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Who can access your online accounts when you die? State lawmakers could set rules

West McGowan

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would decide who can access a person’s online accounts after they die or become incapacitated. A state House panel approved the bills today.

In the case of social media accounts, the rules would kick in if a site does not already address the issue in its terms and conditions. The legislation would allow family members to manage those accounts.  Supporters say families sometimes want to retrieve pictures, create memorial accounts, or delete posts.

“Let’s say I’m a young person that does something – it doesn’t have to be a young person by any means, but that’s just an example – makes some bad decisions, goes off the handle about an emotional situation, and then something tragic happens. And maybe that’s not the most flattering way to be remembered,” said state Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.

The bills would also allow attorneys or trustees to access email and online bank account information to handle an estate. Cotter says it is getting tougher for people to get the information they need to execute a will or trust.

“Now that we’ve made this transition via technology to a lot of online account statements and emailed-only account statements, that’s changed the ability for the executor to be able to access that information and find out what’s out there,” he said.

But Cotter says lawmakers are trying to make sure those people only have access to the information they need.

“Do I need to know that my spouse had a conversation with – fill in the blank? Maybe not, if it’s not pertinent to settling the affairs of the estate.”

Supporters of the legislation hope lawmakers will approve it before the end of the year.