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What Happens When You're Gone?
Fingers tap away as you meet deadlines, weave mysteries, and paint romantic scenarios. You answer e-mail, pay your webmaster, and read twenty newsletters about your craft. You check your PayPal balance and transfer some money into your writer’s account to pay for the e-commerce costs of your books sales.
Suddenly, your chest gets tight, pain shoots down your arm, you black out wondering what is happening. They bury you three days later. Your chair sits empty and your computer stands idle.
Question is, does anyone know what you did at that computer all day? How did you run your writing business, make book sales, and advertise your products? How are all those contacts you spent years nurturing supposed to know about you leaving this world? And how is your family supposed to know who to pay, whom not to pay, and who to bill for services rendered before your demise?
So many writers have their business in their heads and never contemplate someone else stepping in or shutting it down. Not having a plan in place can cost your successors not only headaches but also lots of money as they seek who you owe, who owes you, and who keeps collecting via automated systems in place with user names and passwords they have no clue about. You need a plan.
No one likes to think about death and many avoid preparation. But the smart and sensitive writer drafts not only a will but also written documentation about the ins and outs of the business. Get started as follows, and take your time or you will miss critical pieces of your writing life’s puzzle.
Keep a notebook. You will have trouble addressing all your affairs at one sitting. Instead, keep a notebook for about a month or two, and jot down the little facts that come to mind as you go about your daily errands. If you already keep a daily notebook, as many writers do, then begin to document the tangibles that comprise your business such as passwords, bills, contracts signed, and invoices mailed.
Keep a calendar. Some business items take place monthly, quarterly, once or twice a year. If you maintain a calendar, many of these details are already recorded. If you don’t keep a calendar, start.
Keep a tax file. You already have tax files. Place them in such an order that someone can work from them in settling your affairs. A shoebox of receipts just isn’t quite accurate enough. Put past tax records in individual folders boldly identified by year.
Keep a contract file. The legalese of what happens to income upon your demise might already be in writing in major contracts for books, syndication, and magazine writing. Keep current contracts separate from expired ones. Remember, someone foreign to your writing world needs help understanding what it took you years to learn.
Keep a bank statement file. In this day of online banking, paper records seem obsolete. But what if you leave, and a significant other needs to know about recurring expenses that continue to draft from your account? Unless you know the person managing your affairs is computer savvy, print a copy of your monthly bank statement and keep it in a file. Keep at least 12 months on hand.
Keep a spreadsheet or ledger of submissions. You should already have a record of queries, submissions, and acceptances. What if you have a dozen articles outstanding in various stages of publication? There are enough hungry publications out there that would publish the piece knowing they probably could get by without paying.
Keep an address book. These entries tell a loved one about editors, fellow writing friends, business contacts, and professional groups who need to know for some reason about your departure. Even if they had no monetary concerns, the proper behavior is to notify those who had an interest in you and your work.
Keep a record of user names and passwords. This is an overlooked problem for all people, not just writers. Itemize all the passwords and user names you use. Here are a few:
• Bank accounts
While some do not matter such as the NY Times Web site, others are quite significant. What if you have e-books uploaded at a central Web site like ClickBank or PayLoadz with affiliates selling your books all over the Web? Someone you left behind needs to know the passwords and connections to collect the money, issue payment to affiliates or cancel the transactions. Look at it in reverse. What if you are the affiliate? Not having access to Web sites, accounts, and organizations can impede a trustee of your assets.
Draw up a will. A will is a necessity. To avoid losing valuable assets to taxation or relatives who suddenly show up in the end, a will is one of the best investments you can make. To leave your loved ones the most and the best of your life’s financial rewards, you need an attorney’s counsel because each state or country is unique in its probate laws. You may assume a particular someone gets all that you saved, but then you might be wrong. Why add that pain to their suffering?
Put the will in a safe place with copies to those you trust along with a record of where your other information listed above is stored. Life stops quickly, and it then takes a turn for those remaining behind. Your writing is a dream for you, but don’t make it a nightmare for others when you leave a mess of bills, expenses and hidden income for them to unravel as you play your harp amongst the clouds.