Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Digital Estate Planning

The May 2013 issue of the Internet Law Researcher newsletter (which is available to members of the Duke Law community through Westlaw's GLILR database) rounds up a bibliography of legislation and articles related to digital asset estate planning. To locate the article in Westlaw Classic or WestlawNext, use the citation 18 No. 5 Internet L. Researcher 1.

Planning for death has always been an uncomfortable and difficult topic for most people, and the growth of social media and other online accounts has added a new layer of complexity to sorting out the affairs of the recently deceased. Author Ken Kozlowski describes the current situation as "a big mess" in which "the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) [is] being cited as a reason for services such as Facebook to withhold access to deceased individuals' accounts, passwords, stored photos, etc." Five states have passed legislation related to control of deceased individuals' online accounts, and undoubtedly more state legislatures will follow suit.

The Internet Law Researcher article recommends a number of publications from legal and mainstream sources, including the recent law review student note by Maria Perrone, What Happens When We Die: Estate Planning of Digital Assets, and the blog Digital Passing. The recommended resources offer tips for developing a plan to handle digital assets after death, and serve as a good supplement to the Goodson Law Library's collection of estate planning guides, most of which do not discuss digital assets in detail.

To locate more basic estate planning materials, try the Legal Information Reference Center's section of Wills & Estate Planning, which contains e-book version of self-help law titles like 2012's Get it Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To and 2011's Quick & Legal Will Book. The Goodson Law Library's collection also contains more specialized materials like Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples or the Bloomberg BNA Tax Management Portfolio Estate Planning for the Unmarried Adult. To locate items in the Duke Libraries Catalog, try a subject search for "estate planning – United States" or Ask a Librarian.