What Happens to Your Website If You Die?

My great-aunt passed on this winter. We thought everything would be quite simple – read the will, carry out her last wishes and move on.

Things weren’t so simple.

We found her will, and the executor named within let everyone know the details of it. He made arrangements and began carrying out my great aunt’s last wishes. And while going through her paperwork, the executor found another will.

This will was different from the first – considerably so. It didn’t even list the same executor. So, the new executor had to contact a lot of people and do some backtracking, then contact the new heirs and advise them of the changes. It was annoying and inconvenient, and a few people muttered, but it got done.

Then the executor found another will.

Throughout the months of phone calls, backtracking, moving forward, and backtracking again, there was a lot of confusion. A lot of hurt feelings. A lot of irritation.

And a lot of thought about my own will and testament, and what would happen to my business if I died.

Who Wants My Business?

You may not think that your website, your blog, your freelance business, is something you need to think about in your last will and testament, but it is. It’s an asset you own, and it needs to be sold, dissolved, or left to someone you trust to continue running it.

Otherwise everything just sits there in virtual space, lost and forgotten, collecting dust.

We tend to not think about this. Most people reading this right now probably have a will that leaves their house to their spouse and their insurance money to their children, but they haven’t covered what happens to their virtual lives and businesses after they die.

Consider what you’d like for your website, your blog or your online business if you were to pass on. Do you want to leave it to your children and have them continue operations or close up shop? Do you want to leave it to a partner or one of your staff? Do you want it sold and the profits distributed amongst heirs?

Hang on a second – before you go leaving your business to your kids or spouse, ask them whether they even have the faintest interest in taking over. If they don’t, would another arrangement be more suitable, such as having them continue as owners but letting someone else handle operations? And if so, does the person you’d like to have operate your business want that responsibility?

They aren’t easy questions – but they are important ones to think over.

How Will People Find Out?

People are becoming increasingly active online, but when that activity suddenly ceases, then what? Someone’s going to have to take care of telling those who need to know that you’ve passed on. That means possibly posting something to your blog, sending out a press release, tweeting a public notice or emailing clients.

Most of us don’t write out information like, “Hi, I’ve died,” while we’re here and able, but perhaps we should. We have the advantage of being able to draft a piece just in case and tailor it properly to say what we want to say. Who wants to leave those grieving our passing the task of having to figure out what to post on your blog – and maybe even how to use your blog in the first place?

So go ahead. Write something up, just in case. It’s not morbid – it’s thoughtful. Keep a copy handy and let executors know how to access this information so they can post it if they need to. Provide them with login links, usernames and passwords. If they’re not familiar with blogs, give them step by step instructions, too.

Speaking of Logins…

If you sit down and write a list of every application you use, every site that requires a username and password, every bit of online world you visit, you’d be astounded. There’s a lot of essential information locked behind virtual doors – and your heirs and executor don’t have the keys unless you leave them behind.

Write down a master list somewhere of all the links to important sites and the usernames and passwords to them. Your PayPal accounts, for example. Imagine leaving a few thousand dollars sitting in virtual space, and your children never even knew it existed. And even if they did, they may not know where to look for it.

Think about your other applications. Twitter,Facebook, your project manager, your to-do list app, Google Analytics, your bookkeeping software, or your email accounts? Those are all important, too, and people who need to organize and finalize your life on this earth have to have that information.

Write down everything you can think of that belongs to you – license information, domain names, web hosting services, the whole nine yards. Make sure someone can access this list in case of emergency and tell them where to get the information. Leave a copy with your notary or lawyer to have him attach it to the will, or put it in a safety deposit box that’s been listed in your testament.

Be careful about third-party site accounts, like Gmail or Facebook. Each site tends to have its own rules about who can do what should someone pass on, and executors may need to make special requests to close down accounts or access your information.

Lastly, write down when certain memberships or subscriptions are due to be paid. You might bequeath your blog to your partner but forget to tell him that the domain name renewal is due in June. June rolls around, someone else snatches up that name, and the whole situation just became complicated and difficult.

