May 28, 2023

Novelties: Estate Planning Is Important for Your Online Assets, Too

But you may want to provide for your virtual goods, too. Who gets the photographs and the e-mail stored online, the contents of a Facebook account, or that digital sword won in an online game?

These things can be important to the people you leave behind.

“Digital assets have value, sometimes sentimental, and sometimes commercial, just like a boxful of jewelry,” said John M. Riccione, a lawyer at Aronberg Goldgehn Davis Garmisa in Chicago. “There can be painful legal and emotional issues for relatives unless you decide how to handle your electronic possessions in your estate planning.”

Many services and programs have sprung up to help people prepare for what happens after their last login.

Google has a program called Inactive Account Manager, introduced in April, that lets those who use Google services decide exactly how they want to deal with the data they’ve stored online with the company — from Gmail and Picasa photo albums to publicly shared data like YouTube videos and blogs.

The process is straightforward. First go to Then look for “account management” and then “control what happens to your account when you stop using Google.” Click on “Learn more and go to setup.” Then let Google know the people you want to be notified when the company deactivates the account; you’re allowed up to 10 names. You choose when you want Google to end your account — for example, after three, six or nine months of electronic silence (or even 12 months, if you’ve decided to take a yearlong trip down the Amazon).

Google has ways to make sure that your electronic pulse has really gone silent; it checks for traces of your online self, for example, by way of Android check-ins, Gmail activity and Web history. Then, a month before it pulls the plug, Google alerts you by text and e-mail, just in case you’re still there. If silence has indeed fallen, Google notifies your beneficiaries and provides links they can follow to download the photographs, videos, documents or other data left to them, said Nadja Blagojevic, a Google manager.

And if you just want to say goodbye to everything, with no bequests, you can instruct Google to delete all of the information in your account.

Naomi R. Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School in Washington, says Google’s new program is a step forward in digital estate planning. “People should carefully consider the fate of their online presences once they are no longer able to manage them,” she said.

Other companies may also be of help in planning your digital legacy. Many services offer online safe deposit boxes, for example, where you can stow away the passwords to e-mail accounts and other data. Accounts like this at SecureSafe, are free for up to 50 passwords, 10 megabytes of storage and one beneficiary, said Andreas Jacob, a co-founder. Accounts can be accessed from a browser, or from free iPhone, iPad and Android apps. The company also offers premium services for those who need a larger storage space, more passwords or more beneficiaries.

There is always your sock drawer or another physical repository to store a list of your user ID’s, should you be deterred from online lockboxes by fear of cyberattacks or the risk that computer servers that may not be there in a few decades, said Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle.

“Make a private list of all your user names and passwords for all the accounts in which you have a digital presence, and make sure you update the list if you change login information” Ms. Gerson said. “Don’t put user names and passwords in your will, though, as it becomes a public record when you die.”

Make sure that your executor or personal representative understands the importance of preserving these digital assets, and knows how to find them, said Laura Hoexter, a lawyer at Helsell who also works on inheritance issues. “Preferably the person should be tech-savvy,” she said, and know about your online game accounts, your PayPal account, your online presence on photo storage sites, social media accounts and blogs, and even your online shopping accounts where your credit card information is stored so that the information can be deleted.

AFTER you die, an executor or agent can contact Facebook and other social media sites, establish his or her authority to administer the estate, and request the contents of the account.

“Most accounts won’t give you the user name and password, but they will release the contents of the account such as photographs and posts” to an executor, Ms. Hoexter said.

Transfer at death can depend on the company’s terms of service, copyright law and whether the file is encrypted in ways that limit the ability to freely copy and transfer it. Rights to digital contents bought on Google Play, for example, end upon the person’s death. “There is currently no way of assigning them to others after the user’s death,” Ms. Blagojevic said.

Encryption is a common constraint, but there are exceptions. Apple’s iTunes store, for example, has long removed its anti-copying restrictions on the songs sold there, and Ms. Gerson advises people to take advantage of this in their digital planning. “Get your music backed up on your computer,” she said.

Up to five computers can be authorized to play purchases made with one iTunes account, and a company support representative advises that users make sure that their heirs have access. At Kindle, too, family members with user ID information for the account can access the digital content.

Professor Cahn in Washington says the time to prepare for the digital hereafter is now, particularly if serious illness is a factor. “If someone is terminally ill,” she said, “in addition to getting emotional and financial issues in order, you need to get your Internet house in order.”


