This is a judgment free blog post. Most Michiganders have things in their lives or past that they would rather other not know. Perhaps, there is a folder on one’s phone that they would not want their mother to open, or a website membership they would rather their wife did not know about. But, what happens if they die tomorrow? What happens to these secrets, and how do they keep them secret? Well, it is a three-step process.
Identifying the skeletons
The first step is identifying those digital and physical assets or secrets that need to be erased, i.e., identifying the skeletons. This is an extremely personal process because one person’s secret may be another person’s, “who cares?” It could be as simple as a browser history or racy photograph. It could also be private health conditions, secret affairs or relationships or other electronics that one may find embarrassing.
Identify who will keep the secrets, secret
Next to identifying those secrets, it is also important to identify who will keep those secrets, secret. The most obvious choice is one’s attorney. This can be the estate planning attorney, an attorney selected as a trustee or a trusted attorney. Choosing an attorney though ensures that the communications and secrets are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Ensuring the secrets stay secret
The final step is identifying how to maintain the secret. For digital assets, this will be site and hardware specific. For example, erasing a Facebook page will require different actions than erasing a hard drive. Throwing away a discrete item from a dresser drawer or medications from a medicine cabinet also requires different direction.
Where to put these secret instructions
Do not, and we repeat and emphasize, do not put this information into one’s will. Wills are not private documents. They become part of the public record, so if one puts this information into a will, secrets will not be secret. Instead, use a power of attorney. This will give the attorney power to access the places (digital and physical) to effectuate one’s wishes.