Let’s talk about the elephant (or perhaps the skeletons) in the room. What do you do with the parts of your life you don’t want others to know about after you pass? Do you have secrets you want to take to your grave with you? We’re not going to judge because we all have those secrets but how do you handle those parts of your life after you’re gone? It simply comes down to identifying items and ways to eliminate them.
Some items are obvious, some aren't. The one thing you really need is a person you trust implicitly. This person will be referred to as your Cleaner, someone who will do exactly what you ask without judgement. This individual will go through your computer, dresser drawers, medicine cabinet and anywhere else questionable skeletons may lurk. Then they’ll actually delete and or destroy them without question or complaint.While a Cleaner is not an official title Executor, Health Care Proxy or Power Of Attorney, you’re trusting this person with extremely sensitive information that they will carry with them to the grave.
There are often four major reasons why someone may want to dispose of something - it is dangerous, illegal, embarrassing, or a secret. Whether you are trying to identify your list of skeletons or perhaps you have agreed to act as a Cleaner for someone, you will want to keep these reasons in mind.
Dangerous - Anything that poses a treat, in particular to children or teenagers, like a medicine cabinet.
Illegal - Items or information that would have gotten you arrested if the cops searched your house while you were still alive.
Embarrassing - Items or information you would not feel comfortable revealing to family and friends. If it is something you wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing up during Thanksgiving in front of your family, it is something you should have disposed of.
Secret - Information, affiliations, or relationships you wouldn’t want getting out to your family, friends, or general population.
Do not put any of this stuff in your actual Will because your Will becomes a public record. So, rather than eliminating skeletons, you’d be putting them on display. Contact your Cleaner directly and give them specific instructions for each item that should be disposed of.
Disclaimer: This article should not be viewed as legal advice in any way! It’s a simple guide with tips to take care of things many people keep tucked away in dark corners of their lives. Please take it as such.
Here is a list of some major skeletons that many people will want cleaned up after they pass and if you have any of these, make sure you let your Cleaner know about them. If you are playing the role of a Cleaner, you should sweep and clean any or all of these categories to ensure you don’t miss any cobwebs.
Computer, Phone, and Tablet
This is probably the most obvious category and the bulk of where someone’s hidden secrets will lie. Make sure your Cleaner has passwords and access to all your devices, along with some directions if you kept things hidden especially well.
Sweep and Clear: Browser History
This also may seem obvious but it is often overlooked because of its obvious nature. Your browser history isn’t just adult material...even though that’s usually the dirty little secret. It could also be searches or other pages you visited you just don’t want people to know about.
Chrome: Copy and paste this link into a Chrome browser: chrome://settings/clearBrowserData#cooki
Chrome (In-Depth): Settings > Show Advance Settings (little link at the bottom) > Privacy > Content Settings (opens a new window) > Cookies (click “All cookies and site data,” which opens another window) > Click “Remove all” then “Done” > Click “Done” on “Content Settings” page > Click “Clear browsing data…” > Where it says “Obliterate the following items from:” make sure “the beginning of time” is selected > Click “Clear browsing data”
Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > Clear History and Remove Cookies
Microsoft Internet Explorer: Tools > Safety > Click “Delete browsing history” > Select the “Cookies and website data” checkbox > Delete
Safari: Go to the Safari menu at the top > Select “Clear History and Website data…” > Select “all history” from the dropdown > Click “Clear History”
Sweep and Clear: Hard Drive
Here, the Cleaner should locate and delete all offending files: Photos, videos, documents, bootleg software, and anything else you want gone. Since these files are often hidden, providing some instruction to your Cleaner would be ideal to ensure nothing goes unchecked. If photos and videos have been hidden or renamed, have the Cleaner search for file types (.jpg, .mov, etc...) or just delete the documents, photos, and video folders. The other option is tell them what to salvage, such as a photo folder, and then delete everything else.
After you do this, don’t forget to EMPTY THE TRASH or all the work was for naught. If all else fails… If you know a computer is too difficult to clean, just tell your Cleaner to either wipe it completely (factory reset) or smash it and toss it in the river.
Sweep and Clear: External Backups
Most people have important and possibly scandalous material backed up on an external hard drive, thumb/flash drives, DVDs or CDs. So, while a Cleaner may have already disposed of the original files, an individual may have a copy on a backup drive. There are three ways this can be handled:
Provide your Cleaner specific instructions on what needs to be done with each device.
Tell your Cleaner to reformat the drive and use it as new.
Smash it and toss it in the river along with the un-cleanable laptop.
Sweep and Clear: Email
Embarassing or secret emails and IMs are some of the last things you want leaked. What if you have secret email accounts no one in your immediate life knows about? From deleting everything to deleting specific communications with certain individuals, you can make that call but just leave the instructions for your Cleaner.
Sweep and Clear: Phone/Tablet
Phones and tablets will probably contain the most sensitive and embarrassing content. They are also often linked or synced to one another so, ensuring your Cleaner has access to these devices is very important. From emails to text and social media and other applications, many people will want these devices completely wiped back to factory settings to protect their lives and identity.
