Death Often Brings Disputes Over Online Lives

Legacy Locker's Web site i i

Legacy Locker is a Web site created to enable survivors to obtain online passwords and account information after a relative or friend dies. Courtesy of Legacy Locker hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Legacy Locker
Legacy Locker's Web site

Legacy Locker is a Web site created to enable survivors to obtain online passwords and account information after a relative or friend dies.

Courtesy of Legacy Locker

Read the All Tech Considered blog, where Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman, has more on the digital afterlife.

For many people, keeping the memory of a deceased loved one alive through some form of online memorial is a source of comfort.

But for others, cleaning up online profiles and shutting down e-mail accounts can require some legal wrangling.

"The technology and the business and the social aspects of the Web are far ahead of the law," says John Dozier Jr., whose Glen Allen, Va.-based law firm, Dozier Internet Law, deals with disputes over online properties.

Siblings might disagree over whether to keep a parent's profile online. In one recent case, hackers stole a dead client's domain names before his beneficiaries knew they existed, Dozier says.

These days, more people are thinking about online estate planning the way they might any other material asset. There is even a company, Legacy Locker, that was recently launched to ensure that survivors get access to passwords and account information.

Jeremy Toeman, founder of the company, started it after failing to gain access to his deceased grandmother's Hotmail account. He said he had hoped to e-mail her friends to let them know that she had died.

But few people have taken steps to plan for their digital afterlife. It's not yet common for people to include their online information in their wills, Dozier says. And even if they did, and the properties were legally transferred to the beneficiaries, terms-of-service agreements on sites like Gmail and Facebook typically prohibit the use of an account by anyone other than the original owner, he says.

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