TMT analysis: Can a social media account be inherited after the account holder’s death? Roman Brtka, counsel in the intellectual property practice at Bird & Bird, based in Munich, explains a recent privacy ruling in the German Federal Supreme Court regarding rights of heirs to access the Facebook accounts of deceased family members.
What are the practical implications of this case?
The German Federal Court of Justice clarified some unanswered and important legal questions associated with handling digital legacies under German law. In consequence, according to German law, upon the death of a person their social media accounts pass to their heirs.
Although the exclusion of inheritability of membership accounts on social media remains possible, the practical implementation will become significantly more difficult. In any event, such exclusion by means of a pre-formulated provision in the terms and conditions of the social media company is not permissible.
However, if the holder of the social media account provides the social media company with an explicit and informed declaration that they don’t want their social media account to pass to their heirs upon their death, this might be treated differently. In the end, the account holder might have legitimate motives to exclude their heirs from their social media account. It is now up to the social media companies to address this issue in a way acceptable to the German Federal Court of Justice.