Delaware Passes First “Digital Inheritance” Law

August 20, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Delaware Governor Jack Marshall has signed the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” guaranteeing access for heirs and executors to digital assets like social media profiles and data on mobile devices. The act originated with the Uniform Law Commission, and now Delaware has become the first state to make it law.

Though tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook are incorporated in Delaware, this law will only apply to Delaware residents, ArsTechnica reports. 

“If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345,” Kelly Bachman, a spokeswoman for the Delaware governor’s office, said by e-mail.

“But if a person dies and his will is governed by Delaware law, the representative of that person’s estate would have access to the decedent’s Twitter account under HB 345. So the main question in determining whether HB 345 applies is not where the company having the digital account (i.e., Twitter) is incorporated or even where the person holding the digital account resides.”

Attorney Jim Halpert wrote of his opposition to the law, which he believes doesn’t consider the privacy of third parties.

“This [law] would include highly confidential communications to decedents from third parties who are still alive—patients of deceased doctors, psychiatrists, and clergy, for example—who would be very surprised that an executor is reviewing the communications. The law may well create a lot of confusion and false expectations because, as the law itself acknowledges, federal law may prohibit disclosing contents of communications.” 

Daryl Scott, a Delaware representative, disagrees, saying “By signing this bill into law, we’re helping to protect the rights and interests of the average person in the face of a rapidly evolving digital world.” It will be interesting to see whether legislation like this will be adopted by larger states. (Photo: Wikipedia)