VA bill grants parents access to accounts of deceased children

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - One family's fight breaks new legal ground in Virginia and gives parents the right to see inside a child's online world.

Images capture some of the happy moments for 15-year-old Eric Rash of Nottoway County. That happiness was cut short just weeks shy of his 16th birthday. He committed suicide in 2011. His family went looking for answers on his Facebook page but were denied access. They had no legal rights to his online life.

Eric's family refused to accept the "no" response from Facebook. They turned to state lawmakers for help. It wasn't easy, but after some hurdles, House Bill 1752 was passed. It gives parents easier access to online accounts in the event of death.

Delegate Tommy Wright was touched by the Rash family's story and helped to introduce the bill. "This only deals with information that is available after the death of the minor, and you can imagine the questions of parents and what goes through their minds after they have this type of event happen," he tells us.

The law makes it easier for parents or guardians to gain access to an online account if a child dies. They must provide a written request and a copy of a death certificate. The company then has 60 days to comply. "Hopefully, this will create a starting point and a spring board for other states to be able to come up with similar legislation and eventually be able to have a nationwide bill that will take care of this issue," Wright says.

In this day and age, your "Digital Estate" is just as important as property and cash. Experts say to have backup files, and designate someone in the family to deal with online accounts and shared passwords. Ronald Wyatt with the Geek Squad says it worked for one of his family members. "It was pretty easy to do, he just contacted the actual social media site, 'hey, this person is no longer here.' They just had him verify a couple of questions, he knew the answers and he actually closed it right out," Wyatt explains.

Many major online sites have polices to deal with accounts in the event of death, check with your provider for details. Delegate Wright wants to see a federal law similar to Virginia's. "That is going to have to happen. It will take place and hopefully the fact that we got this narrow legislation passed, that will help speed along the process," Wright says.

The Rash family won their fight and gained access to information from Eric's Facebook page. They never found anything out of the ordinary. Their grief is something they wish on no family. They hope Eric's story makes it possible for less roadblocks for any family wanting to gain access to their child's digital life in the event of death.

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