With the recent passing of a Second Life resident, I have been wondering what happens to an avatar and its possessions when the person who owns it passes away? Apparently, according to the TOS, if you have a will that specifies who should be given possession of your avatar, Linden Labs honors that:
Linden Lab will not unreasonably withhold consent to the transfer of an Account in good standing by operation of valid written will to a single natural person, provided that proper notice and documentation are delivered as requested by Linden Lab.
But who among us has the foresight to make arrangements for the post-mortem dispersement of our virtual possessions, whether it be iTunes music, .Mac file storage, or MySpace log-in? One family sued Yahoo! to get possession of the password to their dead son's email after he was killed in Iraq. The law is still unclear on how to balance a deceased person's right to privacy with a next-of-kin's right to possess the decease's virtual goods.
The possession of a Second Life avatar is particularly sensitive because it is often inextricably tied to the identity of the person who is behind it. I.e. if I were to die tomorrow and someone else were to walk around Second Life "wearing" the avatar Rik Riel, that would be profoundly creepy to most people. Sort of a virtual "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
On top of that, your avatar's inventory might contain a gold mine worth of goods that you might want passed on to your SL partner rather than you RL wife, for example. Maybe you would want them raffled off to noobs at the Shelter. Or cast into a lake of fire on Vampire Island.
For some, keeping their avatar -- a 3D representation of themselves -- alive might be a sort of immortality. If only Walt Disney had known about Second Life, he could continue to rule a global empire of children's entertainment from the virtual world. Now THAT'S a creepy image.
[Zombie avatar image by Vekk Sonic. Purchase it at SL Exchange.]