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Legislation grants access to online accounts after a death

Delaware has become the first state to grant an executor (called a personal representative in Colorado) complete access to digital assets. These include email, online photos and documents in a Shutterfly, dropbox or other cloud storage account and social media accounts.

The Uniform Law Commission drafted the model legislation titled the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act to treat online accounts similar to traditional paper files. This streamlines the estate administration process by eliminating the need for a court order to access online accounts.

Other states including Colorado may now move to use the model legislation to address the issue. Until Colorado adopts a similar law, our recent blog on May 18 discusses other options for protecting digital assets in an estate plan.

Duties of a personal representative

Digital accounts may be one of your last considerations when appointed a personal representative by a loved one. The Colorado Bar Association provides some general information describing the duties of a personal representative.

When a will names you as a personal representative, you can carry out written wishes even before a formal court appointment. This allows you to make funeral and burial arrangements. You should also protect assets, but do not start the process of distributing any of them before opening the estate.

In general, administration of an estate includes:

  • Locating and inventorying all assets
  • Managing those assets during probate
  • Paying estate bills, including filing a tax return along with paying any taxes
  • Distributing assets in accordance with the will
  • Closing the estate

The amount of time that this takes varies on the complexity of the estate. Seek legal advice and assistance from an experienced estate law attorney to avoid mistakes and complete the process in a timely manner.

Source: ABA Journal, "Delaware leads the way in adopting legislation allowing estate executors access to online accounts," Leslie A. Gordon, July 1, 2015

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