Pardalis & Nohavicka Internet Privacy Update: Personal Digital Data Post Death
Google, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, personal e-mail accounts –what happens to those rich caches of information if you die or become incapacitated?
Here is what happened recently in a Manhattan case.
The husband wanted to gain access to his deceased spouse's Google email, contacts and calendar information in order to be able to inform friends of his passing and close any unfinished business. After contacting Google directly, Google requested a court order specifying that disclosure of the content of the requested electronic information would not violate any applicable laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and any state equivalent.
So the husband filed a petition in Surrogate’s Court and attached a copy of the email from Google. Here is what the court did: Google was directed to disclose to the husband, a catalogue of electronic communications (BUT NOT THE CONTENT) after receiving from the husband the following: 1) a written request for disclosure, 2) a copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse; and, 3) a certified copy of the letter of appointment as fiduciary or a small-estate certificate.
The husband was NOT permitted to request the email content until an application was submitted by him explaining how disclosure of that electronic information was reasonably necessary for the administration of the estate.
Matter of Serrano (Decided on June 14, 2017)