BY O.J. EARLY
When Bill Vradenburgh of the Warrensburg community died in 2012, no one in his family thought much about his online presence.
"It wasn't talked about much at all, that I remember," said Hannah Julian, one of Vradenburgh's 12 children. "I remember going to his page often to see new posts from friends, and it was a comforting thing for me."
Vradenburgh's Facebook profile remains active and serves much like a memorial, with friends and family posting kind words and warm recollections on his Facebook wall.
The western Greene County family never made a formal decision to allow their father's Facebook profile to remain active, but "rather a mutual feeling to let it be," Julian said.
"It has become a loving memorial to his life, and we all love going to it from time to time."
With a growing number of adults using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, family members, politicians and companies are confronting a new question: What happens to someone's digital accounts on those sites after the person's death?
Since 72 percent of adults and 83 percent of teenagers who are active online use social media, the issue is intensifying, the Pew Research Center said in an early-December report. Nearly all adults are online in some form, the center said.
NO UNIFORM LAW
Complicating the issue is the wide range of policies that Internet companies such as Google and Facebook currently have about online management of a person's site or sites after the person dies, according to Pew.
In short, the question of what happens to the online profiles of the deceased is far from settled, Pew reported.
No uniform law exists that addresses digital estate management. Tennessee, like the vast majority of states, has yet to enact laws that specify what happens to the online assets of the deceased.
Only seven states have laws specifying that kind of procedure, and the laws that do exist vary widely, the research center said.
In Connecticut and Rhode Island, for example, only email service providers are mentioned in the law.
MODEL LEGISLATION COMING
The Uniform Law Commission, a group of lawyers that provide states with a variety of model legislation, is at work to develop a nationwide law detailing how online estates are managed post-mortem.
Benjamin Orzeske, legislative counsel with the Uniform Law Commission, confirmed that his organization has written draft legislation that touches many aspects of online management, including a provision for personal representatives of a deceased person's online estate.
The push to enact the law across the country will likely begin in 2015, Orzeske said in an email interview with The Greeneville Sun.
"The draft version of Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADA) has a wider scope than any of the existing state statutes," he said.
"The final act will likely apply to many types of digital assets including not only online financial accounts, but also social media accounts, intellectual property such as blog posts, email accounts, etc."
He added: "At this time, we are not making any effort to enact UFADA in Tennessee or any other state.
"Only after the final act is approved (in July 2014 if all goes as expected) can we begin to introduce UFADA in state legislatures.
"At that time, the delegation of Tennessee's uniform law commissioners will determine whether and when to work for an introduction of UFADA in the Tennessee Legislature."