You Can’t Take It with You (or Can You?): Death and “Digital Assets”
“When I’m gone, what will happen to my social media profiles?” The increasing use of digital accounts has resulted in a search for answers to this and similar questions, with the goal of reaching an appropriate balance of probate considerations and privacy and cybersecurity laws. The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) weighed in with its proposed solution to the issue of access to a deceased or incapacitated person’s “digital assets”—e.g., email accounts, social media profiles, digital photos and videos, and other electronic records—with its recent approval of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), which is a model law that must be adopted by a state to become effective.
The ULC’s approach to the issue focused on whether a fiduciary would have access to tangible assets. If so, the fiduciary should be granted authority to access, control, or copy comparable digital assets. The UFADAA applies to certain fiduciaries acting in their fiduciary capacity and covers electronic records; it excludes underlying assets or liabilities “unless the asset or liability is itself an electronic record.” Ultimately, the UFADAA defers to the digital account holder’s intent, including his or her desire to keep certain digital assets or accounts private after the holder’s death. This intent should be expressed in a written will, trust, or similar document or online through an “affirmative act separate from the account holder’s assent to the other provisions of the terms-of-service agreement.” Under the UFADAA, a terms-of-service agreement that limits a fiduciary’s right to the digital assets of an account holder may be void as against public policy in the absence of this type of affirmative act.