The Livens Law Firm

Personal representative must access decedent's digital assets

In Texas and all other states, the extensive use of online services by the average person has led to a need for the estate of a deceased person to be able to access that person’s online digital assets. That need has given birth to organizations concerned with addressing the issue. Just recently, a lawyers’ commission completed and introduced the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. When a person dies and probate is forthcoming, the passage of this or similar legislation will provide a framework to guide the estate’s personal representative with respect to the decedent’s digital assets.

When a person dies, if there is a will, it is presented to the appropriate court for probate. A personal representative, appointed in the will, acts on behalf of the decedent to collect all assets, pay all bills, and make final distributions to the specified beneficiaries named in the will. If there is no will, things go a bit differently and they must follow what is called the intestate laws. These laws basically take the choices out of the decedent’s prerogative and give instead a statutory framework for asset distribution.

In any event, the estate now contains a whole realm of digital assets, a new phenomenon for which there is no legal structure or guidelines. These assets can include financial accounts, PayPal accounts, EBay accounts, photos, business and personal databases, websites and other proprietary belongings, and the list goes on. It is important for the personal representative to have access to these assets in order to transfer or otherwise dispose of according to the decedent’s wishes.

That is what the proposed legislation intends to do. The model law that has been passed will be presented to Texas and every other state for proposed passage. Some states may adopt it verbatim and others, after debate, may make some changes. This means that for the future the law defining the access rights of the personal representative to the decedent’s digital assets will be found in the state laws where the decedent resided.

Source: npr.org, "A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We're Gone : All Tech Considered : NPR", Molly Roberts, July 23, 2014

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