I read with great interest a NYT article, “Virtual Estates Lead to Real-World Headaches” that analyzed the death of an online relationship in Second Life. Apparently, a couple married, bought an island and built a house–all on Second Life. Last year, the man died of liver failure.

With the push of a button, the man’s partner lost everything they had together on Second Life: their island, their home and all memories of their relationship. Arguably, since Second Life has a current currency rate of 259 Lindens to $1, the estate had some value and could fall under legal scrutiny. I remember when I first heard of Second Life back in the early 2000s I was ranting at my friends about how this was going to raise all kinds of weird legal issues like virtual property rights, trademark issues and contractual problems. I remember saying, “they are making and selling designer clothes for their avatars, for God’s sake!” They all just rolled their eyes and said, “that whacky Lisa–she’s such a geek.” Well, they were right about the last half of that statement–little did they know how prophetic their words would be. As for the rest, it turns out that I was right, after all. I believe that we are just at the tip of the iceberg that represents all of virtual law. Remember, we are only at web 2.0. There is a long way between 2.0 and web 200.0–heck, even web 2,000.0. Don’t believe me? Take a look at science fiction writer Orson Scott Card’s description of social media that he wrote about in Ender’s Game. He wrote that book before 1985 and it perfectly describes blogging. And we are only barely touching the surface of what the human mind is capable of imagining. Ever watched Ted.com? If you have, you know what I mean. We have only just begun to comprehend the extent of the web’s reach.

My friend Saskia, a professor at University of Houston’s School of Law, turned me on to related article: “What Happens to Your Facebook After You Die?”. Facebook’s answer is to shut down the profiles but to memorialize their wall so that friends and family can pay their respects. But it is causing some backlash because dead people were showing up in their “Recommend a Friend” feature. We–meaning the social media community–are still thinking through the physical, virtual and legal ramifications of the web. We haven’t even begun to comprehend its reach.

What I foresee in the area of estate law, and the NYT article mentions this, is that lawyers will need to begin educating executors on how to manage the deceased’s social media accounts. Will, Estate and Probate forms will need to begin including social media and online passwords to not only Facebook, LinkedIn, Martindale Hubbell and Twitter but also online banking, credit card sites and the like when preparing their documents.

Heck, lawyers might even think about creating online safety deposit boxes to “hold” all these valuable docs.

We just finished celebrating Day of the Dead here in Tejas. Might be a good time to contemplate these more macabre issues. Leave it to a lawyer to ruin the party.