Re: So I Died

If you just can’t live without e-mail, consider this: What happens to your e-mails when you die? Estate planners are increasingly advising clients to include online passwords in wills. That’s because, when no provisions are made, Internet service providers routinely deny family members access to e-mail and other digital property. These disputes are starting to ...

If you just can't live without e-mail, consider this: What happens to your e-mails when you die? Estate planners are increasingly advising clients to include online passwords in wills. That's because, when no provisions are made, Internet service providers routinely deny family members access to e-mail and other digital property.

These disputes are starting to land in the courts. In 2005, a Michigan judge ordered Yahoo! to release the e-mails of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq to his family after they filed suit. Chris Sprigman, a University of Virginia law professor, says that's just the beginning. "There will be a flood of these cases cropping up," he says.

The newfound demand for e-mail ownership is spawning a cottage industry catering to people who want to make arrangements for their virtual lives before their real ones come to an end. Web sites such as mylastemail.com and postexpression.com charge subscribers up to $25 a year for a service that allows them to compose a final e-mail to friends and family to be sent after they pass away. The text of the e-mail can also contain passwords to digital accounts.

If you just can’t live without e-mail, consider this: What happens to your e-mails when you die? Estate planners are increasingly advising clients to include online passwords in wills. That’s because, when no provisions are made, Internet service providers routinely deny family members access to e-mail and other digital property.

These disputes are starting to land in the courts. In 2005, a Michigan judge ordered Yahoo! to release the e-mails of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq to his family after they filed suit. Chris Sprigman, a University of Virginia law professor, says that’s just the beginning. "There will be a flood of these cases cropping up," he says.

The newfound demand for e-mail ownership is spawning a cottage industry catering to people who want to make arrangements for their virtual lives before their real ones come to an end. Web sites such as mylastemail.com and postexpression.com charge subscribers up to $25 a year for a service that allows them to compose a final e-mail to friends and family to be sent after they pass away. The text of the e-mail can also contain passwords to digital accounts.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says, "Lawyers are already encouraging their clients to think about the issue of who has access to a computer or e-mail if they die." With so much of people’s lives and property concentrated online, we may soon reach a time when an heir unseals a will only to find that — ding! — they’ve got mail.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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