Sweep and Clear: Apps
The rise of a new generation of apps like Tinder, Grindr, and other “hook up” apps, many people may have secret communications or embarrassing connections on these applications. These applications may “out” an individual and reveal part of their lives that they may not have wanted their friends and family to know about. Deleting these applications or completely resetting devices is an essential role of a Cleaner.
Deactivate: Site Memberships and Digital Subscriptions
We have already discussed applications that people may have in secret but what about website membership and subscriptions? Throughout someone’s life, a person will accumulate a variety of subscriptions. Some may be innocent like streaming services and others may be considered more “adult content” or unsavoury. Either way, it is important for a Cleaner to help an individual discard of these question accounts from their past by going in and deactivating these accounts so, no communications will end up in their email or mail that a friend or family member may find. Be sure to let your Cleaner know about any active digital accounts that may contain sensitive information and give the easy access to discard them.
Deactivate: Dating Profiles/Memberships and Adult Sites or Adult Content
This falls under the previous category of site memberships and digital subscriptions but it is an important category that needs its own section for emphasis. People tend to be the most embarrassed about this kind of content and they may hold the most secrets in these types of subscriptions. Whether it’s on your phone, computer, or maybe you have some physical copies of this type of content, ensure your Cleaner knows where to find and eliminate it all. If you allow them access to these accounts they can easily deactivate these accounts and ensure you will no longer be receiving communications, promotions, or notifications from these accounts. Cleaning all the dirty content is a tough job but someone has to do it. Just be sure to choose the right person for the job who will do it discreetly for you.
Sweep and Clear: Digital Help For Personal Issues
Cleaning accounts aren’t only for adult content but there may be some very deeply personal accounts and information that someone may not want leaked after they pass. For example, if a person is a member of a support group for abuse, addiction, or a mental disorder and kept it private throughout their life. These are deeply personal and a person may want it kept a secret long after they are gone. It might be common in society for people to talk about their problems, but there are still many who like to keep their personal struggles private. If this is the case, make sure your Cleaner knows of these accounts and unsubscribes or deletes your information and any emails or newsletters you may receive.
Sweep and Clear: Cloud-Based Storage
Often overlooked, cloud-based services are one of the last places people think of when it comes to cleaning but information on cloud services can so easily be leaked! Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and other services allow you to backup files to a virtual hard drive, which means people often store important or sensitive information and pictures on these accounts. You might want your Cleaner to do a sweep of offending material and eliminate these accounts before the next billing cycle.
Time sensitive! It’s unfair to have an estate continue to autopay a cloud storage account because Cleaners and Deputies don’t have time to clean it out. If you’re tasked with handling this aspect of someone’s estate try and get these accounts sorted and removed as soon as you can.
Physical Media, “Toys,” and Possibly Offensive Material
This is a tricky category to navigate the disposal of without family and friends being alerted. You will want your Cleaner to have first access to these items before your family and friends can find them. They will also need to be incredibly discreet about their disposal. These items are often very embarrassing and often secrets to family and friends. Plus, they are often hidden so providing exact directions to your Cleaner will be very important with such sensitive material.
Sweep and Clear: DVDs, VHS, Magazines, and Photos
A throwback to early technology, those with DVDs, VHS, Magazines, and Photos may have some embarrassing or secret content that they wouldn’t want discovered after their passing. These items are most likely stored in a discreet or secret place that you should reveal to your Cleaner. Ideally, your cleaner will find a good time to quietly dispose of these items through any means necessary, like destroying the items, setting them on fire, shredding them, or dumping them in a public dumpster. These items could be scattered about a person’s home so the Cleaner may need to do a very thorough sweep of the premises or you can leave them strict instructions for accessing these sundries.
Sweep and Clear: “Toys,” Racy Garments and Novelty Items
Whether you bought them yourself or perhaps you have some prank gifts hiding somewhere among your home, these aren’t items you’d want your family or friends stumbling upon after you have passed. In comes your Cleaner, to grab anything potentially racy or embarrassing and discard them. You may want to disclose the location of these items and recommend your Cleaner bring some disposable gloves. It’s not an easy job but your Cleaner will know to be discreet and they won’t judge.
Sweep and Clear: Books and Other Items That Could Be Misunderstood
You may find yourself collecting items over the years that may be misunderstood when found out of context. If there’s something you think might have people question your beliefs or how you lived your life, let your Cleaner know what you want done.
Personal Correspondence, Hidden Assets, Weapons…
Stashed love notes, letters, and other questionable secret communications will be the hot topic if your friends and family members find them. To mitigate the rumours and to keep your secrets, your Cleaner will need access to these items immediately. Leaving proper instructions to accessing anything potentially dangerous, like weapons, that may be in a safe will ensure others will not get their hands on these items.
Sweep and Clear: Journals and Diaries
Private diaries and journals are just that, private! No one wants their inner most thoughts and feelings to be exposed to the world after they are gone. Whether you want your Cleaner to shred these items, toss them into a fire, or just dump them somewhere, just make sure to let them know your wishes clearly.
