Thursday, February 16, 2012

Social Media Accounts After Death

As people's online personas become an increasingly important part of their lives, families and friends are encountering confusion and frustration in trying to manage the Facebook, Twitter and email accounts of their deceased loved ones.

State probate laws, which govern how a deceased's next of kin or estate executor can access things like property and bank accounts, generally weren't designed with today's online lives in mind. So, lawmakers in several states—including Nebraska and Oklahoma—have tried in recent years to tackle the complex question of who can manage the online presence of the deceased, and what legal authority they should have. ....

But legal experts say that the terms of service users must agree to when they sign up with social-media sites, which typically dictate what happens to an account after the user dies, could take precedent over the state laws. An Oklahoma lawmaker involved in legislation on the topic says the risk is creating laws that are "toothless."

Facebook, for example, has extensive user agreements and privacy policies that cite various state and federal laws, including the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which generally forbids it from "providing access to any person who is not an account owner." ....
Deaths Pose Test for Facebook by Steve Eder, Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2012