Things to Document While You Still Can

If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you know that I am very interested in documenting what your family will need to know when you are no longer around. I created a folder in my file cabinet labeled “Afterlife” and have been adding documents to it for several years.

The AARP Newsletter recently featured a helpful article entitled How to Be a Good Executor of a Will or Estate. What interested me most was a sidebar that featured “5 Things to Tell Your Future Executor.” These were:

  • Where the original will is.
  • Whom to notify.
  • Your passwords.
  • Who gets what.
  • Where your secrets are hidden.

Because I’ve done so much thinking and writing about this, I was surprised to see that I had neglected to document “Whom to notify”. So a few days ago, I made up the following list, with contact information,  which will go into my Afterlife folder:

  • Doctors
  • Financial Advisors
  • Business Contacts
  • Friends
  • Team Sharon (this includes my Personal Trainer and my Hairdresser!)

When I showed this to my husband, he was delighted to see it. We plan to work on a similar list for him.

If you haven’t documented any of the information your family needs to know — or haven’t had a conversation with your aging parents about this — then you might want to read my previous posts on this topic:

Planning for the End – how valuable it was that I discussed this topic with my parents in advance.

Planning Your Afterlife – what I included in my Afterlife folder.

Your Digital Afterlife – what happens to your hundreds of on-line accounts.

Marketing Beyond the Grave – how to removed deceased family members from mailing lists.

I know that this isn’t the most cheerful topic in the world, and many people are uncomfortable talking about it. But denial of the inevitable isn’t going to make it go away. It will just result in family members struggling to sort everything out at an already trying time.

Marketing Beyond the Grave

When my father passed away last year and we shut down his apartment, I submitted a forwarding order to the post office so that mail coming to anyone named Lowenheim at that address would be forwarded to me.

I’ve since learned that the Postal Service makes about $8 million a year licensing its change of address data. Not only am I getting marketing solicitations for my father, I am also receiving junk mail for my mother, who passed away 4 1/2 years ago. (“Cynthia Lowenheim, don’t you think it’s time you switched to FIOS?”)

If there is a reply envelope or a return address, I send back the solicitation with a line through the name and address, and a note saying something like, “My mother is deceased. Please remove her from your mailing list. Thank you.” But recently, I decided to figure out if something more global could be done about this

I went to the website of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) on which I had previously opted out of marketing solicitations for myself via their DMAChoice tool. And I discovered this wonderful link: Register the deceased.

My parents are now both on the Deceased Do Not Contact List (DDNC) which “is available to companies and nonprofit organizations for the sole purpose of removing names and addresses from their marketing lists.” The updated file is distributed to DMA members once very three months, so it may take a while for this to take effect.

Now if only I could get my father’s name off the jury duty rolls.

My Parents’ Legacy

After my father passed away at the end of January, my sister and I took two months to clear out our family apartment (as I described in Home is Where the Heart Is). Although most of our parents’ possessions were sold, donated, or discarded, I brought home a bag of things that I just didn’t feel right about throwing away.

These things were not valuable or even of great sentimental value. They were simply items that my parents had held on to for many years. I felt that it would be disrespectful to my parents to simply throw these things away. I vowed to get them into the hands of people who would appreciate them. For that end, I turned to eBay.

I sold some New York City subway tokens that my father had saved from different eras (to which I added a few of my own), as well as a set of three newspapers with the headline “Nixon Resigns”. In both cases, I brought in a very small amount of money. Still, I was glad to find people who wanted them.

Opera memorabilia

Opera memorabilia

I had a harder time figuring out what to do with some opera memorabilia from the 1960s. Both of my parents were huge opera fans, and they had a Metropolitan Opera subscription for as long as I can remember. They saved only a few special Met Opera programs, some of which were autographed. They also saved a few copies of Opera News magazine featuring articles bidding farewell to the old opera house, or introducing readers to the new opera house at Lincoln Center.

There didn’t seem to be much market for these on eBay, so rather than try to sell them, I decided to donate them. I started with the Metropolitan Opera itself. I was told that they had a full collection and were not interested. Then I tried the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. They, too, did not need them. These conversations actually took many e-mails and phone calls to resolve.

Finally, I put them up for sale on eBay. Surprisingly, they sold, and for more money than I expected. As I wrapped them up for shipping, I felt a tug at my heart seeing my mother’s handwriting on the sticky notes she had used to identify which programs were autographed, and by whom.

All told, I spent way too much time trying to dispose of these few items. I’m not sure it was really worth it. The demand for them was apparently quite small. If a client had asked for my advice on whether it was worth trying to sell or donate these, I would have probably said not to bother. Sometimes the recycle bin is the best solution.

Reducing Your Digital Footprint

Last time, I wrote about planning for your digital afterlife.  Now I’d like to share what I experienced when I decided to reduce my digital footprint by closing some of the hundreds of on-line accounts that I’ve set up over the years.

I much prefer shopping on-line to shopping in person.  In the time it takes me just to travel to a store, I could already have located on-line the exact item I want and purchased it.  As a result, I have a lot of on-line accounts.  Luckily I have a good method of capturing logon ids and passwords, which saves me time and frustration if I go back to the same site again.

After I attended the talk entitled “Creating a Will for your Virtual Life” at the NAPO Conference earlier this year, I gave some thought to my hundreds of on-line accounts.  I started to wonder what would happen to these accounts after I die.  Unused accounts are a great target for hacking and identity theft.  Would my family contact each web site and let them know to cancel my account?  Not very likely.

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Your Digital Afterlife

One of the most eye-opening sessions that I attended earlier this year at the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) was entitled “Creating a Will for your Virtual Life”.   Heather Ahern, a Massachusetts-based Professional Organizer, said that you should create a digital estate plan to ensure the appropriate disposition of your digital assets, just as you would do with your tangible assets.

Since attending that session, I’ve come across a number of articles — in AARP Magazine, in the New York Times, on the web — on this topic.  I also read a book entitled “Your Digital Afterlife” by Evan Carroll and John Romano.   I highly recommend this book, as it goes into this complex subject in great detail and features a template to enable you to document all of your on-line accounts and determine what should happen to them and who will be responsible.  One of the authors, Evan Carroll, also runs a blog called The Digital Beyond which features this fascinating infographic about what will happen to your information.

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