One of the more difficult things for families to do after someone passes away is to gain access to the deceased's digital accounts. A federal law is part of the reason for that.
When someone passes away, one of the many things families often want to do is gain access to the digital accounts the deceased had. These include emails, financial accounts and social media accounts.
The terms of services of most digital providers make it difficult to gain access.
A federal law, the Stored Communications Act, also makes it difficult as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discusses in "Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act."
The Stored Communications Act is essentially a privacy law.
It prevents providers from giving access to some user personal data without the consent of the user.
In a recent Massachusetts court case, Yahoo cited the act as the reason it could not give access to emails sought by the personal representative of a deceased account holder's estate.
The court declared that, under the act, the personal representative could give the necessary consent to gain access to the data. However, the court did not make this mandatory. The court instead decided that it was still up to the company whether to comply with the request.
Many states are attempting to make it easier to access digital information after someone passes away.
Nevertheless, it appears the law still has a long way to go.
Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 20, 2017) "Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act."