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New laws may provide digital closure for loved ones after death

Accessing digital assets of deceased loved on... 01:32

It used to be that when someone died, a loved one would be put in charge of sorting through their personal documents and photographs -- but now, in the digital age, that part of the grieving process is changing.

As one Virginia family found out, loved ones may not be able to access a deceased person's digital information, even if it belonged to a child. After their 15-year-old son took his own life in 2011, the Rash family tried to understand why.

"The law enforcement officer recommended that we get access to his digital accounts, his cell phone, his email and his Facebook account to see if there were any clues," Ricky Rash told CBS News' Paula Reid.

Rash and his wife Diane sent Facebook a letter explaining the situation, along with a copy of Eric's obituary. They were surprised when the company refused to give them access, citing privacy laws.

"What didn't make sense to us as parents was we couldn't access his accounts as adults and he being a minor," he said.

Virginia has since passed a law allowing parents access to digital accounts if their child dies. A group of lawyers is working to expand access nationwide. Attorney David Kauffman worked on the proposed law and says that Eric Rash's grieving father is a powerful advocate for the issue.

"Not a lawyer, no agenda. Just simply that he thinks he wants access to learn about his son's life and wanted other people to have the same access if the situation occurred," Kauffman explained.

Although the Rash family eventually received a CD from Facebook with some information from Eric's profile, they are hoping that each state legislature will consider the proposal.

"Parents have been very surprised that they were not allowed access or that they can be denied access," Rash said.

In states where it becomes law, loved ones will be able to retrieve a deceased relative's digital assets unless the person left a will saying otherwise.

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