Weinstein Bill Would Allow For Digital Inheritance

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While you may not be able to will Twitter followers and Facebook friends to your next of kin, a new measure that Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (Flatlands, Sheepshead Bay, East Flatbush) sponsored and that Gov. Andrew Cuom0 signed last week will allow people to include many forms of digital assets along with bank accounts, furniture and other tangible property as part of their will.

The measure covers a wide use of digital assets, such as electronic documents, photographs, email, and social media accounts and addresses the administration of these assets upon the death or incapacity of the user.

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein

“The law enacted today provides legal authority for fiduciaries to manage digital assets in accordance with the user’s estate plan, while protecting a user’s private communications from unwarranted disclosure, “ said Weinstein, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Weinstein said the law comes from growing concerns around the country about the transfer of digital assets that are not incorporated into an estate plan along with tangible assets. A decedent’s family or loved ones may never be able access digital assets such as online-banking and brokerage accounts or preserve family pictures stored on social media. In addition, fiduciaries are often prevented from accessing digital assets by password protection or restrictive terms of service, she said.

Weinstein noted that technically it’s against Federal law to go into someone’s email account to get phone numbers and pictures even if the person who own the account gave the person tapping into it their password and user name.

“So this bill is a default provision and hopefully a educational wakeup call to people that have a lot of digital accounts and who now can make a will with specific authorizations to different people. It will allow the executor of an estate to go to Google or Yahoo and get authorizations to the deceased person’s passwords,” she said.

The measure would also allow access to the growing number of online bank accounts and other financial assets as well as online bills. For example there have been cases where somebody inherited a house, and the electricity was suddenly turned off because the deceased person paid their electric bill on line, and the person that inherited the house wasn’t allowed access to the account, Weinstein said.

Weinstein said she worked on the bill with various stake holders including the Office of Court Administration, the Uniform Law Commissioners, the New York State Bar Association, internet service providers, civil libertarians and others to arrive at the exact wording of the measure.

Weinstein said she wasn’t sure if you could will Twitter followers to your next of kin as it involves public settings, but noted that Facebook has both public and private settings where personal information is stored  and that is what loved ones written into the will can gain access.

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