And for the love of Pete, keep all your lists of information up to date with the most recent passwords.

It’s tough to think about what happens after we’re gone, but the truth is that none of us are immortal. We have the advantage of making many decisions now, preparing and writing the words that we’d like to be said, and creating a smooth transition for our loved ones to deal with our passing.

Can you think of any other preparations that someone might need to consider?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Great article, makes you think about thisstuff.

    But it made me very sad, more than I dare to admit, o gosh.
    .-= Michal Kozak´s last blog ..michalkozak: on Chapter 5 of "How To Be A Rockstar WordPress Designer" http://goo.gl/NYls @envato @collis =-.

  2. So what you’re saying is that I should write a draft post and save it?
    .-= pamela´s last blog ..In A World Without Consequences.. (NSFF) =-.

  3. Then maybe I should draft up a post and title it “if you’re reading this, I’m dead” just in case right?Whoops sorry. My phone plressed the return key and it submitted. Why not just write a letter of what to say on your blog and leave it in your will.. Maybe I should start my will now..
    .-= pamela´s last blog ..In A World Without Consequences.. (NSFF) =-.

  4. I’ve often thought about this, James. I’ve got a document giving access to some of my online stuff, but I don’t think I’ve got it all written down (it could take quite a while). There’s a site called LegacyLocker that I reviewed some time back that aims to help people solve this problem by collecting that information and having them designate two people who could have access to it. Thanks for this timely reminder.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Are You A Buttoned-Up or Buttoned-Down Freelance Writer? =-.

  5. Great article, certainly thinking outside the box. This is something I never thought much about really, and I dare say that is the case with other people too!

    Something not alot of people like to really think about, touchy subject

  6. Dee Harrison says:

    There was a new service announced some months ago http://www.mywebwill.com although there doesn’t appear to be much going on there right now.

    I do think we need to do more than leave a note of our passwords. We need a custodian too. My husband and daughter wouldn’t know where to start in dismantling or maintaining my little portfolio of sites. Perhaps this is a service for someone to consider……….

  7. Annabel says:

    Yes, I’ve thought of this too and have a master list of all my accounts and passwords.

    It occurs to me that if none of your heirs are particularly tech savvy (as is the case with me), they will also need more detailed instructions about the function of each account and what to do with them. Maybe a little screen capture video to make it easy for them.

  8. I have thought about this a bit (not in much detail as you have here though)

    I drafted a final post and have left instructions for my cousin to post it for me so that my blog will have some closure when I die. It won’t just abruptly go silent. I think this shows respect for my regular readers.
    .-= Chase March´s last blog ..A Sad Picture Story (Update of my Life – Part 2) =-.

  9. I’ve given a list of all my passwords for all my websites to my life partner.

    We also need to put all the relevant passwords for our financial accounts into our wills.
    .-= John Soares´s last blog ..Capturing and Keeping Your Freelance Writing Ideas =-.

  10. It’s funny you wrote a post like this because my wife recently brought this topic up. She said what would I do (in regards to my online dealings) if something happened to you?

    I had a quick / short answer. First I made sure she knows how to get into PayPal and then second I said go into my email “Online Contacts” folder and email everyone there. They will know how to spread the word.

    Not as in depth and could be better, I know.
    .-= John Hoff – WP Blog Host´s last blog ..WordPress Defender: 30 Ways to Secure Your Blog from Attack Anyone Can Do =-.

  11. James, thank you so much for this thoughtful article. I have thought about this many a times. Over the years I have accumulated hundreds of account information. I am managing quite a number of web sites, blogs, pages, dealing with several payment system accounts and so on. In fact I have a fat excel workbook having numerous woksheets having numerous rows and columns on each sheet just to store all those specifics. I maintain this password book (let’s say passbook) religiously and store online and offline (don’t even think about stealing or hacking it, it is protected quite strongly), not only because it will help me to recall whenever and wherever needed but also because I have thought about “what happens when I die”. Master password, I still have not fully disclosed to anybody though. But I did it partially. Yes, I have written a riddle :) and already informed about that to whoever I trust. That riddle if solved (some hints still to be delivered) would disclose the master password to the solver.

