Preparing to Settle Digital Estates

Settling the estate of a loved family member or dear friend is a challenging and emotionally wearing process, reports The-Parallax in the article “How to settle your loved one’s digital estate.” If an estate plan is in place, some things are easier. However, even then, there are possessions to sort through, assets to distribute and many tasks that need to be done. Now, add digital assets to that list.

Most people know they need to do something, but few have a plan in place to direct their executor on how to handle their digital assets. Creating a digital will can make the process easier. That could include everything from a Facebook account to photos in the cloud.

This is still a relatively new part of our digital lives that you want to prepare for. The tendency is to do nothing because people don’t know where to start.  Therefore, here is an overview of the most popular digital platforms and their requirements. This is a rapidly changing area, so do the homework to make sure that these policies are still in place.

Amazon does not yet have an automated process in place to close a deceased person’s account.

Apple asks that the executor contact Apple Support. You’ll need to provide the user’s Apple ID, email address and a death certificate.

Facebook requires a special request and proof of the authority under local law that you are the representative of the deceased person or their estate. You’ll also need their birth certificate and death certificate. Facebook allows you to make an account a memorialized Facebook account, where content remains visible according to their privacy settings and friends can continue to post. Living individuals can appoint a legacy contact to manage their account.

Google requires the use of a form, verification that you are a relative or legal representative, a death certificate and additional documents. If you are preparing for your own death, you can use the Inactive Account Manager to share parts of your account data, appoint a trusted contact and notify someone, if their account has been inactive for a certain period of time.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, provides two options: remove it or memorialize it. Verified immediate family members can require that the account be closed with proof that you are an immediate family member, along with the decedent’s birth and death certificates.

Linked In has a form to request the closing of a user profile. You’ll need to provide the person’s profile URL, the date of death, a link to an obituary, the most recent employer, emails associated with the account and other information.

Twitter has a format requiring you to make a request and will send information required. However, Twitter will only work with immediate family members or those authorized to act on behalf of the estate.

These are just a few of the top platforms. They all have a process that requires verification of the identity of the requester and of the death of the decedent. Newer platforms pop up all the time and some have processes, while others do not for the death of an account holder.

This is still a relatively new area and will change as time goes on. Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure your estate plan includes addressing digital assets.

Reference: The-Parallax.com (Sep. 14, 2018) “How to settle your loved one’s digital estate”

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts, and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

Does Anyone Really Need a Trust?

The simplest definition of a trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between the person who created the trust and the fiduciary for the benefit of a third party. The person who created the trust is known as the “Settlor” or “Trustor.” The fiduciary, known as the “Trustee,” is the person or organization with the authority to handle the asset(s). The trustee owes the duty of good faith and trust to the third party, known as the “Beneficiary.”

That is accurately described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the article titled “Do I need a trust?”

Trusts are created by the preparation of a trust document by an estate planning attorney. The trust can be made to take effect while the Trustor is alive — referred to as inter vivos or after the person’s death — testamentary.

The document can be irrevocable, meaning it can never be changed, or revocable, which means it can change from one type of trust to another, under certain circumstances.

Whether you even need a trust, has nothing to do with your level of assets. People work with estate planning attorneys to create trusts for many different reasons. Here are a few:

  • Consolidating assets during lifetime and for ease of management upon disability or death.
  • Avoiding probate so assets can be transferred with privacy.
  • Protecting a beneficiary with cognitive or physical disabilities.
  • Setting forth the rules of use for a jointly shared asset, like a family vacation home.
  • Tax planning reasons, especially when IRAs are being transferred to the next generation.
  • Planning for death, disability, divorce or bankruptcy.

There is considerable misinformation about trusts and how they are used. Let’s debunk a few myths:

An irrevocable trust means I can’t ever change anything. Ever. Even with an irrevocable trust, the settlor typically reserves options to control trust assets. It depends upon how the trust is prepared. That may include, depending upon the state, the right to receive distributions of principal and income, the right to distribute money from the trust to third parties at any time and the right to buy and sell real estate owned by the trust, among others. Depending upon where you live, you may be able to “decant” a trust into another trust. Ask your estate planning attorney, if this is an option.

