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Estate Planning for E-Mail

With so much of who we are nowadays stored behind passwords online -- e-mail, address books, appointment calendars and financial records -- should our estate plans provide for our passwords? That is the question writer Elinor Mills raises in a CNET article, Taking Passwords to the Grave. She relates the story of William Talcott, a prominent San Francisco poet who died of cancer in June. His daughter, Julie Talcott-Fuller, asked Yahoo! for access to his online address book and e-mail so that she could notify his friends and fans. Yahoo! turned her down, citing privacy laws.

But property, not privacy, is the issue, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, tells Mills:

"The so-called 'Tort of Privacy' expires upon death, but property interests don't. Private e-mails are a new category. It's not immediately clear how to treat them, but it's a form of digital property."

This is why Michael W. Blacksburg, a San Francisco estate-planning lawyer, advises his clients to put all their online passwords in an estate-planning document. In fact, he even asks them what should happen after death to their electronic media, such as music in iTunes and photos in Shutterfly.

At the [non]billable hour, Matt Homann points to this article and asks, "Is anyone doing this?" I would, but I would first have to face a duanting obstacle -- remembering all my passwords.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 27, 2006 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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