Social Media and Inheritance Law
The tribunal decision of this week concerns a topic we all know: the use of social media. But what happens to all the contents after a user has died?
For many years has been talked about the inheritance rights of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter after the owner of an online profile passed. The German Federal Court of Justice has now taken an important decision: the Facebook account passes to the heirs with all its functions.
The tribunal decision III ZB 30/20 of the German Federal Court of Justice has been a great step forward in this case of legal uncertainty. Let´s have a look at the situation in detail.
A few years ago, Linda Lindemann’s daughter died under unknown circumstances. The young woman was hit by an underground tram and she died at the scene of the accident. The mother of the victim tried to learn more about the background that brought her daughter to commit suicide and decided to investigate by searching the Facebook account of her. The key of her daughter´s suicide could be hidden in the private Facebook massages but how to read them? Linda suspected bullying as being the main cause of the accident, but Facebook would not allow her to get to the functions of the social media platform of the teenager. The access to her daughter´s messages was forbidden as a Facebook account was considered “only” a Gedenkzustand or in English “a state of remembrance” of the victim and could not be passed to the heirs of the user.
Facebook sent to the mother a USB stick with a 14.000-page PDF file of all user data. But that is not enough for Linda Lindemann. She wants full access to the user account, all functions included.
The Federal Court of Justice has now issued the following judgement:
Facebook must give a user’s heirs access not only to the content but also to the functions of the deceased person´s account. A Facebook account is indeed, a part of the digital heritage of each individual and in this particular case this should be transferred to the mother Linda. It is comparable to diaries and letters and according to the judges, there is no reason to treat digital content differently.
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