An American Editor

January 28, 2022

On the Basics — A new reminder about emergency planning

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 9:13 am

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

A couple of recent social media conversations bring me back to my frequent topic of emergency planning.

• A colleague recently asked about what happens if a freelancer is unable to complete work they have started. How easy is it for someone to send work-in-progress to your clients (assuming they’ve paid something down on the job already) if something happens that keeps you from finishing a project — or just communicating with clients at all? The original post was primarily about whether nonrefundable upfront payments or deposits really are nonrefundable no matter whether you finish the job, but there’s more to it than that.

• A friend whose husband died recently posted in social media about all the work involved in figuring out accounts — online, bank, retirement and more, including a few he opened without her. One of the comments said something about a spouse handling all of the couple’s family matters, and that poster not knowing what’s what and where.

The first item is one excellent reason to participate in a professional association — not just join, but be visible. Membership gives you a way to find colleagues you can partner with before there’s a crisis, to see how well their work style and quality meshes with yours, and to have names you can give to whoever will look after your business if you’re incapacitated or, well, dead. It’s also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge and experience, because that will make colleagues think of you if they need backup and be more likely to help if you need them. Your clients might want to find their own replacements for you, but you will be doing them a huge favor by having someone, or several someones, you can recommend to step in and wrap up anything currently under way. 

The same goes for participating in social media groups for and of colleagues: You become known, and you get to know people you might feel comfortable recommending to your clients.

Side note: The possibility of being referred or contacted about, or needing to participate in, partnering or subcontracting is a reason to make sure your posts to a group or discussion list are as professional and letter-perfect as possible.

This isn’t just about finishing a single project, though. You want to be sure that someone can contact current, recent and upcoming clients if you do become incapacitated, even temporarily. You want that someone to know about your business policies, including what you mean by nonrefundable.

The scary possibility of your own illness, injury or death is why someone should have access to your business information: passwords, current client list with contact info, project status, contract language/business policies, recurring subscription payments, bank accounts and payment systems, etc. This includes social media accounts.

From the other side, now is a good time to make sure that both partners in a couple, or at least one other person in a family, have that information about joint and individual accounts, whether business or personal, along with insurance policies. It’s hard enough to deal with the emotional aspects of an injury to or a loss of a partner; not knowing about accounts makes it even harder. You could be in either position. Think about what you both would need to know if anything bad were to happen.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your family right now is to make a will. Every state has its own laws; in some states, if you don’t have a will, everything goes to the state. Having a will protects you, your assets and your family. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to draft one; you can get forms online or at office supply stores.

In addition to a will, put together a letter of instruction that says where to find all of this information, along with where to find things like safe deposit box keys, cemetery plot deeds and life insurance policies. The letter should also outline your funeral wishes, what to do about any pets and any other details your heirs/executors will need to handle if you become incapacitated or die.

Leave the letter and your will where they can easily be found, and make sure you know the same about a partner’s important documents; tell the people who need to know where they are. Don’t put them anywhere that isn’t immediately accessible. 

Some colleagues keep a Word document on the desktop of their computers titled something like “In Emergencies” with details such as where all the important files are on their system and in real life, both client and personal information, so partners or other contact people can find what they would need in the event of an emergency.

Consider creating a binder in which to centralize all your information — passwords, insurance documents, financial accounts, friends to be notified, a health directive, mortgage and other creditors, your last wishes, and so on.  Ask your bank about converting your business account(s) to name someone as transfer on death (TOD), so funds can be transferred immediately to the person of your choice — no probate involved. 

Remember that keeping such records on your computer and on paper will be useless if you don’t leave a list of passwords and instructions about where to find these records with someone.

No one wants to think about the possibilities of traumatic injury or death happening to ourselves or the people we love, but they are real. Accidents happen, illness happens, pandemics happen. And even relatively non-fatal or temporary conditions, such as a bad sinus attack or minor injury, can interfere with getting our editorial work done. I hope everyone here has their business and personal information organized and accessible to a trusted other person, just in case. Because “just in case” will happen, at some level, to all of us.

© An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (, which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at or



  1. Geoff Hart has been having problems with access to commenting, and asked me to post this on his behalf:
    “All excellent advice, and I think I’ve done about 99% of what Ruth recommends and encourage other readers to do the same. (However, I need to review my own plans one more time to be sure I didn’t miss anything. It’s been a few years, and some things may have changed. *disappears for a moment* There! Added to my calendar as an annual event.)

    “If you’re a writer (in addition to or instead of being an editor), consider finding a literary executor and discussing your needs with them. For example, I’ve written enough books that this is useful to me, so I’ve found a colleague and confirmed that she’d be willing to take over management of my books and Web site. (N.B. Don’t just name someone in your will. Get their enthusiastic support, or find someone else. And ask them to review your instructions to ensure everything’s clear.) SFWA has some useful advice on the topic (”


    Comment by An American Editor — February 10, 2022 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

  2. Definitely give a trusted person keys and codes to get into your computer in the event of the inevitable. My brother-in-law died quite unexpectedly 3+ years ago, and nobody can get into his computer, not even his son-in-law, who is an IT person. His novel is stuck in there, complete but only as very rough draft, and I really want to finish it for him. (I have nine of the fifteen chapters as PDFs, stuff he submitted to our critique group, but I don’t know what happens in the remaining chapters.) It’s an allegorical story of a family experiencing life lessons together during a critical turning point in their lives, and it would be great to give it the freedom to shine. I think it’s an important story. But so far, no dice …


    Comment by Brass Castle Arts — February 21, 2022 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

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