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Critic’s Notebook: Star Wars: The Old Republic vs. World of Warcraft Online

Over the last decade no video game has engaged a broader global community than World of Warcraft. The first online game to enjoy planetwide popularity, World of Warcraft had more than 12 million paid subscribers last fall. Yet it has lost around two million players over the past year, and now the original evil empire is at the door.

On Tuesday, Electronic Arts will release Star Wars: The Old Republic, a sprawling multiplayer online adventure that is the first legitimate competition that World of Warcraft has faced for the hearts, minds, hours and dollars of millions of players. “Star Wars” games have been around for decades, but the Old Republic provides the most extensive opportunity to become your own Jedi warrior, Sith assassin, snarky smuggler or powerful sage.

A lot of attention has been paid this holiday season to the competition between the year’s two big combat games: Battlefield 3, also from Electronic Arts, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 from Activision Blizzard, which also produces World of Warcraft. The attention is warranted because top shooter games are largely played on living-room consoles and sell millions of copies in just a few weeks.

But an online downloadable computer game like World of Warcraft or the Old Republic entices players to commit their time and emotion to a virtual character over years and generally to pay around $15 a month for the privilege. Most important, these persistent games populated by thousands of simultaneous players — they are called massively multiplayer online games — generate real-life relationships and communities.

And so over the next few years the competition between World of Warcraft and the Old Republic may have much more far-reaching consequences, both for players and the companies behind them, than any shooter showdown.

In the last couple of months I have spent at least 125 hours in beta tests for the Old Republic and have played another 30 hours or so since last week, when the retail servers opened to people who ordered the game months ago. You don’t play a game that much (or at least I don’t) unless you’re enjoying yourself. I’m in a guild of cool people, and my Sith sorcerer is uncovering more mysteries of the dark side every day.

I’ve also returned to World of Warcraft, the siren of my youth (or at least five years ago), which I hadn’t played seriously since early 2007. I was inspired to jump back in after visiting the BlizzCon convention in October. I have been playing World of Warcraft 20 to 30 hours a week since then, have reconnected with online buddies and have had a great time.

Having steeped myself in both games recently, I can say that any notion that the Old Republic will be a WOW killer is absurd. World of Warcraft boasts a variety, breadth and level of handcrafted content that no other game is close to matching. That said, the Old Republic is by far the best, most exciting online game since the original World of Warcraft. It should be a Star Wars fan’s dream and deserves to attract in excess of two million paying players in the three languages — English, French and German — available at release.

Blizzard Entertainment, which makes World of Warcraft, and BioWare, the Electronic Arts division that makes the Old Republic, enjoy deep respect and adoration among millions of players. Blizzard was a pioneer of Internet gaming; its central franchises (Diablo, Warcraft and StarCraft) are built around the online experience of playing in a community.

BioWare, by contrast, has been known for single-player entertainment. In its greatest efforts, like Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic (an earlier “Star Wars” title), Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect, the focus outside combat is on storytelling and characterization. BioWare, along with Rockstar (makers of Grand Theft Auto), has been a leader in driving extensive, believable voice acting into games.

The Old Republic moves beyond World of Warcraft by including full voice-over for every computer-controlled character. Almost none of the characters in Warcraft speak; instead you read the text of what they are “saying.” The effect in the Old Republic is to draw players into an emotional connection with the story of their characters that is much more personal than the tales in World of Warcraft.

It appears, based on discussions with industry executives and financial analysts, that BioWare and Electronic Arts have spent somewhere between $125 million and $200 million making the Old Republic. That would make it the most expensive game ever. Fortunately for the makers, it shows.

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DealBook: Zynga Picks Underwriters for I.P.O.

FarmVille, Zynga’s online game.FarmVille, Zynga’s online game.

Zynga, the popular online video game maker, is inching closer to another hotly anticipated initial public offering in the technology sector.

The company has picked a handful of banks to underwrite its impending I.P.O., a group led by Morgan Stanley, people briefed on the matter told DealBook on Tuesday. Other banks in the group include Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital and JPMorgan Chase, said these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

CNBC, which reported news of the underwriters’ selection earlier on Tuesday, said that Zynga might file for its I.P.O. as soon as Wednesday. Some of the banks may also offer Zynga a loan of at least $1 billion, the network reported.

Zynga is expected to offer about 10 percent of its shares at a valuation near $20 billion or more, according to two people briefed on the matter. A small offering, of 10 percent or less, would follow similar technology I.P.O.’s this year. Both LinkedIn and Pandora, for instance, offered about 9 percent of their shares in their debuts.

Representatives for Zynga and the banks declined to comment.

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