Digital estate planning is popping up in the news more and more as people are trying to figure out how to deal with digital assets of loved ones who have already passed. Gaining access to one's email and social media accounts after they die can be very difficult. It can be even more difficult for heirs to gain access to online financial accounts. For this reason, attorneys always stress that you should plan ahead and make sure you have come up with a good way for someone you trust to access any accounts you have.
Recently on PBS News Hour, another potential problem with access to digital accounts was raised in a segment titled “Dead and Online: What Happens to Your Digital Estate When You Die?” One of the interviewees points out that a family member attempting to gain access to your accounts after you pass away could be in violation of federal privacy laws and computer fraud and abuse laws. It could also be a criminal violation to break the terms of service of the website your family member is trying to gain access to in some circumstances.
As unlikely as it is, a family member trying to gain access to a deceased's accounts may be criminally charged. It is not a good idea to leave it up to chance. You would not want to actually encourage your family to break the law. This is just another reason that you need to plan ahead and come up with a way that someone can access your online accounts after you pass away.
Reference: PBS News Hour (July 12, 2014) “Dead and Online: What Happens to Your Digital Estate When You Die?”