(Originally published Jan. 2016. Updated Oct. 2021.)
I recently (in Jan. 2016) spoke at a business networking luncheon attended by 80 women. My topic was “Who Will Check My Email When I Die?”
I worried that no one would want to come hear me talking about death, especially when it started snowing that morning. But they did! And they loved it. I could tell because they nodded, and laughed, and told me later that they had started conversations with their loved ones about virtual wills and such as a result. Mission accomplished!
Here are some of the ways people reacted to my topic before-hand:
“What do I care who will check my email? I won’t be there.”
No, you won’t, but do you really want to burden your loved ones with things they don’t know what to do with, and without instructions to guide them? Won’t they be grieving your loss enough as it is without adding a bunch of work and tough decisions to their workload?
“Are you trying to tell us something?”
Yes. I am. Not about me, but about all of us. We all are going to die at some point. So we might as well be prepared, no?
“But…don’t you organize closets, and garages, and such?”
Yes. I do. (2021 UPDATE: Or, at least, I did, for more than 15 years. I now specialize in genealogy research for clients!) And why do you think some of my clients call me to help them? They want to make their own lives easier while they are living, of course. But they also don’t want to leave a big pile of clutter for their loved ones to have to deal with if something should happen to them. Which it will, eventually.
I think of these things as a gift to one’s family:
- A regular will and a virtual will …extra credit for writing your own obituary and planning your own memorial service!
- A frank discussion of death and end-of-life issues (both your wishes and theirs)
- A legacy you can take pride in (rather than a pile of clutter no one knows what to do with)
- Memories in the form of organized photos and labeled keepsakes …a well-documented family history is a bonus!
Maybe if you start thinking of these things as gifts too, you’ll be more willing to take action…?
Resource Roundups and New Book
My interest in illness, death, emergency preparedness, photos, keepsakes, and legacies is nothing new. To prove it, I have gathered together all of my related blog posts, and a number of other resources, into a new Legacy Resource Roundup to help you navigate this sometimes uncomfortable topic. My talk at the luncheon consisted of elements from many of these same resources.
2021 UPDATE: Since then, I have since separated my blog posts into three main categories: “Creating Your Legacy” + “Getting Organized For Life” + “Introvert Retreat”
I have also added these new Resource Roundups:
Photo & Memorabilia Resource Roundup
Emergency Preparedness Resource Roundup
My new book — What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy — is due out in November 2021.
Talking about death won’t kill you!
Although many people who talk about death break the ice by using the phrase, “Talking about death won’t kill you,” I like how Gail Rubin, of A Good Goodbye, elaborates:
“Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant,
talking about funerals won’t make you dead —
and your family will benefit from the conversation.
Let’s get the conversation started!”
Check out Gail’s annual Before I Die NM Festival (Oct. 30 – Nov. 2. 2021. Note that there are both in-person and virtual events this year!) and this YouTube video of me (and a couple others you may recognize) talking at a previous Before I Die NM Festival about Downsizing and Keeping Your Family Legacy. Gail is also the person who first told me about the We Remember memorial site, as mentioned in Planning my own virtual funeral — who’s with me? and “We Remember” our loved ones.
Are you organized for your legacy?
Is this a taboo topic of discussion in your family?
Please share in the comments below!
Copyright 2016-2021 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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Such an important message Hazel, and you just reminded me to ask the client I was working with yesterday whose parents died suddenly, days apart, if they have access to their parents online social media.
Oh, that sounds sad. And recent. Glad they have you to help them, Jill!
This is a great article and I love the Legacy Resource Roundup! My dad died in 2014, and he did a pretty good job with most of it, but I have yet to memorialize his Facebook page because he used a fake name and I never knew his password. I have vowed I will make sure I’ve got everything organized for my daughter.
Thanks, Fancy! I’m sorry to hear about your dad, but glad you’ll be leaving (someday) a plan for your daughter….and a lot of organized photos, I’ll bet!
I think the world is just waking up to this topic. I continue to get spam emails from my Aunt who passed away last year. It is actually quite heartbreaking….
