Rebecca runs a million dollar niche site. Her hosting and domains are paid from her company American Express card. Rebecca dies 1 day before the Amex payment is due.
Payment is not made.
Another month goes by while her family grieves and Amex is still not paid.
Rebecca’s husband has no idea about the company Amex card because she only received Amex e-statements.
Rebecca’s website hosting service attempts to charge the Amex for the monthly hosting cost. The charge is denied. 1 month later, the hosting account is closed down. Million dollar website disappears.
At the same time, Rebecca’s million dollar domain was up for renewal. Rebecca was no slouch. She set her domains to auto-renew. Problem is the renewal charge did not go through because her previous Amex balance was not paid. One month later, the domain expired. Vamoosh, Rebecca’s million dollar business is history.
Meanwhile, not only does Rebecca’s family deal with her premature death, but they end up destitute, or maybe not destitute but down a million dollar website sale.
Yup, it can happen that quickly. Million dollar business disappears seemingly overnight. Sure, it’s possible that the website is revived in some way, but that’s not a risk you want to take.
FYI, the above is a fictional scenario, but totally within the realm of possibility.
Would you count on your executor or family to get the site revived?
Probably not a good idea.
It’s better that you prepare for this inevitable event.
Do I have your attention?
What did I do to help my wife and family protect the assets of my online business?
What I did was prepare what I call an “Online Business Death Document” which I gave to my wife. Yes, it’s a grisly name, but it works. You can give it a nicer name.
What is an “Online Business Death Document”?
It’s simple. It sets out all important accounts and basic instructions for an heir, trustee or executor so they can take control of your digital business.
How is it different than a Last Will & Testament?
A Last Will & Testament dictates how your assets and belongings are distributed upon death.
An “Online Business Death Document” provides the information one needs in order take control of an online business… namely websites, domains, digital bank accounts, affiliate accounts, ad revenue accounts, hosting accounts, etc. Actually many businesses could use such a document. It helps executors know what to chase down in order to properly probate an estate and protect the assets.
However, since my business is an online digital business, I’ll focus the discussion on that. An online digital business has unique aspects that must be dealt with in this situation.
What should you include?
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way here. This is important.
While I am a lawyer, I do not practice law anymore. Moreover, when I did practice law, I did not do anything dealing with Wills & Estates or business law.
What I set out below is information only, not legal advice. I’m simply telling you what I did. I strongly urge you to consult an attorney regarding this matter.
Okay, here’s what I included in the document.
- Life insurance contact,
- Banker contact,
- Lawyer contact,
- Accountant contact,
- Domain registration account info,
- Website hosting info,
- Company email info,
- Company American Express info,
- AdSense and all ad revenue account info,
- Paypal account info,
- Cloudflare info,
- Website broker recommendation
Consultant contact: I have a very close buddy who I trust and who has agreed to help my wife out. He runs a very similar business to me so he’s familiar with how to run/handle it. I did not give him a copy of the document I prepared. He does not have access to my accounts. He’s merely a person my wife can contact if she has questions. For example, he would be very helpful in putting together due diligence for selling the sites. He knows exactly how to go about this and is familiar with my business.
Other things to include: Every online business is different. My rule of thumb is you need to provide info on everything pertaining to money going out and money coming in.
I also set out some suggestions on how to proceed. One suggestion was to immediately contact the hosting company and Domain registration companies to explain the situation. Hosting and Domain registration companies control everything and so they will be able to help tremendously, especially in the event of a digital asset sale.
I also recommended getting in touch with a website broker if she wishes to sell some or all of the sites. I provided a name. Website brokers can help in these situations if selling some or all the websites is the first order of business.
How much information should you provide?
I realize there are a lot of moving parts to an online business. I can’t expect anyone to jump in and figure it out.
My goal with my online business death document is to provide sufficient information so that my wife can quickly gain control of all websites, pay bills (such as hosting, domain renewals), revenue sources and other assets. I also recommend a good website broker in the event she chooses to sell some or all of the sites.
Do I disclose passwords?
