The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


March 1, 2013

In death, Facebook photos could fade away forever


The pending Oregon legislation now covers only digital assets of commercial or financial value such as online banking information.

"It's absolutely devastating," Williams said.

Since she began her quiet crusade after her 2007 court victory yielded limited, temporary access to her son's account, the social media landscape has changed considerably, but there is still no industry standard. Where Facebook once deleted the accounts of deceased users, for example, pages can now be memorialized for public view.

Many predict the problem will grow as long as there are no estate laws in place to determine what happens to virtual property left behind by the deceased.

Without a clear law, estate managers can be charged with cybercrimes for attempting to access clients' digital accounts, said Victoria Blachly, a Portland attorney who helped draft the initial Oregon proposal.

Estate planning attorney James Lamm writes about the issue on his blog "Digital Passing." He advises clients to include explicit instructions in their wills stating exactly how digital assets should be handled — even if there is no guarantee those wishes will be carried out.

"It's good to come up with a thoughtful plan for what happens to all of your property," he said. "Your physical properties, and your digital properties."

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