    The riddle about the passbook is just a temporary arrangement, just in case I do not get enough time to disclose the exact password before I die – it is better than saying nothing. But I hope I will be able to pass on the password immediately before my passing.

    You see I do not consider my virtual life funny anymore. Thanks again, I could share about my passbook only because your article has set the context. After reading your article what I am thinking is that I have to prepare a plan also to determine the fate of my virtual presence and assets.

    .-= iLoveCoding´s last blog ..What Hourly Rate is Feasible for You to Outsource Your MS Access Development Works to a Freelancer? =-.

  12. @John – While I was thinking about it myself, I realized that there were many things I was forgetting simply because I was so used to the automation of everything, taking it for granted. It’s only when I started writing everything down that I realized how much info we don’t keep track of – and we should.

    @John – *points to reply to otherjohn above* Would you believe I forgot two PayPal accounts on my list? Ouch.

    @Chase – Indeed. If a blog did go silent, there’d certainly be a bunch of people wondering why. Pre-drafting something helps prevent those, “Hey, what happened?” questions.

    @Annabel – I can’t think of one heir of mine that would be able to even check my email. So… yeah. “Click here. Now click here. Now click there…”

    @Dee – That’s actually a pretty smart idea, offering a service. Hm!

    @Michael – Well, even touchy subjects need to be talked about, and I agree – I did some searching of my own and there wasn’t much out there. Time to put it on the table.

    @Sharon – Oh very cool. I’ll have to go check that service out and see what it offers.

    @Pam – Why not? “If you’re reading this…” Sure. And yes. Everyone should have a will! Get thee hence and get one!

    @Michael – I know. I actually got a little wigged out writing this and had to stop and do happy stuff every now and then.

  13. James…

    Wow – talk about a well timed blog post…. a client of mine just passed away last week after a prolonged battle with cancer.

    It’s a first for me … and your post has pointed out a few “curves” in the road ahead for me. THANKS!
    .-= Kathy | Virtual Impax´s last blog ..Creating Authority with Your Business Blog =-.

  14. Yeah, it’s a quite complicated issue, i was wanting to solve starting this website : http://www.facebookafterlife.com . I don’t think people realize yet the connection between their death and the internet, it’s good you talk about it.

  15. Many thanks… I have given some consideration to this before since “online” friends have passed away, but not to the extent that you have talked about. Kind regards for the extra tips and prodding to get affairs in order… never know when our day is going to come!

  16. Funny you should blog about this today, James. Just a few days ago, I created a document with all the details about my online businesses — hosting, logins, passwords, regular expenses, etc. — so that if anything happened to me, my hubby would be able to either continue publishing my blogs, or sell them off.

    He’ll also know to cancel my many memberships and other monthly subscriptions. I balk at the idea of him finally knowing exactly how much I spend every month but, you know, when the time comes, I won’t care anymore, right?

    In fact, I’ve told him, “If anything happens to me, look for so-and-so document in the laptop. Then email (a client) and ask him to help you sell my sites.”

    I’m actually very happy to think that my family will be able to quickly cash in my various sites for a few thousand dollars. Made me realize that I really have been building up assets all this time (well, two years actually).
    .-= Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..The Power of Follow-Up: A Case Study =-.

  17. If our lives were a business, we’d have a succession plan for the people on the leadership team and a business continuity plan (aka disaster recovery plan) for the systems and data.

    James’ post reminds us that so far, none of us have been granted immortality on this planet.
    .-= GeeWhiz´s last blog ..E-mail signature blocks. How to. =-.

  18. That’s kind of a very morbid idea, but a practical one at that.
    .-= clickonportal´s last blog ..Alice is a Wonderland of Visual Fascination! =-.

