If a Business Owner Dies, Who Can Access the Web?
This is increasingly a point of concern, writes Molly Williams at the Wall Street Journal’s Small Business Blog.
Business owners can eliminate the possibility legal chaos on this front by ensuring Web accounts are in their business’ name, rather than their own. Â And it’s probably not a good idea to include Â account numbers and passwords in wills and trusts because those can become public documents.
A few states have passed specific estate laws addressing the issue:
As small businesses move more operations online, there’s an unpleasant question they need to ask: What happens if the one person who has access to the online accounts dies?
It’s an all-too-common situation at small companies. With resources scarce, the firms leave the job of managing online accounts to one personâ€”and just as often, nobody else knows the passwords or other information for those accounts. That can be a recipe for disaster if the account holder passes away, since privacy laws and user agreements make it tough for anybody else to get access, even the next of kin or a business partner.
. . . Some experts advise putting account information in a will or trust as part of the company’s assetsâ€”a move that may afford legal protection in some states. Oklahoma and Idaho, for instance, have passed laws that allow an estate to access social media, blogging and email sites cited in a will. Other states, including Nebraska and Oregon, are working on similar bills. And the Uniform Law Commission, a group of state-appointed legal experts that seeks to create model legislation for states, says it’s currently studying this issue.
Still, some caution is called for. Jean Gordon Carter, an estate attorney and partner at Hunton & Williams LLP in Raleigh, N.C., thinks it’s a bad idea to put account numbers and passwords directly in a will or trust because that can become a public document.