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Bill Allowing Access to Online Accounts Passes Florida Senate

In the world of estate planning, we often give attention to items that have monetary value—money, property, intangibles, etc. Sometimes, we give attention to items with little monetary value, but with significant emotional value—family heirlooms, pictures, pets, or historical items.

But rarely do we think about social media—specifically, what happens to our social media information when we pass away. That’s probably because when we pass away, we don’t care much about social media—but our loved ones may.

Accessing Accounts of the Deceased

Relatives may wish to close down accounts, access pictures, or use the account to notify others of the passing. Closing down social media accounts may be an emotional closure for family members. And occasionally, for those with commercial accounts or popular “pages,” with thousands of followers, access to the deceased’s social media accounts may have a financial value as well, the same way that continuation of a business would be.

The problem is that most major social media outlets (and other sites) do not allow relatives of a deceased to access the pages of the deceased. Concerns over privacy by the sites can leave the accounts of the deceased in social media limbo.

Proposed Law Could Solve the Problem

Recently, the Florida legislature proposed a law to address these problems. The law would allow people to designate a custodian to access and manage their accounts in the event that they pass away. The designation could be done by a will or separate documents.

The legislature attempted to pass a similar law last year. But internet service providers, fearful of privacy lawsuits, opposed it, and the bill failed. Unlike last year’s proposed law, this one would require a separate written designation of custodian. The custodian could be, but wouldn’t have to be, a relative. The hope is that service providers will be more willing to support the law, knowing that whoever is attempting to access accounts will have a document executed by the deceased to rely upon.

The bill actually would expand beyond social media. The designated custodian could access any online portal, including bank accounts, retail accounts, text messages, documents or pictures stored “in the cloud,” or virtually any website that requires a password.

The bill has passed the Florida Senate but still needs to be passed by the House.

You Can Plan Today

Whether the bill passes or not, there’s no legal impediment today to designating someone to access your digital and online accounts and files. Anybody can do so in a will or similar estate document. Whether the sites themselves will honor the designation is up in the air, but they are much more likely to do so when someone has already in writing made a designation and provided permission to another to access their accounts.

Make sure you plan for all of your assets, even those you may not think about at first. Contact Tampa business and probate attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and make sure your estate plan covers everything you need it to.

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