Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Michigan Legislature Addresses Digital Estates

It's a start.  The Michigan legislature now has a raft of bills assigned to the all-encompassing Judiciary Committee that would amend our current probate code to provide for handling of a deceased person's so-called digital assets.

Digital assets would include electronically stored photos, Facebook, iTunes, eTrade, data collections of any type, even including a person's email accounts.  If the bills pass, a personal representative could petition a county probate court for assess to these accounts.

Some legal experts, however, see problems with a conflict of laws.  Even if our state probate code, the Estates and Protected Individuals Code, is amended to provide for a personal representative's access to digital assets, federal laws prohibit such access by anyone other than the account holder.

In addition to complications from the federal Stored Communications Act, many of the specific terms-of-service for accounts prohibit access to a particular account by anyone other than the original account holder. There are also concerns arising from user consent to such disclosures in the privacy law context.  So the experts smell complicated litigation arising from the effects of these digital asset bills.

The proposed legislation also contains a provision that allows an interested party to file a petition seeking to limit or eliminate the power of the personal representative over the digital assets.  If the decedent has implicated family members in some of the electronically stored data, the situation is certainly ripe for some digital probate litigation.

So we will site back and see just where this legislation goes.  Stay tuned for future developments.


  1. I never really thought about having a digital estate. I can understand both sides of the argument here. It makes sense for people to want to have the pictures or files of their relative that they don't have physical copies of. I'm going to have to learn more about this because I might need to more know here soon.
    -Seamus | Davis & Mathis, P.C.

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