What happens to your social media accounts if you die?

What happens to your digital accounts—your emails, social networking posts and cloud-based files—when you die?

In the United States, authorities are already discussing what to do with these digital assets, according to a report on Time.com.

For their part, companies like Facebook are in a bind, having to respect federal privacy laws and their own terms of service that says an account is non-transferrable.

So far, the report said more than 10 states have considered bills on the issue, with two being passed - in Virginia and Nevada.

Virginia helps survivors access deceased minors’ online accounts, while Nevada allows personal representatives to obtain a deceased person’s emails.

On the other hand, Karin Prangley, an estate lawyer from Illinois, said death may not be the only consideration.

Prangley cited the case of a client who suffered a stroke in 2009, and who kept his business records in a Yahoo account.

His family tried to get access to his company emails, but could not get Yahoo to cooperate.

"Though (the client) made eventually made some physical recovery, to this day he has not recovered his password (or his business)," Time.com said.

'Solutions'

One fix the companies themselves can implement is letting account holders indicate once-I’m-out-of-touch preferences.

Last April, Google rolled out its “Inactive Account Manager” feature where users of services like Gmail and YouTube can tell Google what to do once their account is inactive for a set time, like six months.

The options include terminating the holdings of the account, or turning over the data to trusted contacts.

"Previously, getting access to a deceased person’s Gmail account required a death certificate, months of review and a court order—and still likely would if the user doesn’t take advantage of the feature," Time.com said.

Drafting state laws

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), a nonprofit association, has been working on a digital-assets bill for the past year.

For now, the main thrust is to circumvent the “non-transferrable” problem, Time.com said.

One proposal is to state that "giving access to a legal representative doesn’t count as a transfer, when the owner has passed on or can’t manage the asset themselves," Time.com said.

But Commissioner Suzy Walsh said the process takes time partly because they want input from as many affected parties as possible.

In the July meeting, she said “the social media folks are very uncomfortable with” incapacity provisions, like letting a court-appointed caretaker manage an account for a mentally-disabled adult.

Yet she appreciated the input from companies like Facebook and Yahoo.

For their part, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have weighed in, citing privacy concerns.

Other questions

Other questions may involve what happens to copyright-protected material like an iTunes collection, Time.com said.

It noted iTunes' terms of service do not mention the word death, "and Apple simply has no policy on whether someone can will or inherit an account." — TJD, GMA News

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