  19. I wrote about this several years ago when I blogged for Performancing. I actually did make plans for if something happened and gave my information, passwords etc. to my blogging sister. If anything should happen, she is to sell FWJ and put the funds away for my son’s college education and future.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..Four Types of Freelance Writing Sites We SHOULD Be Talking About =-.

  20. Thanks for the Inspiration I have just found a solution to this and that is to save your passwords as a text file.
    .-= Roezer´s last blog ..The Site =-.

  21. When my dad died, we couldn’t cancel even his POGO account on Pogo.com or access his yahoo to delete it because we didn’t have passwords and to get access we would have to mail these places a certified copy of his death certificate.
    You only get so many without having to pay for extras and those we got were used for life insurance, etc.
    You never think of online stuff in the event of death.. but this article really pointed that out for me in a new way.

    One more thing to add to the will.. but also my spouse and I keep a list of passwords and because we use firefox we have discovered a cool application/add on that you can use called Password/Exporter 1.2 that will put all your saved usernames and logins in a file for you.
    .-= Amie Boudreau´s last blog ..Manic Monday =-.

  22. You know what, for the past few days, I had the same question in my mind as your post topic. It all emerged when I was searching for some troubleshooting with one of my site at free MSN account. While going through the FAQ’s a question was posted by one of the user of the same service. Which was as:

    “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, now I want to close my account so what should I do now.”

    That was very sad. I don’t remember what the reply of the team was as it’s not even necessary but it forced me to think that what would happen to a person’s “cash cow” if he dies. Would the income keep on accumulating forever and the relatives never know that it even exists?

    I decided to write on this topic. Thankfully, I landed on your blog as many ideas have just surged in my mind after reading this post.

    .-= Saad´s last blog ..Building Interpersonal Relationships – Key To Success In Making Money Online =-.

  23. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Ah, the circle of life.

    I keep a file box next to my computer with passwords on index cards. I can’t even remember what I have/don’t have. NOT a good system.

    Somewhere there is a lawyer figuring how he/she can charge for a “blogging will” (get it–a take off of “living will”–okay, it’s late)

  24. I wrote about this topic back in January. It can be messy and can overwhelm your loved ones if your entire life is online. Paypal accounts can be ripe for abuse as well. Good write up. Here’s mine if you care to check it out: http://weprobateflorida.com/what-happens-to-online-accounts-after-you-die/

  25. That thought had already passed my mind months ago. I already had the list of sites, username, and passwords on an excel file. Only, I still haven’t let someone knew about it. I would really want someone to know it.

    A draft of a blog post to be published after I died is something I was not able to think of. And I guess that idea was remarkable. I would consider that.

  26. James,

    You mean I can’t live forever?


    Oh, all right. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, guess I’ll print this out and put it on my formal to-do list now. You’ve made it a lot easier by putting all sorts of memory-jogs in this post. Thanks.



    P.S. This showed up in my email inbox a day late or I’d have been over here with my little frown yesterday. Voodoo, I tell you.
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..The 2¢ Staple and other stories =-.

  27. One of the worst experiences I’ve had on Twitter, was when I clicked through on link to somebody that was dead. She was a girl that had been killed in a car accident and she’d done a video on her own site a week or so previously where she joked about dying.

    It was really disturbing and I’ll not be following links like that again.

    On a brighter note it’s due to hit 77 degrees here today!
    .-= Tim Brownson´s last blog ..What Are My Values? =-.

  28. I don’t think I can add any more but I think the best way
    of assuring that your website will not be left hanging is
    by giving the passwords of your website and your webhost to
    a ‘heir’ or ‘heiress’.

  29. @Poch – And don’t forget the instructions on how to log in and the URL of the cPanel and when it’s time to renew… :)

    @Tim – Ookay. That’s pretty disturbing indeed, and I’ve just read your comment. Wow. Twitter sucks sometimes.

    @Kelly – Yes, you can live forever because I’m planning to live forever and if you pass on, I’ll be horribly sad and lonely, and that’s no good at all. Plus, I need someone to remind me of all the things I’m going to forget in my old age. 😉

    @Minnie – If no one knows about it, it’s as good as never existing. Go give that sheet to someone.

