Imagine you have just passed away from some unforeseen, traumatic event.
Scenario 1: Your mom is walking through your house having to make a plan on how to disburse or sell your personal property. Perhaps you have a collection of sex toys and porn under your bed that you’d be mortified to have her find.
Scenario 2: Before death, you were living alone, divorced, with adult children. You were so proud to tell everyone your daughter is a state senator. Unfortunately, you have kept a collection of videos of your past lovers. Imagine this precious collection now falls into the hands of an auctioneer who unknowingly puts them up for auction on the internet. The unlucky heirs are only aware of the issue when the videos are posted to social media.
Scenario 3: Perhaps you are a member of a secret society or oathbound tradition and you have documents, religious/ritual items, or tools that are not allowed to be seen or handled outside of the group.
Have you planned for someone appropriate and trustworthy to have access to your home to retrieve or handle these items upon your death? I have gathered from my years working in estate law, that even when people prepare their Last Will and Testament they haven’t addressed these private and sensitive issues. When you name an executor you will name who has access to your most sacred information. This could include access to your online accounts as well as whatever bodies you have hidden under the floor.
What do you have locked away?
I cannot tell you how many diaries (and porn collections) I have attempted to respectfully and discreetly manage. Once I was tasked to help relocate someone due to their incapacity and the home was going to be sold. The client was no longer able to tell us about how they wanted things handled or able to tell they had a “private collection” and by accident, the movers found the collection. Now, instead of just the attorney knowing their secret, an entire moving crew was aware as they packed it up to be moved! No way to control that information now!
Who will take your secrets to the Grave?
Granted this is not the sort of question your attorney is likely to ask you, but they are the type of person you can trust to handle these matters discreetly. Other options for handling such private affairs are younger and trusted members of your organization or a death doula. However, none of these will have access to your home and your belongings unless it’s stipulated in your Last Will.
Can you imagine a random person showing up and saying, “Hi, Mrs. Smith, I was instructed by your husband that I’m to take everything that is in that locked chest in your closet?” I would laugh at them! And I guarantee that most people’s curiosity would get the better of them and they would need to know what was in that box.
It’s another can of worms when people lose their capacity. Most of the time you are not aware and are not willing to acknowledge that you are having cognitive issues. The victim often exhibits some paranoia and feels as if they are being gas-lighted. At this point, it may be too late, and the only thing I can suggest is to make sure that you’ve made your wishes about the removal or disbursement of your private collection to your family members or trusted advisors, well in advance so they can facilitate this should the need present itself.
Maybe your secrets are love letters from your high school crush or the nasty emails you printed out from your ex during the divorce that you don’t want the kids to read and would prefer they be burned at your death. Some of that stuff might be best considered wasteful baggage and it’s time to burn it now. But almost everyone has private information they don’t want to be shared and you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed of protecting your privacy. But if you don’t address these “collections” and put appropriate measures in place… well, who knows what might happen?