Skills Building: Write Your Own Obit

obit_citizens voice

Source: Google Images/Citizens’ Voice

Last week I lost a family member (a first cousin); it was a rather sudden, unexpected passing. I’d not seen him in many years but it did not diminish my feeling of loss. I remembered him as a sweet, gentle, quiet soul and his obituary, which read more like a loving eulogy a family member would give at a service, echoed that same sentiment.

Then it got me thinking; in two previous posts I emphasized the importance of getting your Digital Property (blog 1, blog 2) in order so that those left behind when you’re gone can manage your completed (and not completed) works. And then I thought, what better way to up one’s writing/skill level than to write one’s own obituary? It’s often an assignment in writing classes as it provides a sense of mortality and an intimate examination of our lives, as well as our place in this world (or at least what we hope it might have been).

What will you write about yourself? Would you include your accomplishments, hobbies and (mis)adventures? What would you leave out? What will you leave behind? To whom will you leave your belongings? Family? Charities? Or just donate it? If you had to do it over again (life), would you change anything? Leave anything undone, incomplete? It’s a sobering experience, for sure; trying to see yourself the ways others might. I attempted this exercise once and found it difficult to decide who got what (if anybody actually wanted any of my crap to begin with, they have enough of their own), to parcel out my “stuff” to people, some who aren’t in my life all that much and others who are. It actually scared me, as if I’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the universe, less me.

Be colorful; use apt descriptives and pictures to express who you were in life. These days, everything goes online (e.g., legacy.com, mem.com) for family to see and they can “sign” a memorial book. How do you wish to be remembered? Are your stories/works included in that legacy? We’re told to take control of our lives, to own them, so why not own your obit? Let the world see you as the artist, writer, sculptor, etc. that you are, and in YOUR words. Give them an opportunity to revel in what you leave behind. Don’t be afraid to build yourself up in their eyes; it’s natural for the mourning family to do that anyway. If you don’t have a close family (this is a truth for some people), who has meant the most to you in your life? Family isn’t always blood; often it’s the people we surround ourselves with who care about us during both good and bad times.

Think of your obituary as your last and greatest work, the final piece of the puzzle that is YOU.

 

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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