with various providers and access to the same.
For people making or updating their estate plans, this gives them something else to think about. For fiduciaries and beneficiaries, this new tool can help locate valuable information.
While user agreements with service providers tend to govern access to digital property after someone dies, some service providers do allow users to make choices on this issue. Users also can make digital-access designations in wills, trusts, powers of attorney, or other testamentary documents. Pursuant to R.C. § 2137.03(C), such directions override terms-of-service agreements with service providers unless the service provider required users to make the designations separately from assenting to the terms of service.
Fiduciaries do not have any new rights beyond those given to the users, but Chapter 2137 allows them and other parties interested in the estate to seek probate court involvement on digital-asset issues. This means that fiduciaries can get Court help to overcome disclosure disputes with service providers so they can obtain access to emails or electronic records when determining the extent of the decedent’s financial assets. When there are concerns of financial exploitation or undue influence, such access could be used to obtain evidence as to whether the decedent’s intent was undermined.