Jennifer Escalona tells it like it is
In: Morbid Monday31 Aug 2009
If I died, nobody would know what to do about my clients. I keep my records locked on my laptop, I wipe my daily schedule away every day on an erasable white board, and I’ve never maintained one master list of all the clients I work with or the projects I work on. I’m like the CIA of freelance writers. It’s a wonder I don’t wear a wig and a rakish mustache to work every morning.
But a recent post by Alison Boyer over on the Golden Pencil made me rethink my ninja-like secrecy. Her touching post was about losing a colleague to cancer and only finding out when someone discovered the obituary through a search engine. The post was an out and out downer, but after sniffling a little, my inner-workaholic resurfaced and I began thinking about business applications of well… death. What if I really were to kick the bucket? My clients would send questioning emails to an account to which no one could log in. I suppose the motivated would eventually call my business number, but others – like the ones that owe me money – might simply decide that I finally went full hippie and scampered off to join a commune.
I once made a spreadsheet for my husband entitled “How to Pay the Bills If I Die.” This snappy little document included all of the passwords to our various utilities and creditors, and words of wisdom such as “Don’t let them try to make you pay my student loans if I’m dead.” I think I should do the same thing for my business, and so should you. The simplest way to make sure that your clients and editors are notified in the event of your death is to simply write their names and contact information on a Master List. You can then set up a tickler every couple of months to “Update Death List.” (You know, a little reminder just in case you had become too carefree and happy. On second thought, perhaps I’ll call mine “Update Master List” instead.)
Another way that might work for me is to write down my email passwords and bookkeeping program passwords and hide them around the house where only my husband can find them. But that’s less efficient because then he would have to go through his dead (or incapacitated) wife’s email, sifting through the nonsensical correspondence and link sharing in order to figure out exactly which clients she was working with recently.
Writers, these are important considerations and things that – like living wills and DNR forms – we don’t really want to think about on a day to day basis. Still, it’s imperative that we keep our records up to date and create an easy-to-follow client contact list in the event of death, dismemberment or disaster. If you live with someone, utilize that aforementioned hiding place. If you live alone, consider putting your information in a safety deposit box and giving a family member or business partner a key. This holds especially true if you are working on a project where you have signed a non-disclosure or are dealing with sensitive information. What if you die and the information is lost? And somebody scary and powerful wants it back? Don’t let your family members become the hapless victims in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie just because you didn’t organize your records. Its bad form, and you’re a lot less likely to have Irish Whiskey poured over your grave on a regular basis if your significant other is busy meeting sexy double agents while on the run from the North Koreans.
And watch out! If you do compile a lot of your secret client information, make sure to keep it safe. Writing all this stuff down is a recipe for disaster should it fall into the hands of your archnemesis. I don’t even want to imagine what my sworn enemy, Yolander Prinzel, would do should she somehow sink her talons into my important client documents. The gleeful cackling alone would cause a solar eclipse.
Keep your finances up to date, too. Use a bookkeeping program or spreadsheet to show outstanding invoices or completed work that hasn’t yet been invoiced. You would be a tragic loss. Don’t let your loved ones lose out on your unpaid income, too. Death is shockingly expensive, and we all know that writers often have to fight tooth and nail for our paychecks even when we are alive and kicking.
Have any of you other freelance writers or small business owners prepared for this final contingency? What did you do? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.
*Nah, Morbid Monday isn’t really a new segment. Well, unless you want it to be. Your votes, readers? And what on earth would I write about? Not getting paid? The poetry inherent in old Addams Family teleplays?
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