It frequently happens that when someone passes away, the family would like to access the deceased's digital accounts for one reason or another. This is especially important when that decedent passed away unexpectedly or mysteriously and there might be a clue to what happened in an email or private message on social media.
However, when families contact the tech companies hosting the digital accounts and request access, they are often denied. To address this problem, state legislators have been creating laws to help families gain access. These efforts have been fought by the tech companies.
An important victory in this fight was recently won by a family as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in "Ajemian v. Yahoo! Case Update."
The case comes out of Massachusetts, where a law was enacted that allowed the personal representative of an estate to authorize access to the deceased's email account. When that was attempted in this case the email provider, Yahoo!, refused the access.
A lawsuit over the matter went to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The family won a partial victory. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. As a result, the decision in Massachusetts will stand.
There is still some litigation to be completed in the case, but it is an important victory for now.
Digital assets have become an increasingly important component of estate planning. Estate planning attorneys should keep abreast of the most recent developments in this evolving area of law.
Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (March 2, 2018) "Ajemian v. Yahoo! Case Update."