A Writer’s Legacy in a Digital World


I’m not trying to be morose but something has been nagging at me for some time now, and it’s important to discuss with all of you. I’ve been wondering what to do with my intellectual property (as well as my material property) once I’ve walked on from this life (or become incapacitated in some way). Perhaps some of you have pondered this as well if, like me, you’re in the second half of life. I perused a few articles and even asked an acquaintance, who happens to be a lawyer, about this issue. He mentioned that since this is such a new situation, it has presented some difficulties and obstacles when drawing up the paperwork for a client’s estate: Will, Power of Attorney, Health Proxy, Advanced Directive, etc. Did you know that most Americans don’t even have a Will? They figure the family will somehow work it all out. Believe me, they couldn’t be more WRONG. (I would’ve had a nightmare situation with my family if I hadn’t taken my mother to an attorney to complete all the paperwork years before her death.)

Attorneys refer to these as your Digital Assets (DA). Do you trust someone enough to have access when you’re unable or gone? Need to think about this one, because not everyone’s as trustworthy as one might think, especially if money or personal information is involved. First step is to take an inventory of your DA:

  • Do you have a Paypal or any account that has monetary value? Who will have access in case you’re incapacitated? Or worse, if you die? What happens to the money? Who benefits?
  • What about email accounts (personal and/or business), blogs, and podcasts? Personal and business websites? Do you want them up and running for people to read your when-you-were-a-breathing-starving-artist work?
  • Do you keep a list of logins and passwords to all the accounts you use? I do, and I update it regularly. But I abbreviate the logins so no one else will figure them out if they get their hands on the list. I also keep an updated copy in one of those many cloud accounts in case something happens to my computer. The list is getting longer, though, since one can’t shop on sites as a guest anymore. I just cleaned out my list and it’s still a full page of two columns (it had been two pages)! 
  • What electronic devices do you own that need a password for access? Do you have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, DVR/Tivo, or a home burglary system?
  • Do you bank online? What about mortgage payments, investment banking, utilities, or airline memberships?
  • Do you have any online accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube? Any accounts to e-commerce sites (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Ebay, etc.)? You also need to check the policies of these companies regarding access by another person – which is why you will need to legally designate someone  if you want that person to clean up your online mess.
  • How much of your writing is unfinished? Do you want someone else to finish it? Or would you prefer your Executor/Executrix just heave every incomplete project, every potential novel/poetry book/best-selling short story into a shredder (digital or physical)? What will you do with the work you have completed? Published? Who gets the royalties? It’s a bit mind-boggling to think about it. But you MUST think about it – and DECIDE.
  • What about cleaning up your personal information collected by those data-mining companies? If you think it won’t matter once you’re gone, you’re wrong. Someone could use your identity and then perhaps gain access to your DA and online life – and then your hard-earned money.

Whew. This is not an exhaustive list but it will hopefully get many of you thinking more about your DA and how to protect it (in perpetuity) or do away with it. It’s a sobering experience to think of your life in these terms, but in the long run you’re doing your family or loved ones a favor by setting it down on paper. If you’re not sure you can trust someone to take care of everything, why not designate your attorney? They’re legally bound to follow the client’s directives, so your DA would be protected or disposed of according to the terms of your Will.

I’m planning to do this; at least then I’ll have some peace of mind about what happens to my work when I’m gone. Perhaps I’ll set up some sort of trust so that revenues (royalties) from my books will be donated to nonprofit organizations of my choosing. That will be my legacy.

What will your legacy be?

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