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Tax Law Blog: Social Media and Other Digital "Assets" After Death - February 11, 2013

A few weeks ago, legislation was proposed in Nebraska that would allow a personal representative of a dead person to control his or her social media, including emails, blogs, and sites such as Facebook or Twitter. (Legislative Bill 37)   Why is this being proposed? Is this something everyone should start considering as part of their estate plan?


The intent of the bill is to provide express authority for a personal representative to handle these accounts. But why? Chances are, more and more of us do not have the box of important papers and photographs at home in a safe place, but rather have online accounts where this information is stored.  The deceased could have important emails that need timely action which the personal representative cannot otherwise access. 


Even beyond giving someone the ability to close an email account or social networking account, consider the number of accounts you may have for which you have no paper records. As we become more environmentally friendly and try to eliminate paper, we are often eliminating many important records which were once accessible. Would your personal representative know of online banking accounts for which you don't have a debit card or checks (ie, no paper evidence)?  


Maybe other states will see similar legislation in the future. In the meantime, how will you make sure someone could find all of your digital accounts? I have heard of people creating a password protected document on his or her computer which contains user names and passwords for digital accounts, and giving the personal representative the password or leaving the password written in a certain spot. If you don't feel comfortable leaving access to your passwords, leaving a list of accounts and user names would certainly lead the representative on the right path to contact each company individually. However, as evidenced by the proposed bill, without uniform legislation, it is unclear what each company would require for your personal representative to have access, or what your personal representative could do with the account.