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Access to Online Accounts of the Deceased: Assembly Approves [AUDIO]

While many middle-aged and older people set up wills to handle their physical possessions after they pass, most don’t make a plan for their online accounts. Even if they did, some web sites’ complex privacy agreements and terms of service make it difficult to actually complete the process.

Legislation approved by the full New Jersey Assembly on Thursday would allow the executor or administrator of an estate to take control of a person’s online accounts (social media, blogging, e-mail) in the event of their death. Whoever takes over the accounts, whether it be a loved one or paid executor, would have the power to conduct, continue or terminate them.

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“This is a very important piece of legislation for the families and loved ones of those who have passed, to be able to communicate and transfer what is the property of that individual back to the families,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D), a bill sponsor.

Certain possessions that were tangible in the past are only available in a digital format now.

Greenwald explained, “The pictures that would be in the shoeboxes that would be sent home – those are now your Flickr account…Our grandparents would tell us about the letters that they would send home, those are now Facebook accounts.”

“Sites like Facebook and Twitter are essentially an online snapshot of a person’s life,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D), another sponsor of the measure. “Executors should have the power to control these accounts without the burden of navigating complex online hurdles. End of life situations are difficult enough.”

A handful of states already enacted laws governing online accounts of the deceased. In 2005, a Michigan father made headlines when had to go to court in order to gain access to the e-mail account of his son, who was killed while inspecting a roadside bomb in Iraq.

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