I promised in my last post to continue visiting some changes to Tennessee law that have become effective this month. One that might be of interest to a lot of folks has to do with social media accounts, but it might surprise you to learn that it actually falls under the area of probate and estate law.
What do social media accounts have to do with probate law, you ask? Many of you may have experienced the unfortunate loss of a loved one or close friend. And in our time, it’s quite likely that the deceased person had one or more social media accounts. Even my 82 year-old mom is on Facebook! But what happens to the social media accounts of a deceased person? It seems that in many instances, the deceased’s loved ones want to keep the account open for a time and have access to post memorials, remembrances and the like, and as a way to keep in touch with others who are also grieving the loss.
Under prior law, a Tennessee law from 2003 called the Tennessee Personal and Commercial Computer Act would have prohibited family, loved ones or even the court-appointed executor of an estate from accessing or continuing to maintain a deceased’s social media accounts. The executor of an estate had no inherent power to keep the social media accounts up and open, and entities like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter could prohibit or limit access upon learning of the death of the owner.
Effective July 1, 2016, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act now allows the executor or administrator of a deceased person to access the content of the deceased’s social media accounts. In addition, guardians and conservators of minor and disabled persons may now also access social media accounts of their ward with a proper court order. In addition, Tennessee’s Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act has been amended to allow persons holding a power of attorney for a living person to have the same access to their social media accounts, provided proper language is used in the Power of Attorney.
These changes represent a big step forward in allowing a person’s social media accounts to be used as a memorial or contact point after their death or disability by someone that the account holder trusted with their affairs. This legislation was proposed last year but did not pass; now it is available to assist families continue their loved ones’ social media accounts for the benefit of those who will miss them.