Naomi Cahn on the digital afterlife

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April 24, 2012 · 1 comment

Naomi Cahn, John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University, discusses her new paper entitled, “Postmortem Life Online.” Cahn first discusses what could happen to online accounts like Facebook once a person dies. According to Cahn, technology is outpacing the law in this area and it isn’t very clear what can happen to an online presence once the account holder passes away. She discusses the various problems family members face when trying to access a deceased loved one’s account, and also the problems online companies face in trying to balance the deceased’s privacy rights with the need to settle an estate. Cahn claims that terms of service often dictate what will happen to an online account after death, but these terms may not be in line with account holder wishes. She then suggests some steps to take in making sure online accounts are taken care of after death, including taking inventory of all online accounts and determining who should have access to those accounts after death.

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  • NormD

    You dealt primarily with the personal/emotional issues of death, but what about the legal aspects?  If I get bills, statements, contracts emailed to me and my executor has no legal access to my email then can’t this cause serious problems?

    What happens if the email is needed as evidence in a lawsuit and the email owner dies?  Does Yahoo just poof the email anyway?

    Do all cloud-based email/file servers work this way?

    I would guess that people just access the email and not tell Yahoo the person was dead.  But this might cause its own issues.  What happens if an executor runs across personal info that the decendant does not want revealed?

    It sounds an awful lot like keeping paper records is the best advice until email-after-death is sorted out.