Oh, how sad! Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I don’t want happening after I’m gone.
One of my friends passed away recently, and fortunately his wife remembered that I had a website, because all the phone numbers are on his cell phone, and she didn’t know the lock code. Presumably that means she also can’t do anything with his many online accounts either. So I know how important this stuff is!
I think it is inevitable that we all will be running into stuff like this. Even if you let someone know your password, when you change it you have to remember to update them and/or your notes/spreadsheet/app. Fortunately companies are starting to recognize the need and provide tools for it (Facebook and LastPass being two of them).
After my father’s death, I was responsible for the estate so while I didn’t dealing with the loss I also created checklists to help me out. When my mom passed two years later, I was able to deal with her estate as well. This time it was easier. After this experience, my husband and I revised our well and setup checklists and spreadsheet that have all our digital content in it. It is such a piece of mine. Glad your presentation when well. Thanks for sharing.
What a gift to your family, Sabrina! Hopefully none of us will have to settle enough personal estates to truly become an expert!
I’ve experienced many losses of loved ones including friends, colleagues, clients, and family. The idea of leaving your loved ones with a “gift,” is so true. When someone passes, it’s a stressful time filled with grief. When our loved ones have prepared their things and affairs, it helps lift some of the burden and sadness.
When they don’t prepare, resentments build and stress increases. I’ve been through many different scenarios (best to worst.)
It IS a difficult topic. We’re all going to die. It’s hard to talk about it because we’re so busy living. As organizers we have the opportunity to help our clients make the now and the later better. We can help be part of the gift.
Thank you for writing about this, Hazel.
Thank you for your comments, Linda!
When my Dad passed away 6 years ago, it was a slow process and we were able to access and change over all his accounts before he died. Thankfully that process also helped my mom get her legacy items together. It will make things easier for me and my sister when the time comes. Thanks for the important reminder.
It CAN be such a slow process…an exercise in patience that I resented greatly when my mom died!
Such an important topic. I think it’s the greatest gift we can give our children – dealing with these issues before they become their burden.
I don’t know if it’s the GREATEST gift…I’m thinking keeping them alive for a couple of decades and raising them to be responsible, happy adults is pretty huge…but, yeah. Lots of aging parents say they don’t want to be a burden, but they don’t think of after-death stuff like this.
I just attended a funeral yesterday, Hazel, so your post is very timely. And I love that you pulled all your related resources into a Legacy Roundup! So very practical and helpful!
Oh, I’m sorry. I’m always glad to hear that anything I post is helpful.
Spot on Hazel! I think having everything in order before we die is the best gift we can leave to our family – one they won’t appreciate until much later! I’m sure you’re talk was just as great!
Actually my talk was better because it included poignant stories and funny jokes. 😉
I hope & trust this finds you & your families in the best of health & happiness.
I just stumbled across this article through Facebook;-) I didn’t know your many talents extended to thanatology! Besides your article, I also stumbled today across a thanatologist in your town by the name of Gail Rubin. Ever heard of her? Just in case, here’s her website http://agoodgoodbye.com/ I figure you two could change the world together:-) Good luck!
Hi Shmuel, wow, new word for me, thanatology! I met Gail Rubin last month at my talk entitled “Who Will Check My Email When I Die?”…!
Thank you for collecting your resources into easy-to-access groups here, Hazel.
I get MRI scans every six months, which are always a good reminder to check that everything is up-to-date and accessible.
You’re right, no one wants to think about death, but doing something about the practical arrangements is a good way to tackle something we CAN control.
That’s a good built-in activity (I hope you go into it each time expecting the best, so not too unpleasant) to which to hook the habit of updating end-of-life info!
Your point about focusing on what we CAN control is one I’ve written about elsewhere, so I’m in complete agreement! It gives peace of mind to know we’ve done all we can.
Such an important topic for everyone to discuss, no one talks about this stuff and death is a part of life, thank you Hazel for tackling a touchy subject.
I think the more we talk about it, the easier it will get.