Mass. Senate Eyes Law Governing Access To Emails Of The Deceased

Family members and others in charge of the estates of individuals who die in Massachusetts would be allowed to access the email accounts of their late loved ones, under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

Currently, email providers in most states have their own policies governing the release of personal email to family once someone dies. Some refuse to release the emails.

The Senate has placed the bill on its agenda for Wednesday. It would require email providers, like Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail, to give access to emails if authorized family members or representatives provide a court order, or present a notarized request for access accompanied by proof of letters granting them authority over the estate, along with a death certificate.

The legislation (S 2313) amends state probate law by adding to the powers of personal representatives - which includes executors and administrators - giving them authority to seek access to email accounts as part of the their authority in overseeing the estate. Email providers would have 60 days to comply.

If it passes, Massachusetts would become the sixth state to pass a law ensuring family members can see the emails of the deceased, along with Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Idaho.

Sen. Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat, filed the bill after a constituent came to her because his brother had died and the email provider of his brother's personal account refused to give him access. Another case made national headlines when a Marine from Michigan was killed in Iraq and the email provider refused to give his family access to his personal account, according to Creem's legislative staff.

As drafted, the bill's provisions would supersede any of the email provider's contractual terms, conditions or privacy policy to the contrary, but would not override language spelled out in a person's will.

Creem's staff said they have not heard from any email provider companies opposing the idea.

The bill's provisions would only apply to email accounts existing once the law takes effect.

This program aired on June 27, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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