State Representative Bob Cupp (R-Allen County) has introduced a bill (House Bill 602) to establish what happens to the digital assets-including Facebook, Twitter, DropBox and similar online accounts- when a person dies. In a world where there are over 1 billion users on Facebook, this has become an increasingly important issue in legislatures around the country.

Current law in Ohio is unclear on what happens to such personal accounts.  According to the Uniform Law Commission, twenty-one states have enacted legislation to clarify their statutes, and an additional twelve states, now including Ohio, have introduced bills on the topic.

“Digital assets” is a fairly new term. It was coined to refer to non-traditional property rights such as social media profiles (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), electronic files, online-only bank accounts or any other type of “digital” property. At a time when digital assets have become as numerous as tangible assets, such as cars, appliances, and furniture, the important question is, “Who has access to a deceased or incapacitated individual’s digital property?” Current Ohio law does not expressly answer this question, which is a serious omission in the “online age.”

The bill is designed to give Ohioans the ability to maintain control of their digital assets and to enable better communication between internet service providers, their subscribers, and the subscribers’ next of kin. The bill would provide estate fiduciaries (executors, administrators, and surviving spouses) authority to access these digital assets in the same way they have access to tangible property, unless the deceased person has otherwise provided.  Additionally, the bill gives internet service providers needed authority to work with the fiduciaries of their customers to achieve these goals. 

“In today’s world when many Ohioans post photos, comments, and personal communications online, it is important to ensure that our laws provide for after-death access to these treasures or otherwise fulfill the maker’s wishes,” Rep. Cupp said. “I am pleased to sponsor this legislation, in coordination with the Ohio State Bar Association, to ensure a person’s online assets are properly handled after a person’s death.”

The bill was introduced this week and is companion legislation to a bill in the Ohio Senate.

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