Yes, I do, but you don’t necessarily have to, especially if you’re not married.
Your executor will eventually be able to access all accounts with a death certificate and a valid Last Will & Testament. Which means you need only provide a list of the accounts so your executor knows who to contact. However, how long will this take? Could payment failures occur in the meantime?
The reason I provided passwords is so my wife can take control of matters quickly. I figure the faster she can take control, the better able she’ll be able to protect everything and get them sold or continue running the business.
Who should get a copy of your “Online Business Death Document”?
This is a good question.
I gave a copy to my wife so she can jump in quickly and handle affairs.
However, you might consider providing a sealed copy to the attorney who prepared your Last Will & Testament.
The safest place for this document is in a safety deposit box at a bank if you don’t wish to give this level of sensitive information to any living person. You would then set out the fact you have a safety deposit box in your Last Will & Testament. Just remember, if you update any part of the document to replace it in the safety deposit box.
If things need to happen fast and the document is in a safety deposit box, you can tell your executor/partner/family member that instructions for accessing this document is with the lawyer. In other words, visit the lawyer immediately, get the document and handle affairs.
There are probably other ways to facilitate this that your lawyer can discuss with you.
Death isn’t the only applicable scenario
Death isn’t the only situation where someone may need access to your online business.
What if you’re seriously injured or disappear?
Yeah, I know fun stuff to contemplate, but these are important considerations.
For example, it’s probably more difficult for someone to gain access to your accounts if you’re still alive but incapacitated. This is another reason I provide full access information to my wife. While I have no plans to go into a coma or become brain injured, it could happen at any time.
Are your domains set to auto-renew?
I always register all domains with auto-renew turned on. If you don’t, go turn it on now. I’ll wait for you.
There’s absolutely no risk to have auto-renew turned on. If I no longer need a domain, I reverse a renewal after the fact. Bluehost and GoDaddy do that for me all the time. I’d rather deal with this inconvenience or lose $20 on a renewal I don’t need instead of losing a $100K or $1 million website.
Having auto-renew turned on is also very important in the event you die. What if you die 3 days before your most valuable domain expires. It could be months before an executor gets involved in organizing your estate. By that time, your domain expired.
That said, having auto-renew turned on doesn’t mean it will actually renew if payment is not made. You also have to ensure payments will go through.
Lastly, consult an attorney about these matters. It’s important. My aim with this article is not to impart advice, but instead to remind you or nudge you to take the necessary steps to protect your business for your heirs and to make possible the transfer as easy and quickly as possible.
Great Suggestion from Mike S. (thanks Mike!!):
After I sent this article out in the Fatstacks email newsletter, Mike S. replied and made a very good suggestion. In a nutshell, he suggested Roboform which controls all passwords to all accounts and is accessible with one master password. This is a very good option for managing your affairs in the event you die.
Here’s the email thread:
I use a password manager called Roboform. It contains passwords for all my paid subscriptions, hosting accounts, paypal, and non-paid stuff like Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.
Roboform has a master password that allows anyone with this password to access all your accounts. Make sure someone you trust has the master password for the Roboform account. That way, the lawyers or estate executors can log into all these accounts to cancel or close them.
thanks Mike. I’ve heard of Roboform. Does it work on any computer? So you log into Roboform from anywhere and then can access all accounts?
I guess you better make sure the Roboform subscription gets paid, right?
Yes Jon, it will work on any computer. If you install Roboform on your computer, You’re allowed multiple identities. If you know my master password, you’ll be able to gain access to every account stored in my Roboform account whether it be a banking institution or to your Fat Stacks courses I’ve purchased . With Roboform, I have the ability to assign someone I trust to have access to this master password. I have not done so yet, although I should since I’m 62 yrs old. I’m just not willing to give [other people] access to the master password which would give them access to my Credit cards, Bank accounts, Paypal and other stuff. I really should hire a lawyer and give them the master password, and specify to them the priority accounts to close down first.
Roboform is not the only password admin. out on the webs. There are others as well. But people should be aware it will be easier if your estate lawyer has the master password to close down at the very least all your money accounts.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.