The New York State Senate today gave final passage to legislation that makes it easier for the family of someone who dies to get access to important online accounts. The bill (S7604A), sponsored by Senator John Bonacic (R-C-I, Mount Hope), removes barriers faced by estates and other legal guardians so that they can gain access and manage digital assets when authorized by the account owners.
Senator Bonacic, Chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said, “I have received phone calls to my office from grieving families all across New York State, who are unable - either through internet service providers or our courts of law - to reach the online presence of their deceased loved ones. From social media to online bank accounts, under current law, families have no means to access online property after death. This legislation assures that our online property is finally treated equally to our physical property. In the digital age we live in, a significant part of our lives exists on the internet, and this legislation will protect that personal property right.”
In the past, when property was mostly in tangible form, there was little doubt of its ownership. When a property owner died or became unable to manage their property, the owner appointed a fiduciary who was authorized to access necessary information, often from a business with a brick and mortar building. Access to online accounts, however, has been more difficult to obtain due to online service agreements designed to protect the privacy of the account holder’s information and federal laws that criminalize or penalize the disclosure of account information to anyone without the user's consent. Without state legislation specifically authorizing account disclosure, many service providers will likely continue to refuse to provide access or release content upon the death or incapacity of a user, hindering the ability of fiduciaries to fulfill their responsibilities and families to close an estate after a loved one’s death.
This measure restores control of digital assets back to the owner and removes the ability of the service provider to deny access to an authorized fiduciary. To protect the privacy of the owner’s digital assets, a procedure would be put in place for the owner to direct both the disclosure or non-disclosure of account information to executors or administrators of a decedent’s estate, guardians of a ward or protected person, agents acting with power of attorney, or trustee estates.
The bill will be sent to the Governor.