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.
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.
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.