Delaware is first US state to introduce digital inheritance

20 Aug 2014

The small east coast state of Delaware in the US has made history by being the first state to pass a law which will protect the right of family members to access the digital life of a deceased family member.

Known as the ‘Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act’, the piece of legislation will give a person’s heir the right to access and gain legal control of all of the deceased’s devices and digital accounts, much like any existing property that is usually transferred to someone following a loved one’s death, according to Ars Technica.

The bill makes Delaware the first state in the US, and potentially the world, to accept the right of inheritance in digital terms when previously there has been much trouble created by family members who have requested from tech companies and social networks access to accounts that have been lost because the deceased never gave them their passwords.

The bill was previously lobbied by an organisation called the Uniform Law Commission, which wanted to address shortcomings within the law that weren’t up to date with the fast pace of technology and privacy issues.

The terms of service of most websites are rather clear about the sharing passwords in that under no circumstances is anyone legally allowed to give their password to someone else to use their login, despite it being commonplace in some capacity by many.

While social media sites have not directly commented on the ruling, an attorney representing companies including Google, Yahoo! and Facebook has criticised the decision of Delaware’s lawmakers. Speaking to Ars Technica, director of the State Privacy and Security Coalition, Jim Halpert said, “This law takes no account of minimising intrusions into the privacy of third parties who communicated with the deceased.

“This 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.”

Skeleton at keyboard image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic