The Uniform Law Commission made a monumental decision this week. It released information to the general public letting everyone know it exists and what it does. No, we’re just kidding! That’s not it. We still have no idea who belongs to this group and what they actually do. But very recently we read that the Uniform Law Commission (ULC to its closest friends) has published legal guidelines for what to do with all of your electronic accounts once you are no longer you. All that has to happen now for this to become law and close a gap that has been widening like a pothole on the information highway is for every state legislature to adopt it as law.
Apparently people have actually sued on-line providers for access to accounts held by deceased relatives. On-line files at e-mail, file storage, and social media sites are being compared to records kept in vaults, safes, and shoeboxes from another era. Banking, insurance, and ownership records are just some of the items kept in today’s on-line shoeboxes. These are things that would be of much interest to the executor of an estate and importance to the estate.
The way the proposed law addresses the release of information is that a designated person, presumably the executor, would be able to access the files but not act on the files. He or she could read the posts on a social media site but could not post to the site, could read the files at a cloud storage site but could not copy the files from that site, could read e-mails but not send e-mails from that account. Does that help? We’re not sure. It seems that still leaves a lot of room for someone to commit identity theft. That room might be made smaller if the law gave the designee the power of action. We may not want someone to read every e-mail we’ve ever saved over years (nor may they want to) but we certainly want someone to purge our banking information before the bad guys get to it and clean out our accounts.
In the spirit of excess, people are already reading more than the practical applications into the proposed rules. In reporting on the ULC’s actions, the Associated Press said “Imagine the trove of digital files…and what those files might fetch on an auction block.” Now the AP was specifically referring to Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan and their electronic writings which would fetch an attractive sum at auction. They might fetch even more than The Real Reality Show Blog posts will. (Don’t you just love the use of “fetch” regarding high prices returned of sold items? Come on fella, go fetch those millions of dollars! But we digress.)
Do we need a law to make this happen? Not really. Just like you can put into your will who gets access to your safe deposit box, you can put into your will who gets access to your electronic storage areas. It might sound funny today but in a few years it could be routine to read at the opening of a will, “And I release all my Instagram pictures to my friend John Doe,” or more likely, “And I allow full access to and disposition of accounts held at the First National Bank on-line banking service by the Executor by way of the user name and password found in the addendum to this will.”
Of course, Aunt Shirley will get control of all the posts to this blog and whatever they fetch at auction or the garage sale, whichever is greater.
Now that’s what we think. Really. How ‘bout you.