Digital Inheritance: Heirs' Right to Claim Access to Online Accounts under Estonian Law

Author:Tiina Mikk, Karin Sein
Tiina Mikk Karin Sein
Assistant of Civil Law Professor of Civil Law
Doctoral student University of Tartu
University of Tartu
Digital Inheritance: Heirs’
Right to Claim Access to Online
Accounts under Estonian Law
1. Introduction
We have moved more and more of our lives onto the Internet. Digital services, smart devices, and constant
connection to the Internet are reality and increasingly important both for society and for individuals. This
has brought about the all the more topical issue of digital inheritance
*1: When a member of the digital soci-
ety dies, diverse digital objects are left in addition to various smart devices (such as a mobile phone, car,
and laptop). As only a few countries have regulated this issue by law
*2, the question is whether and how an
heir could claim access to digital assets of the deceased, such as les saved ‘in the cloud’ or e-tickets saved
to an online ticket portal account.
Hardly anyone would challenge inheritance of a car or a house on grounds that there could be letters or
photos in the glove box or the attic that, for reason of personal or intimate content related to the deceased
or his or her communication partners, the heir should not see. Yet many providers of online services, mainly
for these particular reasons, deny heirs access to the e-mail, Facebook account, etc. of the deceased.*3 T he
European legal literature analyses the problems of digital inheritance mainly with regard to the relationship
between inheritance law and protection of personality rights, secrecy of telecommunications, the obligation
of secrecy, and data protection law. On the other hand, the question about access to a person’s digital pos-
sessions is of a practical nature for the heirs: how to use assets in the estate and meet obligations to credi-
tors if the assets are not entirely known and there is no access to them. In Estonia, known as a pioneer of
the digital society, most people could not imagine life without e-services and online invoicing. This article
The research leading to this article was supported by the Estonian Research Council’s Grant PUT PRG .
This expression is used as a collective term for legal questions that arise after the death of a person with regard to his or her
digital assets. See M.-O. Mackenrodt. Digital inheritance in Germany. – Journal of European Consumer and Market Law
(EuCML) /, pp. , on p. .
For instance, in some U.S. states. See H. Ludyga. „Digitales Update“ für das Erbrecht im BGB? – Zeitschrift für Erbrecht
und Vermögensnachfolge (ZEV) /, pp. , on p. .
E.g., the Oath Terms of Service state in clause a that ‘all Oath accounts are non-transferable, and any rights to them terminate
upon the account holder’s death’. Available at (most recently
accessed on ..). In Germany, a landmark ruling was issued by the Federal Court of Justice, the Bundesgerichtshof
(BGH), in a case brought by heirs requesting access to the Facebook account of a minor (the deceased): III ZR /,
BeckRS , , of ... The lower-level rulings were from the Highest State Court of Berlin (Kammergericht
(KG) Berlin) on ..,  U /, BeckRS , , and the Regional Court of Berlin (Landgericht (LG) Berlin)
on ..,  O /, BeckRS , .

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