Delaware becomes first US state to pass "Digital Inheritance" law

Currently, in most parts of the United States (if not all), when someone passes away, their possessions go to their family members in most cases. However, this does not include digital accounts, such as email, Facebook, and Twitter. However, Delaware, the first state and one of the smallest, is changing that. They just became the first state to pass a "Digital Inheritance" law.

Last week, according to Arstechnica, Gov. Jack Markell signed the Fiduciary Access to Digital Access and Digital Accounts Act. This law gives heirs and executors of wills the legal authority to take control of a digital asset or device, just like any physical document or item. For those of you wondering, other states have some provisions, but their scope is limited. Delaware is the first state to enact such a broad law. 

According to Kelly Bachman, a spokesman for the governor, “If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345. But if a person dies and his will is governed by Delaware law, the representative of that person’s estate would have access to the decedent’s Twitter account under HB 345. So the main question in determining whether HB 345 applies is not where the company having the digital account (i.e., Twitter) is incorporated or even where the person holding the digital account resides."

However, because Delaware is such a small state compared to states like California, it may take a state like California passing a similar law in order for the laws to be passed in other states. In addition, this will also affect the terms and conditions of certain services. Some companies, such as Facebook may still alter their current terms in order to comply with the new law.

Facebook currently prohibits sharing passwords, according to their policy:

You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

You will not transfer your account (including any Page or application you administer) to anyone without first getting our written permission.

In addition, Yahoo famously denied the family of a U.S. Marine access to his email account after the Marine was killed in Iraq. It is important to note that Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo have yet to issue a statement. Neowin has emailed Microsoft, among other companies, for a statement, and will update the article if we hear from them.

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11 Comments

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One of the reason why I resist buying digital music and films. I have lots of fantastic 50's and 60's vinyl from my parents which really opened my eyes to good music. This probably wouldn't happen with digital as it is locked away and too difficult to retrieve.

I agree and disagree. On one hand, DRM can be a nasty pain. On the other hand, digital content is easily copied and does not deteriorate like physical media.

I don't think family should have the rights to any of the accounts. Maybe just the right to have facebook or twitter remove the account. Just like email facebook could have a lot of person information someone may not want their family having access to. Just a thought.

I'm sure you could have your will written to include a clause stating your descendants are not to receive access to your digital accounts, and they should all be removed from those services by a third party or the service provider themselves.


In addition, Yahoo famously denied the family of a U.S. Marine access to his email account after the Marine was killed in Iraq.

Don't think I'd want my family poking around my email account after I died. Maybe let them post to my Facebook about funeral arrangements, but that's it.

FloatingFatMan said,
Pretty sure you wouldn't actually care at the time, as you'd be dead! :p

So say you have a secret life that your family doesn't know about. You wouldn't care about changing your families opinion of you if they found that secret life through your email account? Secret life could mean anything from porn habits, drug use, something illegal...

I mean there are two ways of looking at it. If you have empathy for your family maybe you wouldn't want them to think of you in any bad way. But on the other hand if you look at it like im dead who cares what anyone thinks of me after I am gone. Which is a bit heartless in this situation IMHO.