Do you have a virtual will?

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Do you have a virtual will?

Meeting my client and Facebook friend Hazel Thornton was a huge part of my NAPO Conference experience. She really went out of her way to include me in her plans and make sure I met everyone I hoped to. And she’s still at it – today she’s sharing the highlights of one of the sessions she attended: Advance Planning for Your Virtual Afterlife. Take it away, Hazel!


It was my friend Jeanne’s birthday, and Facebook reminded me to wish her well. I would have dearly loved to do so, but, well, sadly, Jeanne died over a year ago. This is the sort of thing that can happen – intentionally or unintentionally – with one’s digital (virtual) assets after death. You can purposely leave an account in place, or maintain a website as a memorial to a loved one (among other reasons)… or you might instead find yourself scrambling to figure out how to delete it if there was no plan in place and things are happening that you hadn’t foreseen. Yikes!

So, I was already very interested in this topic when I attended the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) conference last week in Scottsdale, AZ. I couldn’t wait for the session entitled “Advance Planning for Your Virtual Afterlife”, presented by Heather Ahern, owner of The FUNctional Home.

Heather says only 40% of us have a will. And I’ll bet only a tiny fraction of that number have a well-thought-out inventory and plan for their digital assets; a virtual will. We’re not just talking about online bank accounts, user ids, passwords, and answers to secret questions. We’re also talking about the plethora of social media sites where depositories of photos, videos, and other pieces of ourselves and our loved ones reside in this digital age. Websites full of blog posts. Files full of music. What about accounts such as,, or where one might have caches of frequent flyer points, gift card balances, or actual cash? Did you know that dormant accounts can be used for identity theft purposes? And who is going to check your email when you die?

Things to decide and to document (my takeaways from Heather’s session):

  1. WHO will be your digital executor(s)? Are they computer savvy, or will they need help? To whom are your assets valuable?
  2. WHAT are your digital assets, both personal and business? What are they worth, financially and emotionally?
  3. WHERE are your accounts and other assets located? How can they be accessed after you die? What do you want done with them?
  4. HOW do you want to be remembered?

The problem with giving specific advice as to how to address each of these issues is that laws have not caught up with our technology. There are no uniform policies across technology platforms, states, or countries.

One of the resources Heather recommended was a book called Your Digital Afterlife, by Evan Carroll and John Romano, which is featured along with other resources on their website, The Digital Beyond. She was kind enough to give me her extra copy, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Perhaps you could read it too, and we can compare notes? I may be writing more about this topic in the future. What questions do you have? What has been your experience?  Please share with us by leaving a comment!

P.S. I need to rethink my own virtual will in light of the fact that Jeanne, my friend whose birthday I was reminded of by Facebook, was my personal computer guru. I was counting on her to be my digital executor, since my family and closest friends are not especially computer savvy. This is a case in point for reviewing plans periodically even if you do have them in place!

Photo © shho /

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Hazel Thornton, creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection, is a virtual organizer and family historian based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She combines her genealogy research and organizing skills to help clients tell the stories of their families and their most treasured belongings. Her forthcoming book is called What’s a Photo Without the Story? A Guide to Leaving Your Family Legacy. Visit her online at

Join the Conversation


  1. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on June 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Meeting you in person was a highlight of NAPO2014 for me, Janet! I’m glad you were interested in using my guest post on this important topic.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on June 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Very interested, Hazel! I was actually thinking I’d go to that session until you offered, then I figured, “Hazel will tell me all about this, I can choose a different one.” And so I did, and I’ll be blogging about it too, in the not-too-distant future.

  2. Avatar Teri on June 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Very thought-provoking Hazel. Makes my head hurt to think about my virtual life. I don’t want it to “outlive” me! And I know which of my children will be perfect for this. Thank you!

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