Pennsylvanians can now easily transfer electronic property by will or trust
Years of effort to provide a legal mechanism for Pennsylvanians to transfer digital property such as photos, books, music and online banking and investment accounts upon their death culminated in Gov. Tom Wolf’s approval today of Senate Bill 320, now Act 72 of 2020, authored by Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware).
“My legislation aligns Pennsylvania’s laws with 21st century realities,” said Killion. “Such a substantial part of our lives exists in the digital world. Accessing the digital assets of a loved one after their passing shouldn’t be concern of families as they grieve.”
Act 72 allows decedents to transfer music, books, videos, photos and documents stored by tech giants such as Apple and Google to beneficiaries by providing instructions in a will, trust, or power-of-attorney.
Currently, rules regarding the disposition of digital assets are dictated by the Terms-of-Service set by digital platforms. When an account holder dies or otherwise loses the ability to manage their own digital assets, family or an estate executor can often be stymied in their efforts to gain access to the online accounts of the deceased.
Iterations of Act 72 were introduced in prior legislative sessions but failed to gain traction. Recognizing the need to update state law, Killion brought together a broad group of stakeholders, including Amazon, Apple, Google, the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Uniform Law Commission to help craft the legislation.
With Act 72, Pennsylvania becomes the forty-eighth state to provide beneficiaries the means to access decedents’ digital assets. Statewide and local experts hailed the new law.
“More and more of life is lived and stored in the digital world,” said David E. Schwager, President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. “This new law will help fiduciaries – those who act on behalf of another person – have workable rules regarding the treatment of digital assets. We are grateful to Sen. Killion for his leadership on this issue.”
“As an estate and elder law attorney for over twenty years I have many times witnessed families grapple with their emotional pain while trying to handle the business of death,” said attorney Elizabeth T. Stefanide, co-chair of the Delaware County Bar Association Elder Law Committee.
“Trying to gain access to the digital property of a deceased loved one is incredibly frustrating and at times heartbreaking. Sen. Killion’s legislation provides these families with a clear, common sense avenue which allows them to easily transfer digital assets after death,” said Stefanide.
“I’m happy to see the Commonwealth updating our laws so that our residents can benefit from these additional assets when estates are being settled,” said Sam Cortes, President of the Chester County Bar Association. “We are grateful to Senator Killion for leading this effort to bring Pennsylvania law into line with the majority of the rest of the country.”
“Act 72 strikes the right balance between protecting the privacy of a decedent’s digital assets while also allowing their personal representative to access a catalogue of those assets that might be subject to probate,” said Duncan Campbell, president and CEO of PA Bankers Association.
“I’m grateful to the stakeholders and my legislative colleagues for their support of this important bill,” said Killion. “Act 72 will simplify the already difficult process of managing the affairs related to the passing of a loved one.
“Personally, the countless digital pictures of my wife, daughters and grandkids are among my most cherished possessions. I can’t imagine my family not being able to gain access to them simply because our estate laws haven’t kept pace with technology.”
Contact: John Kelemen