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.