    @Long – Thanks for that, I’ll check that out for sure (even though I’m in Canada!)

    @Mary – I’m getting better at info collecting thanks to my penchant of reformatting my PC every year. Lastpass.com, Diigo.com and Dropbox.com have proved helpful.

    @Saad – Oh wow, that is sad, eh? How does someone read that without thinking of their own mortality? Wow. Life sucks sometimes.

    @Amie – Thanks for that service; I’ll check that out. Thanks also for the heads up that sometimes, it’s not as easy as it seems and that some sites might require documents and legal paperwork. Oy.

    @Deb – Selling for profit and going to the kids was my first thought, then I realized that the legacy of a fully operational business my teen could step into and continue was something I’d like to consider. How many people have that handed to them?

    Of course, when I asked her if she wanted it, she snorted, rolled her eyes and said, “What the hell would I do with that?”

    “Uh… I don’t know… Make money?”

    “Right.” Rolls eyes again.


    @ClickonPortal – My apologies. When I read your keyword, I though your name was Chicken Portals. Either way, we have policies on keywording that way. Might want to read up on them!

    @GeeWhiz – Not yet, but I’m working really hard to have my wishes granted!

    @Lexi – Like I told you on Twitter, I love your thoughtful comments.

    @Amy/Julien – You’re welcome!

    @Kathy – There’s always a first and it’s never pleasant, sadly, but it is educational. My Dad passed away when I was a teen and I’ve never forgotten the lessons of life that’s taught me. There’s good that comes of every negative experience.

  30. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks for the sites. Can you tell us a little more about how you use:
    Lastpass.com, Diigo.com and Dropbox.com?

    ps. I’m thinking of your daughters–suppose it’s normal to eye-roll and just take “the family business” for granted. Wonder what they would think is valuable?
    It might make an interesting post to interview them about the future and talk about Men with Pens, the next generation….:) How do you make long range plans and engage your successors in a field that changes by the minute? Hell, when I was their age we were juggling blue carbon paper and learning to type on manual typewriters. They hadn’t invented the calculator, much less a computer. Wonder what things will be like in another 10, 20, 30 years….

  31. I hadn’t thought about how sites are the new family heirloom.

    I can imagine Who Dunnits with a new twist.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Less is More, Slower is Better =-.

  32. Such an important discussion James. I thought long and hard about this after I got to Afghanistan last year and realized I hadn’t passed any of this info to my wife:

    Clickbank info
    E-Junkie info
    blog info
    merchant acct info
    paypal info

    List is endless…I don’t have a great answer, but I can’t think of anyone that would want my business after I’m gone (at least until it hits 6 and then 7 figures :)

    I really need a master list db of passwords and info.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Podcast: Choosing Between Text, Audio, and Video =-.

  33. I have thought about this briefly in the past (though have done nothing about it) but my thoughts then wonder to security.

    If I keep a list of passwords then a hacker or a theif etc. could quite easily get access to EVERY THING. Nathan just said in the post before me that he needs a master list. I do not know how much Nathan earns but I know he is classed as a problogger. So if Nathan’s passwords got stolen then there would be a lot of problems for himself and his family (and his readers as I am sure he has a mailing list).

    So how would we go about being secure about it? I suppose it would have to be put in with the will, I do not have one yet (I am only 16) so have no idea how secure (very I hope) they are.
    .-= Shane Hudson´s last blog ..Britain’s Answer To Gary Vaynerchuk =-.

  34. James,

    & who will remind you of the things you forget now?

    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..The 2¢ Staple and other stories =-.

  35. Wow. I wrote an article about this at a now defunct blog a few years ago. Writing all this stuff down is quite a task. Where to store it and with whom would you trust it? If it’s a husband or wife, what happens if you divorce? If an attorney, well many people don’t have one. Not everyone who has a site online running a business but they may have other accounts that could be issues.