Sweep and Clear: Hidden Assets
If there’s a chance there may be some hidden valuables or money stashed about your house, it is honestly best to see an estate attorney to handle it legally, most likely through a Trust that allows you to pass on these assets. While we can’t condone it, if you happen to want the money hidden in your home to go to a person secret to the rest of your family and friends, a Cleaner may be the person you entrust with this task. To properly prepare your estate to be passed on, just be sure to sweep your home of any hidden assets, you wouldn’t want them getting lost when you’re gone.
Sweep and Clear: Wigs, Prosthetics and Piercings
This is often an embarrassing and secret topic for most people. For those without someone that close, or if you have an extremely private piercing or body modification you want to keep secret forever, your Cleaner should be tasked with disposing of said items or calling a funeral home and making sure they don’t reveal their findings to the family. While these things might go unnoticed, it is best to call the funeral director, explain the situation, and ask for it to be removed and disposed of.
Sweep and Clear: Medication
From a safety standpoint, it is very important to get to these items first before others can get a hold of them. Also, if you perhaps suffered from a mental health disorder or something that you would like to remain private, your Cleaner should run through the medicine cabinet and discard any evidence of your ailment. Painkillers are also often abused by youth and preventing them from getting their hands on these potentially dangerous drugs is very important. Don’t flush pills down the toilet. Instead, just empty them into the trash. We also suggest taking the labels off of the bottles since they may contain personal information.
Sweep and Clear: Narcotics
While prescription drugs are dangerous, narcotics are both dangerous and illegal. You probably don’t want your stash being discovered while people are rifling through your stuff. Have your Cleaner discard the narcotics and don’t forget to include all the related paraphernalia. Discovering these items after someone's passing may add to rumours and stories about a person and you don’t want assumptions to be made about how you lived your life. Unless the deceased publicly struggled and wanted to be used as an example for future generations, discretion as opposed to sanctimonious morality goes a long way in these situations.
Sweep and Clear: Unregistered Weapons
The proper protocol for removal of registered guns is to call law enforcement and let them handle it. When we get into the hidden and secret weapons, protocol kind of goes out the window. Keep in mind, the person caught with weapons will suffer the consequences. If your Cleaner gets pulled over with illegal weapons in their trunk, then they’re the ones going to jail. So please be responsible.
Knives and non-exploding items: Knives aren’t necessarily illegal, so you can tell your Cleaner to give them to someone, sell them online, or toss them in the trash. A Cleaner can take ownership of these weapons, however it then becomes their responsibility if they get caught in a state where those weapons are illegal.
Firearms and Explosives: This is one of the few areas where a Cleaner should not remove those items from the house. Instead, the Cleaner should treat these the same way they would legal firearms. Let local law enforcement know the situation and work with them to safely remove them.
Sweep and Clear: Actual Skeletons…
Now we’re getting to the darker side of the Cleaner’s job. But seriously, if someone ever wants you to dispose of an actual body, call the cops immediately. Because things just got real.
Sweep and Clear: Criminal Record
If you did the crime and served your time, it’s understandable if you don’t want it to be mentioned in a Death Notice or Eulogy. A Cleaner can’t make the charges disappear, or erase them from the public record, but they can eliminate any discharge papers or other remnants you may still have in your possession.
Sweep and Clear: Dishonorable Discharge
It’s understandable that a person would want to keep this a secret because this is an incredibly shameful and embarrassing event in their lives. A Cleaner can’t make this disappear, but they can help smooth over the situation if the family expects to receive a military funeral or other benefits and are declined.
Sweep and Clear: Divorce Decrees and Illegitimate Children
While, divorce may not carry the same stigma as it once did, some people may have a marriage in their distant past they’d like stricken from the planet. While it may be on record somewhere if a person goes searching for it, they’d be able to find it quite easily if you have the divorce decree among your important papers. We suggest keeping this with those love letters and notes you wanted to discard, making the work easier for your Cleaner.
Sweep and Clear: Secret Society or Racist Groups
Everyone should live their lives as they want even if you may not agree with them. A Cleaner will show no judgement when they are told they need to destroy or discard the remnants of these parts of a person’s life. A person could have documentation, robes, masks, or other things we have no idea about. We suggest employing a Cleaner with knowledge of your involvement in this secret society, perhaps another member, since it’s all very mysterious and curious.
Swingers Club Membership
We may be swinging a bit wild here and we’re not sure exactly how these clubs work but if there’s anything that shows proof of membership, you may want your Cleaner to discard it.
We have covered a wealth of categories regarding cleaning out skeletons and I’m sure we even missed some more niche topics but we think we can all come to the consensus that you need a good Cleaner. Someone who is trustworthy, non-judgmental, and understanding to handle this potential dangerous, intense, and tedious task. Also, gathering all the items that need to be cleaned together and providing detailed instructions for your Cleaner gets the job done fast and you’re less likely to miss anything.