I'm the personal representative and trustee for my brother's estate. He kept a lot of his information online. How do I get access to his email and other online accounts?
As a personal representative or trustee, you are a “fiduciary” for your brother's estate and trust. That job includes searching out information about his assets and debts. Years ago, that meant reviewing the daily mail and rooting around in whatever paperwork the deceased kept. As more and more of our lives are conducted in the digital realm, it is becoming necessary for fiduciaries to examine the digital footprints of the departed. Email content can show vital information about bank or investment accounts, credit cards, and all sorts of links to the online platforms that the decedent was using. It might lead to online storage where the decedent kept vital information like tax returns and other financial records. Engineers, authors and artists might have works of tremendous value stored on Google Drive®. A blog or social media account might still be attracting revenue-producing ads. Someone's iTunes® account might have thousands of dollars' worth of content.
Fiduciaries can access this information through the legal processes set up in a Michigan law known as the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Accounts Act (“RUFADAA”). Michigan adopted this law in 2016 and you can find Michigan's version here. The big takeaway from the law is that the “online tool” appears to be the easiest way to allow access. An online tool is an electronic means of giving directions to the account custodian for what to do concerning access to your account. If you use the digital custodian's online tool, you can give your chosen contact priority status for accessing your account.
Not all digital custodians provide these online tools. If yours doesn't, or if your loved one didn't use it, that's OK. Next best option is that you have a will or trust that explicitly authorizes you to access the deceased person's digital assets, including the contents of electronic communications (email and messages).
Different platforms have different policies, and in absence of an online tool designating you access to the account, you will likely need to get a court order to get at the actual contents of online accounts.
The attorneys at Lex Novus have decades of experience representing fiduciaries. Crush the link to contact us.