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Google is obligated to disclose contacts and calendar information under EPTL 13-A-3.2. Matter of Serrano 2017 NY Slip Op 27200


A New York small estate proceeding is a simplified legal process for handling the assets of a deceased person when their estate is relatively small. It streamlines the probate or administration process, making it quicker and less complex. Typically, it’s available when the total value of the estate is below a certain threshold. This procedure helps heirs and beneficiaries access the deceased person’s assets more efficiently, minimizing the legal requirements and costs associated with a standard probate or administration process for larger estates.

In this small estate proceeding, the petitioner seeks access to his deceased spouse’s Google email, contacts, and calendar information under Article 13 of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA). The request aims to inform friends of the passing and address any pending matters. However, Google insists on a court order ensuring compliance with privacy laws.

Background Facts
The petitioner, acting as a voluntary administrator, cites the newly enacted Article 13-A of the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL), mirroring the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. This law mandates custodians, like Google, to disclose non-content electronic communications of a deceased user to the estate’s personal representative upon specific documentation.

The key issue revolves around the petitioner’s authority to access the decedent’s Google account information, particularly contacts and calendar details. Google requests a court order, questioning the legality of divulging such information without violating privacy laws.

The court finds that the petitioner has the right to request and Google is obligated to disclose contacts and calendar information under EPTL 13-A-3.2. The court issues a certificate affirming the petitioner’s authority as a voluntary administrator to make such requests.

While the court allows disclosure of non-content information, it denies access to the content of email communications unless the voluntary administrator proves it is reasonably necessary for estate administration. The decision clarifies that a user’s electronic calendar is not a communication under the Stored Communications Act, making it accessible.

The Stored Communications Act (SCA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of electronic communications and the stored content of those communications. Enacted as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in 1986, the SCA sets guidelines for how service providers handle and disclose electronic communications. It restricts unauthorized access to or disclosure of the contents of electronic communications, including emails, text messages, and other digital communications stored by service providers.

Under the SCA, service providers are generally prohibited from disclosing the content of electronic communications to third parties without proper authorization. It establishes different standards for accessing stored communication depending on whether it is in transit or held by the service provider. The law aims to safeguard individuals’ privacy in the evolving landscape of electronic communication, recognizing the need for legal protections in the digital age.

In essence, the Stored Communications Act establishes rules to govern how service providers handle and protect the privacy of electronic communications, ensuring that individuals’ digital interactions remain secure and confidential. Any disclosure of such communications without proper authorization is subject to legal restrictions and consequences.

The Stored Communications Act (SCA) can significantly impact estate proceedings by regulating access to and disclosure of electronic communications, including emails and digital records. When someone passes away, their digital footprint, such as emails and online accounts, may contain valuable information relevant to the administration of their estate. The SCA governs how service providers, like email or social media platforms, release this information. Estate administrators seeking access to a deceased person’s digital records must comply with the SCA’s provisions, obtaining proper authorization and following legal procedures. This ensures the protection of the deceased individual’s privacy while allowing for necessary information retrieval. Estate executors may need court orders or legal clearance to access electronic communications, and failure to adhere to the SCA’s guidelines can result in legal consequences.

This court decision establishes the petitioner’s authority to obtain non-content information from the decedent’s Google account. It emphasizes the balance between privacy laws and the estate’s administration needs, setting a precedent for handling digital assets in small estate proceedings.

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