My wife was asked to take pictures of all the furniture and keepsakes in her parents’ home. Her folks, both in their 90s, had earmarked which items each of their seven children were to receive when the parents eventually move out of the home they have owned for more than 60 years.

The intent, obviously, was to remove any doubt as to who should receive specific pieces. It also helped to organize the distribution and eventual pickup of the stuff. And, if the designated kid did not want the item, it was up to that person to move it out of the folks’ home and give it away.

My wife prepared an impressive photo album with dozens of pages and countless pictures, all covered in plastic and color-coded with each sibling having his or her own identifying color. The project brought a calm and peace of mind to the parents and the children, all knowing that a much-needed chore had been. After years of wondering, the guess work was now gone for at least one estate decision.

However, the folks misplaced the book so the effort was wasted. 

The concept of documenting assets, once used primarily for disaster protection, has evolved into a huge sophisticated world of preservation and updating. No longer are we only concerned with keeping wills, warranties and pictures safe, but we also want to make them available for future generations.

“You can put wonderful pictures of your children and scans of your insurance policy on a thumb drive,” said Pete Schmitt, chief executive officer of Gen-Arc, “but how will you know your child’s computer will be able to read it 10 years down the road when you are dead and gone?”

There's no doubt that the average person significantly undervalues his belongings. People are simply worth more than they think they are. And, much of their “wealth” goes beyond stocks and bank accounts.

Gen-Arc is one company specializing in the preservation, privacy and security of “digital estates” – basically any data or material that can be stored and inherited.  Carl King, company president, said its secret sauce is its ability to constantly update any format of any material, whether it is children’s art, tax returns, bank records, wills and trusts or big-ticket receipts.

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The process of finding and then inputting information can be daunting and overwhelming. Gen-Arc provides its customers with how-to checklists plus two hours of concierge service to help sort, organize and process the information.

“The most-asked question we receive is ‘should I archive everything?’” King said. “This can be especially true when it comes to pictures. While the space we offer can usually hold every picture and document anybody would ever want, we advise archiving just the important photographs. Not every photo in the series.”

Schmitt, Carl King and a few other partners were as concerned about the preservation and updating of critical documents as they were about safety and accessibility. Their service offers archiving and updating for a 99-year term and for a one-time fee of approximately $500. More options are on the way, including a less expensive domestic package and an all-inclusive business application.

How does the company go about digitizing critical documents? It has a mobile service where material is scanned in a van on the customer’s property and immediately returned. It also offers a “pack and ship” option for those customers who allow shipping via private carrier. It is then delivered to the “cloud,” an online network of servers where it can be accessed anytime, anywhere. 

Gen-Arc also offers video and film conversion, mainly because of Schmitt’s personal experience.

“I was one of those guys who gathered all our home movies, converted them to a CD, and then stuck them in a file,” Schmitt said. “I then wondered if my daughter would be able to play it when she grew up.  We created a way that assures she can but that others will have access to the service as well.”

Each Gen-Arc account holder is provided with individualized access permissions. The account holder can allow or deny access to any category or assets. For example, perhaps you have a trustee you wish only to view financial details. Perhaps you allow your children to access your passports when you are traveling.

“We had a customer who went to Montana by car but forgot her driver’s license,” Schmitt said. “When she got to the airport, the airline required her license for identification. Because she had it archived, she was able to pull the license up on her phone via our mobile app.”

Maybe my in-laws would allow one of their children or grandchildren to digitize their estate. That way, maybe they will give us access so we’ll know who gets the comfy couch in the den. 

As author, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and talk-show host, Tom Kelly has carved a niche as one of the leading real estate and finance journalists. His book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Stewart International, and is available in retail stores and on He and his wife, Jodi, Dean of the Humanities College at Seattle University live on Bainbridge Island, WA. Their four grown children are spread out around the world and their first grandchild, Myles Thomas, makes them goofy with joy. You can connect with Tom on his Facebook page at, or check out his website at

Tom Kelly’s novel “Cold Crossover” is now available in print at bookstores everywhere and in both print and Ebook form from a variety of digital outlets. Follow real estate agent and former basketball coach Ernie Creekmore as investigates the disappearance of his star player on a late-night boat. Check out the national reviews and put “Cold Crossover” on your list.