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Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules against Yahoo

Dec 7 | 2017  by

An important issue was addressed in a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in October. The court ruled against Yahoo and in favor of the two representatives of a deceased man’s estate. In 2006, the two personal representatives attempted to recover access to decedent’s email account, only to be denied by Yahoo.

Yahoo contended a 1986 federal law called the Stored Communications Act barred the representatives from gaining access to the email account. Additionally, Yahoo argued the terms of service governing the account separately allowed it to reject their request.

A lower court had previously held that the representatives were rightly barred from gaining access to the account, citing the 1986 Act. However, the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court finding expressed that the Stored Communications Act actually permits the representatives to obtain access to the contents of the account.

The ruling sets an important precedent regarding what happens to an email account after its holder passes away. Members of the Internet Association such as Google and Facebook urged the court to rule in favor of Yahoo to prevent similar situations going forward. Counsel on behalf of the personal representatives noted that this is first State Supreme Court decision that directly addresses this matter. While the ruling acknowledged the representatives right to the email account under the Stored Communications Act, it referred the case back to the probate court to determine whether Yahoo’s service rights separately bar their access.

Do you think the representatives of a deceased individual’s estate should be given access to the decedent’s email account?