    Using online resources to handle your stuff, they tend to go out of business or be acquired by other companies. Now, it’s in the hands of a new TOS and policies.

    Your article reminds me that updating this stuff is important and a reminder to think about what I use online that could become a legal matter after I’m gone. I can imagine my siblings wondering, “What in the world did she want us to do with THAT!”

    Great write-up.
    .-= Vanessa´s last blog ..Artists Think Different =-.

  36. My partner and I did up our wills 2 years ago, I’m glad I read your post because I had never really consisered our online businesses. Sounds stupid, but we have been so consumed with our virtual and real life that updating our will has been totally overlooked. It’s on the “to do” list for this week. I just hope my kids are keen on running online bussinesses.

  37. Don’t worry, I will :)

  38. Our will writers bring up this subject every day of the week. People haven’t really planned for this outcomne. They may have pre-planned their funeral, but not their online demise.
    .-= Stephen´s last blog ..Airplane actor Peter Graves dies =-.

  39. I read an article by a columnist who had died in Iraq. He’d left a “just in case” column with a colleague. It was a really moving article. He explained why he’d taken the risks – what it was all about to him. (I don’t have a link, sorry!)
    .-= Stormy´s last blog ..Zuca, a suitcase designed for travel =-.

  40. I remember reading about this topic a year or so ago, I think a start-up company was in the process of creating a solution to delete or hand-over all the web based email / money accounts upon somebody passing…

  41. That’s really something to think about. I’ve got 28 websites right now and nobody would have the slightest idea how to pick up the ball and start running with them. A lot of cash would just go away.

    There should be some kind of service that you pay monthly – maybe $10/month to handle everything if you go. Of course, when you go – they’ll get a larger fee to run everything, but from now until you die – they get $10/month. Reasonable – yes? You and the company agree now about all the work that will be done and on a price to do it per month after you pass. Then your spouse doesn’t have to

    You write up everything they need to know and put it in a place your spouse can find it and figure out how to contact the company and get it all going without you.

    New business idea – anyone? Bueller?
    .-= Mike Fook´s last blog ..Agents, Paper, Grammar – Blackholed =-.

  42. @Mike – I’ve seen one site so far (can’t remember the name) that kind of halfway tries to accomplish this.

    But yeah. Whoever wants to Bueller this one… would be a good opp!

  43. @James – you’re not running with this one then?

    Think about it – the company would have to do everything… and have people available or on call to do it all. Even if a site is making $500 per month, it’s well worth it to pay $100-200 per month to have them do everything that needs done to keep things running.

    This could be a massive company too. Actually, they could do it before you die. Just outsource everything you do to keep your monthly residual income flowing. Free yourself up to do everything else you want to do.

    Call it CloneBusiness.com or DeadnClone.com I don’t know, I can’t give everybody the idea, game-plan, and write you up a business plan too. Make up a name. Deadbutnotinthered.com? heretodaygonetomorrow.com? PenniesfromHeaven? I don’t know… It’s a killer idea though. Glad someone is at least halfway on this James.
    .-= Mike Fook´s last blog ..Agents, Paper, Grammar – Blackholed =-.

  44. @Mike – I can already hear my whole team, my consultants, my friends and my family screaming:


  45. “Can you think of any other preparations that someone might need to consider?”

    I think the only thing you might have missed is to sit down with the beneficiary and go through all of the items you listed.

    Leaving a list is nice but if they don’t have a basic understanding of how everything works they are still going to have problems. Sometimes the simple thing we take for granted like renewing our hosting can become overwhelming for someone who’s never done it before.

  46. This is indeed an all too often ignored issue.
    However I’m thinking there should be a better way to handle all this than with your will. What if your heir don’t care about your Internet persona or blog?

  47. I’ve never thought of including my blog in my will until I read your post. I understand the importance of leaving a list of passwords, specifically for Paypal and other financial services but would passing the blog to someone else really matter? If it’s a business blog that earns then it makes sense but I don’t think it would work for a personal blog.


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