Digital assets bill clears House, heads to Senate

 

DOVER – Rep. Darryl Scott’s bill to ensure a person’s digital assets are treated as part of his or her estate after death passed the House Thuraday and is on its way to the Senate.

Under House Bill 345, Delawareans’ digital legacies would be treated the same as the physical assets, documents and records left for their heirs and executors to handle after their deaths.

More and more frequently, attorneys and survivors are finding it difficult or impossible to access and manage the online accounts and assets of the decedents whose estates they’re responsible for settling. Often, the user agreements for websites and other digital services stipulate that no person other than the user is entitled to access his or her accounts.

According to the bill, digital assets such as email, cloud storage, social media, health records, content licenses, databases and more would be deemed a part of a person’s estate upon death, and the entities who control access to those assets would be required to provide the legal executor with control over the deceased’s digital assets. The legislation would also apply in cases where a person becomes incapacitated and his or her assets come under the control of a fiduciary or power of attorney.

Rep. Scott, D-Dover, drafted this bill after talking with a constituent in his district, who was refused access to an email account held by her late husband. Even though his will named her as the executor of the estate, the email service provider would not allow her to sign into the email account. Eventually, the provider agreed to delete the deceased’s account and all its stored information, but never allowed the content to be reviewed.

According to the bill, a website or a company in control of a decedent’s digital assets would be required to treat the legal fiduciary of that person’s estate the same as they would have treated the decedent during life. That means they would be obliged to provide whatever username, login and password information necessary to access the decedent’s accounts.