As you or a loved one moves into hospice care, it’s time to start thinking about digital estate planning. By leaving behind specific instructions, you can save family members from a lot of stress and heartache. With the rise of technology, it’s important to plan ahead for your digital assets.

To ensure that a portion of your identity isn’t left floating around in cyberspace, you may want to start outlining your plans for your digital estate. Below are some tips and guidelines to help you arrange for the distribution of your digital assets.

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Create an inventory of your digital material and devices.

Before doing anything else, create a list of your online material and digital devices with password protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Social media accounts, email information, blogs, pictures, retail accounts, cash sending apps, and videos…there is a lot of information out there, and you want to make sure that you acknowledge the entirety of your digital estate before you go any further.

Consider using an online resource or app as a tool to organize your assets.

New apps and websites are available that allow you to store all of your assets in a digital space. They function as a sort of bank for your digital assets. This is an easy way to compile your material so it is easily accessible to loved ones. However, do some thorough research on the company you choose to make sure it’s reputable.

Woman sitting at computer, wearing yellow sweater, books on desk nearby

Construct a list with all of your usernames and passwords and store it in a safe place.

As you gather login information, you may even want to create two separate lists, splitting the username and password information and storing them in two separate locations for greater security. Another option is to use a code your family will understand but would be difficult for a stranger to decipher. Be sure to update these lists every time you update your passwords. Be sure to keep this information out of your will because the will ends up in the public records, which raises safety concerns. Don’t forget to include your computer and phone pass codes! Many people overlook the fact that their devices (and all the information and photos stored on them) are often inaccessible to loved ones after they die without those very important codes.

Begin looking at individual companies’ policies.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of legal gray area concerning the distribution of digital information after the death of an individual. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn…all of these companies have different policies for dealing with the material of a person who has passed. Familiarize yourself with the individual polices so that you can determine the best course of action.

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Provide instructions.

Once everything has been planned, appoint a representative who will act on your behalf and follow your instructions regarding your online information. Do not include username and password information in a legal will. However, you should designate your representative in the will and provide general instructions for your digital assets. Contact your representative to ensure they know where and how to obtain your personal information.

Make sure that loved ones know to act fast.

Many companies have a legal right to the ownership of your account after you die, and often, an account is merely shut down and the material lost. However, if your family members act fast and access the material before the company deletes the account, or if they contact the company directly, they can find a way to access the material. If it’s a social media account, they can post a final tribute or retrieve some precious photos. If it’s an email or an account with important personal information, they may be able to access the account to transfer some of the information before the account is terminated.

However, if your illness is slow-moving, there may be time to begin preserving photos, posts, videos, and more. By working with family members or trusted friends, you can gather the digital information you want protected and safeguarded.

Father and adult son sitting at desk together, looking at documents with computer nearby

Check your state’s laws.

As with so many legal issues, digital estate planning may vary based on the laws of your state. Some states have specific laws for handling the online material of a deceased person. Other states have no such laws regarding these issues. To ensure that you’re doing things correctly, look into your state’s guidelines or contact an estate planning attorney.

Hopefully these tips and guidelines will give you a foundation to build on as you complete your digital estate planning. Don’t forget to also complete a legal will and any other recommended documents to ensure that everything is taken care of for your family.

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