FL bill would allow custodian to access, control online accounts

- A bill in the Florida Legislature attempts to address who gets access to a person's online accounts when they die.

The bill is more a sign of the times. Wills used to lay out who would take ownership of a person's money and belongings. Now, it can outline who has access to passwords and digital assets - essentially, your life online when you're no longer living.

Tweets, posts and pics have no cash value, but FOX 13 wanted to know if Bay area residents thought they were worth considering during the difficult process of end-of-life planning.

"That is just a very strange topic," Kelsey York responded. "I've never really given much thought to it."

"I feel like it would just go away," Marissa Nece said.

The Florida State Legislature is giving it some thought, though. There's a bill making its way through the House and Senate that would allow Floridians to designate an online custodian. The designee would be a caretaker for social media, email, bank and even health care accounts.

"For some people, I would want them to have my bank account, but some people to have my Facebook," York said. "I wouldn't share everything."

"I think I would just prefer that my social media just be deleted completely, not be carried on after," Nece said.

A similar bill was dropped in 2015 because Internet service providers worried it would force them violate privacy agreements with customers. The updated version now requires account owners to sign a document, such as a will or online agreement, making clear who has control of their passwords.

Attorney Joseph Pippen said he saw the need years ago. He updated the wording of his estate planning documents with language like, "...my digital assets shall be distributed as designated in a separate writing on this will."

Pippen explained, "we put language in that organizes for all the passwords to be used by the personal representatives. We even created a little organizer for our clients to make it easy to make a list to leave behind for their personal representative to handle."

Pippen said he was pleased to see the bill moving along, so that a password will be one less worry in an already difficult situation.

"I've had a number of people who died, who did all of their banking online and nobody knows their password to their computer, much less their accounts," Pippen said. "It's very important to give someone the password and the power to use it."

Sites like Facebook already have the option to choose a "legacy contact," defined as someone who can oversee your profile, pin a post to the top, or change your profile picture without being able to post as you or access your messages.

Senate Bill 494 would give custodians full control.

Tuesday, it passed unanimously in the State Senate. A companion bill is now on its way through the Florida House.

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