Great question! And a timely one as well.
I was recently interviewed by Susan Shor on this very topic for an article that just appeared at Susan’s excellent article covers a good number of thought-provoking issues that are both theoretical and practical at the same time.
In many cases, the traditional rules and procedures that we use in the paper world will cover what is needed in the digital world, if only we could take a deep breath and not panic and think that “the Internet changes everything and we need different rules because the old rules don’t apply.”
The difficulties come in three ways: (1) the traditional processes may be way too slow, (2) there is not a history and degree of comfort with what happens in the digital world on death that you find in standard “probate” procedures, and (3) non-Internet savvy lawyers, executors and trustees can easily overlook digital “assets” and may have no appreciation of the value of digital and intellectual property assets.
Here’s an example. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson had never published any books, but that all of his writings were on his blog. On his death, what value do you put on the estate tax return for the value of his “blog assets”? Trick question – of course, you want to value them at zero. However, what value will the IRS want to see and what will the IRS agree to accept?
Is your blog simply a hosting contract that should be terminated to as an ongoing liability to be extinguished or is it a potential source of income to look after your survivors?
It’s not so easy, is it? What do you think the lawyer who prepared your will / living trust will say when you ask these questions about your blog, your email and the rest of your digital life and digital assets? What is a reasonable expectation for legal representation in our increasingly digital world?
A little scary, isn’t it?
It’s another example how if you discuss blogging in almost any context, you almost invariably find yourself addressing very fundamental core questions.
Susan quotes me in the article on what, to me, became the most interesting issue raised during our phone call:
“More and more social relationships are people we know on the Internet,” [Kennedy] told TechNewsWorld. “If someone dies, there are a lot of people who should be notified. The fact that someone has died is very meaningful and a paper address book may not have closest friends. Those people who are known mainly through e-mail or online may wonder what happened. By the time things get sorted out, the funeral is long over, and it’s too late.”
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]