The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards a more digitally-enabled world. In this digital world, the meaning of property and assets has changed.
Until recently, there was no formal recognition of these assets as an individual’s property. This posed several challenges as to how these assets can be transitioned or passed on post death.
Most digital accounts do not permit a transfer of ownership. So, your family could potentially be found guilty of breaking the law, even though the details may have been given to them legally.
Most state laws and directives that govern personal property and assets were enacted before email and social media and do not account for digital property. There was hence a need for a new set of legally acceptable guidelines.
RUFADAA for Digital Assets:
Status: This law was repealed on May 1, 2007, but later passed in the House and has been effective since July 27, 2019.
Description: Executors may access email accounts. The state may require a death certificate and documentation of the executor’s appointment before the estate’s representative can see the deceased person’s emails or social networking accounts.
New Proposed Legislation: On April 29, 2016, HB 8125 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act was introduced, which appears to amend or replace their current Access to Decedents’ Electronic Mail Accounts Act. It is currently being held for further study.
The Uniform Law Commission created the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) in 2015, which received widespread support.
Rhode Island passed the revised RUFADAA bill to smoothen the process for executors or attorneys to disclose the digital asset to its authorized recipients or fiduciaries under a legal framework, as directed by the user digital estate plan or will. This bill enables the user to manage digital assets along with their physical properties. It clearly specifies the authority of users in managing digital assets.
What makes RUFADAA different is that for the first time, property law recognizes the existence of digital property as a property right that can be managed, conserved, and, in certain instances, accessed by third parties, in much the same manner as other rights in real and tangible personal property.
The most useful aspect of RUFADAA is that it gives clear instructions for how a person’s digital assets are to be treated should a fiduciary seek access, which may include not only executors after death, but trustees, court-appointed guardians, and attorneys-in-fact.
The starting point is that online service providers can create an “online tool” that functions as a form of “digital power of attorney” to specify who has control and access to that specific site.
RUFADAA provides a clear legal framework for digital asset rights to be specified in traditional legal documents (e.g., Wills and powers of attorney). And clarifies that it’s only in the absence of an online tool, or any legal documents, that finally, the service provider’s own Terms of Service will control.