No one would ever expect that anyone could access their voicemails, text messages, and other social media platform accounts after death, but that was never prohibited by law. Virginia’s General Assembly just passed the Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act, the first of its kind passed by any state. The bill “aims to assure that a person’s electronic footprint remains off-limits after death—even to his or her close kin—except under very strictly controlled circumstances.”
A recent poll that was conducted revealed that more than 70% of people felt that their electronic communications should remain private after death unless they gave “prior consent” for others to look at them.
The version of the bill that passed unanimously was a compromised version of the original bills introduced. One thing that remained in the bill is giving executor access to basic information about the deceased person’s online accounts for the 18-month period before death. This “basic” information includes times, dates, and electronic addresses. This provision is important because the executor can then examine the decedent’s emails looking for billing statements and contacting those institutions to settle outstanding accounts. However, the executor cannot look at the contents of these communications without the decedent consenting to the disclosure before death.
This issue and similar bills have been sprouting up in many states within the last year. With Virginia getting their version to pass, it is likely the others will get passed soon.
Although the main purpose of this bill has serious implications for estate issues, it also has ramifications for other areas of the law including wrongful death matters that arise from personal injury or workers’ compensation cases.
If you or someone you love has been killed in a car accident or a work accident in Virginia and would like more information or to talk to one of our attorneys for a free case evaluation, please call us at (855) 954-4141 or visit us online.