Delaware bill grants survivors access to digital assets

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Delaware families now have the right to access the digital assets of their deceased relatives.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 35, which allows families to handle online assets the way they would any physical documents. The move makes Delaware the first state to deal with a decedent’s digital assets, which includes email, cloud storage, social media accounts, health records and other online databases,

State Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, sponsored the bill after learning that Delaware attorneys and families encountered many challenges when attempting to retrieve online accounts and other assets that they are legally allowed to access.

“This problem is an example of something we see all the time in our high-tech age, ” Scott said. “Our laws simply haven’t kept up with advancements in technology.”

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Scott was prompted to draft the bill after one of his constituents was denied access to an email account held by late husband, even though a legal will named the wife as the estate’s executor. In fact, the provider deleted the deceased’s account, preventing the surviving wife from viewing any online business or content.

“By signing this bill into law, we’re helping to protect the rights and interests of the average person in the face of a rapidly evolving digital world,” said Scott, who worked on the bill with attorneys from the Estates and Trusts Section of the Delaware State Bar Association and the Uniform Law Commission, an national organization that researches, drafts and promotes uniform state laws, according to the ULC’s website.

House Bill 35 also allows family members to access online assets of relatives that may become incapacitated. As a result, companies must provide usernames, login and password information unless the user requests that his or her account not be accessed in the event of death or incapacitation.

In July, the Uniform Law Commission voted to endorse legislation similar to House Bill 35 and will present the model to state lawmakers across the country for consideration.

“As we conduct more of our professional and personal business online, we must also change our laws to match the reality of how people live in the 21st Century,” Markell said. “This legislation will help our laws keep pace with changing technology and forms of communication.”

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