Has anyone ever received an unexpected inheritance?

Everything used to be quite simple: If someone died in the family environment, then you automatically inherited the diaries and letters of your loved one and nobody would have ever questioned that. Today, after death, people mainly leave digital traces behind: e-mails, Facebook and Instagram profiles. And the question arises: Do the heirs also have a right to this - to the digital legacy of their testators? Yes, thinks the Federal Court of Justice (BGH). In his latest decision, he obliges the social network Facebook to grant the parents of a dead girl unrestricted access to her account. "It is a decision that is relevant for thousands of people, because it deals with the question of how I, as the heir, can later access the testator's documents," says media lawyer Christlieb Klages.

Klages represented the parents of the 15-year-old girl who was hit by a train in Berlin in December 2012 and died shortly afterwards in hospital. The agonizing question of whether it was an accident or a suicide did not let go of the parents: They demanded access to the blocked Facebook account of the deceased daughter, complained and were right. As early as 2015, the Berlin Regional Court obliged Facebook to give parents access to the user account. Instead, Facebook's parents received a USB stick with a PDF file in which selected copies of the Facebook profile were saved.

Parents looked for clues about the suicide

"That was a 14,000-page PDF file that was confusing and unstructured, interspersed with programming terminology," says Klages, who also speaks of a "second-hand file" in this context, "because not the full account handed over to the parents, but a preselection was made. " At that time, the account itself was put into a so-called "memorial state" and was therefore blocked for access by third parties.

Facebook was of the opinion that it had sufficiently fulfilled its obligation with the PDF file. However, the parents disagreed and turned to the court again: They requested direct access to the profile in order to find possible indications of a suicide. "You have to imagine it like a jewelry box. It is not the same if someone says to you: 'Take a look yourself - on the first and second floors', or if someone comes to you and says:' Look, me I found 14.80 euros in the jewelry box here, but you are not allowed to look inside, '"says Klages.

The argument from Facebook at the time that it wanted to protect the girl's account from being used by her parents is what Klages regards as "unworldly, because nobody wants it to be used." In fact, the “active use” of the profile is expressly prohibited in the judgment of the BGH.

Editor's note: We have chosen not to report suicides, unless the circumstances give them special attention. The reason for our reluctance is the high number of copycats after every report on suicides. If you feel affected yourself, please contact the counseling service immediately on the free hotline 0800-1110111 or 0800-1110222. There you will receive help from advisors who have already been able to point out ways out of difficult situations in many cases.