Facebook After Death in Wisconsin

Many states have laws that would treat a decedent’s Facebook page (or similar online account) as a digital asset to be controlled by the personal representative of a person’s estate.

In considering those laws, I became curious as to how this issue would be handled right now in Wisconsin.

Although I don’t believe Wisconsin has dealt with this issue specifically, it seems to me that the probate statutes already give the personal representative the power to manage a decedent’s online accounts.  Online accounts are not distinguishable from other “property” as defined by statute, and the personal representative is tasked with collecting, managing and distributing all of the decedent’s estate.  Similarly, even if probate was unnecessary due to the size of the decedent’s estate, a special administrator could be given the same authority.  I think the difficulty will be in dealing with the company that hosts the account.  It also raises the question of whether a digital account of a Wisconsin resident is even Wisconsin property in which the courts would have jurisdiction to deal with.  I imagine the terms of service on these accounts (i.e. that million word thing that nobody reads that you are presented with when you sign up) would give some guidance.

Even though an online account such as a Facebook page probably doesn’t have actual monetary value (except perhaps in the case of a business page) the contents of the account could certainly have emotional value to the decedent’s family similar to a photo album or a diary.  It will be interesting to see how this law shifts in the future, and whether Wisconsin will pass similar laws specifically targeted at online assets.

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