I don’t have enough assets to need a trust. This is not necessarily so. Many of today’s retirees have six-figure retirement accounts, while their parents and grandparents didn’t usually have that much saved. They had pensions, which were controlled by their employers. Today’s worker owns more assets with complex tax issues.

You don’t have to be a descendant of an ancient Roman family to need a trust. The probate limit is $150,000 in California. You must just have enough factors that make it worthwhile doing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if you need a trust. While you’re at it, make sure your estate plan is up to date. If you don’t have an estate plan, there’s no time like the present to tackle this necessary personal responsibility.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jan. 28, 2019) “Do I need a trust?”

How to Keep Your Personal Information from Scammers

Seniors are frequent targets of scammers. Thousands of older Americans have lost their life savings to con artists. Victims are often astonished at how the crooks gathered so much personal data about them. The bad guys work full-time at devising new ways to steal your money right from under your nose. To help you know how to keep your personal information from scammers, here are the top six ways they get their hands on your details.

  • You throw out your mail without shredding it. Any mail you get that has your name and address on it (which is nearly everything that lands in your mailbox), any account numbers, or other personal data should not go into the trash in readable form. You can buy a shredder for $30 or less. You do not need an industrial-grade machine – just something that chops up the paper sufficiently.

Con artists are particularly fond of getting credit card offers out of the trash. They fill out a credit card in your name, but have it sent to the crook’s address. Those paper checks that your credit card company sends you with balance transfer offers, are pure gold to scammers. Shred them.

  • You post personal information on Facebook or other social media. Never post any personal details about yourself or your family on a public setting on Facebook. Better yet, do not post personal information at all on social media, regardless of the privacy setting. People are dumbfounded at how a con artist knew the names and ages of their grandchildren, the kind of pets they have and where they went on vacation. However, they posted it for the world to see on Facebook.
  • You fill out surveys. You cannot stay in a hotel or go out to eat, without someone wanting you to fill out a questionnaire about your experience. I’ll bet you did not know that many companies sell their survey data. Crooks can buy data to find out whether you own your home, how much annual income you get, the kind of car you drive and other survey details.
  • You send in warranty registration cards. It is rarely necessary to send in a warranty registration card to protect your rights in case a product fails. The registration cards are often a ruse to get personal information from you, like your total household income and your age. Companies sell that information, and you have no way of knowing who buys your personal data.
  • You enter contests. Companies reap massive benefits when they run contests. They cannot just give away prizes and money, without getting something in return. Many contests are a front for marketers to collect information about you and sell it on to others. At the very least, you could get pestering phone calls from telemarketers. However, if you are unlucky and a con artist buys your data, you could become a victim of identity theft or some other scam.
  • There has been a death in your family recently. Traditional obituaries provide a wealth of information for crooks, as they can construct a family tree from the information in most obits. Be extremely cautious about revealing relationships or other information about the family in an obituary. You can write a respectable piece, without feeding the con artists.

References:

AARP. “How Do Scammers Know So Much About Me? (accessed January 25, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/identity-mistakes.html

How Do I Incorporate Charitable Giving into My Estate Plan?

How Do I Incorporate Charitable Giving into My Estate Plan?
charity donate charitable giving

When looking into charitable giving, it can easily become overwhelming with all of the references to tax codes, regulations and forms. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to make this a simple part of your estate planning.

The Press & Guide’s recent article, “Estate planning and charitable giving,” explains that there are a number of ways to incorporate charitable giving into an estate plan.  It is something that almost anyone can do. Let’s look at some common ways to give:

Giving in your will. When hearing about charitable giving and estate planning, many people may get intimidated by estate taxes. They think their heirs will not get as much of their money, as they wanted. However, including a charitable contribution in your estate plan will reduce your estate tax liabilities—helping to maximize the final value of your estate for your heirs. Talk to your estate attorney and ensure that your donation is detailed properly in your will.

Donating your retirement account. You can name a charity as the beneficiary on your retirement account. Charities are exempt from both income and estate taxes, so going this route means the charity will receive 100% of the account’s value, when it’s liquidated.

