Hazel Thornton, the CEO at Organized For Life, was recently the guest speaker for Women Make A Difference, a monthly networking luncheon in Albuquerque. Her topic was: “Who will check your email when you die?”

A professional organizer extraordinaire, Hazel began by telling us about an annual Facebook reminder to wish a friend well on her birthday. She would love to do so, but, sadly, her friend died a few years ago. This is the sort of thing that can happen – intentionally or unintentionally – with one’s digital (virtual) assets after death.

This experience prompted Hazel to learn more about virtual wills and digital assets. She has attended sessions on this subject at NAPO events (National Association of Professional Organizers).  Presenters such as Heather Ahern, owner of The FUNctional Home (“Advance Planning for Your Virtual Afterlife”), and Judith Kolberg, owner of FileHeads (“Creating a Digital Estate Plan for You and Your Clients”) provided her with valuable information and resources on this subject.

Hazel described the options we have to deal with digital assets. One can purposely leave an account in place, or maintain a website as a memorial to a loved one (among other reasons). However most of us do not make plans to appoint a digital executor, leaving family or friends scrambling to figure out how to handle websites or accounts or delete them if there was no plan in place.

Heather says that only 40% of us have a will. Only a tiny fraction of that number have a well-thought-out inventory and plan for their digital assets; a virtual will. We’re not just talking about online bank accounts, user ids, passwords, and answers to secret questions. We’re also talking about the plethora of social media sites with depositories of photos, videos, and other pieces of ourselves and our loved ones like websites full of blog posts and files of music. What about accounts such as southwest.com, amazon.com, or paypal.com where one might have caches of frequent flyer points, gift card balances, or actual cash? Did you know that dormant accounts can be used for identity theft purposes? And who is going to check your email when you die?

Here are four things to decide and to document:

  1. WHO will be your digital executor(s)? Are they computer savvy, or will they need help? To whom are your assets valuable?
  2. WHAT are your digital assets, both personal and business? What are they worth, financially and emotionally?
  3. WHERE are your accounts and other assets located? How can they be accessed after you die? What do you want done with them?
  4. HOW do you want to be remembered?

There is a problem with giving specific advice regarding how to address each of these issues. Laws have not caught up with the technology. There are no uniform policies across technology platforms, states, or countries.

Hazel recommends a book called Your Digital Afterlife, by Evan Carroll and John Romano, which is featured along with other resources on their website, The Digital Beyond.

Who are you counting on to be your digital executor?

Companion Care hopes this information motivates you to consider this important issue.

For more information on virtual wills read Hazel’s blog post: Do You Have a Virtual Will?