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McHugh & Macri
Certified Elder Law Attorneys Serving New Jersey Residents since 1978.
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Email account access after death

NAELA National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. MEMBER

Most New Jersey residents read and send emails without much thought about what would happen to their email in the event of their incapacitation or death. As people use email increasingly to correspond with others and to perform financial tasks, access to information stored in an email account may be necessary for friends or relatives who are empowered to manage affairs in those instances.

One legal expert is advising that having email access be a part of estate planning. If survivors are trusted and cooperate, simply sharing a password or figuring out a simple password may suffice and provide access. If there is information in an email account that is highly personal or involves access to financial accounts, naming an individual in a power of attorney may be an option to consider. Google is at the forefront of this issue, allowing users to name an 'inactive account manager" who could gain access to the account if needed.

For the past seven years, two Massachusetts siblings have been engaged in a legal battle with Yahoo! over access to a deceased brother's email account. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals rejected the family's appeal based on the user contract with Yahoo!, but the court did send the case back to family court to determine whether the federal Stored Communications Act prohibits Yahoo! from allowing heirs access to a deceased person's account .

The computer age has brought with it unexplored territory relating to digital assets, their ownership and access to them. Deciding who may able to read private emails or manage financial affairs digitally in the event of illness or death is increasingly part of estate planning along with the creation of wills, powers of attorney, trusts, and other asset preservation and management tools.

Source: Forbes, "When Heirs Must Battle For Access To E-mail Accounts", Deborah L. Jacobs, December 11, 2013

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