Creating a charitable trust. A charitable trust is another way to give back through estate planning. You can ask your attorney about a split-interest trust that allows a person to donate their assets to a charity but keep some of the benefits of holding those assets. A split-interest trust funds a trust in the charity’s name. Those who open one, get a tax deduction any time money is transferred into the trust. However, the donors still control the assets in the trust, which is passed to the charity at the time of their deaths.

Charitable giving is an important component of many people’s estate plan. There are several options for charitable trusts, so speak to an experienced estate planning attorney to help you select the best one for you, your family and the charities you want to support.

Reference: (Southgate MI) Press & Guide (January 27, 2019) “Estate planning and charitable giving”

What’s the Latest with Aretha Franklin’s Estate?

What’s the Latest with Aretha Franklin’s Estate?
aretha franklin estate

Aretha Franklin, known as “The Queen of Soul,” died of pancreatic cancer in August of 2018 in her Detroit riverfront apartment at age 76.

Franklin did not have a will or trust. Therefore, processing the estate, which could be worth tens of millions of dollars, has been slow.

The Detroit Free Press reported in a recent article, “Aretha Franklin’s ex-husband wants a cut of her music royalties,” that recently filed pleadings in Oakland County Probate Court detail some of the fighting.

“There is a dispute between the estate and Ms. Franklin’s ex-husband, the father to one of the heirs, regarding music royalties,” David Bennett, a lawyer for the estate, wrote in a pleading.

Aretha Franklin was twice divorced, and the record doesn’t name the man, beyond saying that he’s the father of one of her four sons. It looks like it’s her first husband, Ted White, who served for a time as Franklin’s manager. Franklin and White have a son, Ted White Jr. Her second marriage to actor Glynn Turman didn’t occur until 1978—eight years after her youngest son was born.

The recent court pleading was filed in response to a request from Edward Franklin, Aretha’s son, for more financial disclosure from the estate, as it’s being processed. Prior to Christmas, a lawyer for Edward Franklin requested that Probate Judge Jennifer Callaghan order the disclosure of monthly financial statements and other records.

Edward wants “copies of all invoices and supporting documents regarding payments to friends and relatives of the personal representative, if any, for services performed for the estate.”

The lawyer for the estate, Bennett, asked Judge Callaghan to deny the request for monthly financial updates, because it “would be an exceptional expense to the estate, is time-consuming and would interfere with the administration of the estate.”

The IRS filed a claim in December of last year alleging the Franklin estate owed about $6.3 million in back taxes and penalties. An attorney for the estate told the Associated Press that at least $3 million in back taxes had been paid back to the IRS, since Franklin’s death.

Unfortunately for her estate, much of this could have been avoided (especially the court proceedings), if she had prepared an estate plan.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (January 11, 2019) “Aretha Franklin’s ex-husband wants a cut of her music royalties”

How Do I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?

How Do I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?
pets included in estate plan

A recent survey of pet owners showed that nearly half (44%) of pet owners have prepared for the future care of their animals, in the event their pets outlive them. With traditional financial planning instruments like living trusts, life insurance, and annuities, pet owners can have peace of mind knowing their pets’ needs will be met.

Forbes’s article, “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners,” says that typically, “pet estate plans” should cover more than simply who will care for the pet, when you are no longer around. Expenses such as food, doggie day care, veterinarian bills and medication should also be considered.

20% of all respondents in the survey said they have financially planned for their pets’ future care. About 38% said they added the pet’s future caregiver as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy and 35% added more coverage to their life policies. 13% also recently purchased annuities naming the pet’s caregiver as the beneficiary.

However, many pet owners forget about end-of-life planning. Consider an individual trust for your pet or donating funds to your local humane society or pet shelter.

One question many have before adding a new animal to the family, is whether they can afford it. The cost of an animal from a breeder can be high, so a more affordable option is to check out your local humane society or animal rescue group. Remember that the costs of food, vet bills, and other supplies are just as important to think about, before making a pet a part of your family. Pets are too often returned to animal shelters, because pet parents were unable to afford to properly care for the pet.

Last, ask about pet insurance at your veterinarian. Many clinics offer plans and staff members will be able to talk to you about the right option based on the type of animal, breed, age and other criteria of your pet.

