Privacy and Digital Assests as Property after Family Member's Death


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Details and the news of a family memberís death are usually part of the pronouncements to the public to include the obituary, memorial service and burial. However, other information that should remain private may face scrutiny and go through numerous regulations on what is private and what is no longer kept concealed after the death.

The rights of privacy become complicated once a person dies. His or her digital and physical assets become property. While this could shield an online presence from observers, it does not protect the person or family if the accounts remain open and unguarded. Facebook, email and even YouTube accounts all have content that is available to anyone that browses that person unless access becomes restricted. Similar items such as the house, car and objects in a home may become viewable and researchable if a person has enough time and energy to do so for the single deceased individual.

The Right to Privacy Explained

Through the Fourth Amendment to the Constitutions of the United States, a person has the right to privacy for his or her person, home, documentation and against unreasonable searches and seizures of various items. The only contradiction to this right is if there exists a probably cause that law enforcement should search or seize something of a personís. While the right of privacy extends to family, it does not usually extend to the deceased, as they no longer have any rights. The details of the death become public record, and any paperwork becomes part of the legal realm.

The right to privacy regarding the deceased is a topic that remains unresolved in its entirety. While the manner of an estate, beneficiaries and family matters may remain private, the other details such as the sale or a home or other assets and transfers of ownership in various buildings or companies are usually open to the public. What happens within the associations and relationships between those involved in the deceasedís life may remain private, but many of these individuals are not bound to such restraints. Sharing information with the media may occur without consequences in many situations.

Digital Assets and Physical Property

In the electronic age, may estate owners have digital assets and physical property. This may involve ownership of a company that has an online presence, an ecommerce website or products and services sold online. In addition to this, the estate owner may also have physical property through land, buildings and objects that may include cars and other products. Anyone with knowledge in checking the online presence may determine if the estate owner still holds the website after he or she dies or is sold to someone afterwards. Unless these details were already or become private, anyone with the understanding of where to look is able to garner the specifics.

Property Law in Privacy

It is possible to shield the family or deceased person from the public spotlight through various property laws, but these are only a temporary measure. In regard to accounts, an online presence and digital assets, the deceased may have few safety measures in privacy when the property laws do not encompass these matters fully. Without someone knowing the passwords for online accounts and profiles, it is usually a complicated process to have the websites shut down details and information. While email accounts may not broadcast information to the public, it is not possible to close them without having access or knowing which ones exist. The person that dies may need to leave a list or detail the information to someone else before passing.

When digital assets are property, it is possible to shield interactions from the public once they transfer to another person. However, until that happens, most of these interactions are viewable by those who know how to do so with online and electronic information. Privacy for the deceased is not usually possible unless extraordinary measures occur through the help of a lawyer and quick processes. Sometimes, professional assistance may need to shut down certain open avenues of data such as a social media account.

Legal Help in Privacy for a Deceased Family Member

Through hiring a lawyer, it is possible to shield the family and deceased relative from the public spotlight. However, digital assets may require a transfer before this is even an option. The legal representative may have additional information and methods available to seek this type of privacy when the loved one is no longer alive.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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