Simple steps like these will make certain your pets are cared for properly and without burden to the person who accepts your animals.

Reference: Forbes (January 27, 2019) “3 Financial Planning Tips For Pets Owners”

How Can I Make a Trip to the ER Easier for an Alzheimer’s Patient?

How Can I Make a Trip to the ER Easier for an Alzheimer’s Patient?
Emergency room

Trying to make someone with Alzheimer’s comfortable in an ER is not an easy thing. However, there are some things you can do to make the stimulation-saturated environment a little less overwhelming, says The Advocate in the article “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What should I know before taking someone with Alzheimer’s to the emergency room.”

Start long before you must go to the ER, by creating a list of your medications and have a few copies with you.

Bring the medication list and any assistive devices, including hearing aids, dentures, an extra pair of glasses and any walking aids, like a walker or a cane.

Also, have a list of contact information for all healthcare providers and family members. If you have a power of attorney for healthcare (also referred to a California Advance Healthcare Directive), bring that as well. If the individual has a POLST or any other documents, like a do not resuscitate (DNR), bring those just in case. Make sure to have all health insurance information.

Expect a wait, so bring snacks. A portable music player with the person’s favorite soothing music and headphones may provide some comfort. Magazines or books that are used during quiet times at home may be useful. Don’t bring anything of value, like jewelry or a wallet. And don’t bring a crowd. Small children, unless there is no one who can care for them or other family members, are best left at home.

Unless the individual is having a life-threatening emergency, you will likely have to wait, and you may be waiting a while. Provide simple step-by-step explanations of what is taking place and be honest with them about why they are in the hospital and what is happening.

Focus on keeping them calm and comfortable. Offer a snack and if possible, find a quiet space in the waiting room.

Make sure that the hospital staff is aware you are there with a person who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. They may not have training in caring for dementia patients, so be prepared to advocate for your parent or loved one. Offer suggestions in communicating with the person and ask doctors and medical personnel to limit their questions, which may increase stress and anxiety. Speak with the doctor privately, if possible.

Request that the staff avoid using any physical restraints or medications to control the person’s behavior, unless absolutely necessary. Let the staff know about any fever, medication side effects or changes in mental status. Never leave the person alone in the ER or the evaluation room.

Reference: The Advocate (Jan. 20, 2019) “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What should I know before taking someone with Alzheimer’s to the emergency room”

Is Your Junk Drawer Better Organized than Your Digital Assets?

If your digital estate is not properly cared for, it can lead to problems for your heirs, including an opportunity for hackers to try to get at whatever assets they can, reports the White Mountain Independent in the article titled “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?”

Think about how many of your personal accounts are online:

  • Financial accounts: banking, brokerage, bill-paying utilities;
  • Virtual property: credit card points, frequent flyer miles, cryptocurrency;
  • Business accounts: eBay, Amazon, Etsy; stock photo accounts;
  • Email accounts: Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo;
  • Social network: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram; and
  • Online digital storage: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud.

Those are many assets to protect. Where do you start?

First, create an inventory. Use the categories above or create your own. However, you should make it organized.

Document your wishes for how you want your digital assets to be managed. If you don’t specify this, you may be leaving a wide-open arena for long legal battles. Your heirs and beneficiaries may never gain access to them. Hackers might go after them and use your identity. Your heirs may also have to engage in an expensive and protracted battle with a social media giant with costs eating into their inheritance.

Name a digital executor in your will. This is a relatively new area, but you can name a person to be your digital executor. Not all states recognize this position, so you’ll want to speak with a local estate planning attorney to find out what the laws are in your state.

Ensure your estate planning documents include the authorization to access your accounts. Depending on the state you are in, the access to your digital assets on your death will be determined by the terms of the account, as well as your estate planning documents. It is important that your documents allow for the access and management of your digital assets on your death.

Review your plans, especially as you add new digital assets.

Managing digital assets can be as difficult as managing tangible assets. The laws are still evolving, so speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure that your estate is prepared, and your heirs will not face a digital nightmare after you have passed away.

Reference: White Mountain Independent (Oct. 26, 2018) “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?”