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.


AARP. “How Do Scammers Know So Much About Me? (accessed January 25, 2019)

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?”


How Can I Use Special Needs Planning with the New Tax Laws?

Of course, the precise expenses for an individual with special needs will vary, based upon the type of condition and level of care. A condition, such as autism, can require lifetime support costing upwards of $2.3 million, according to the advocacy and support organization Autism Speaks.

If you have a family member affected by a disability, what is your plan to pay for this care? This was the issue explored in a recent Financial Planning article, “A new special needs planning approach under the tax overhaul.”

Families usually want to plan for disabled relatives, but can be wary of losing access to savings, fearing that they may need the money themselves. A caretaker must also weigh the individual’s needs against the family’s other financial goals and obligations.

Planning for people with special needs, often involved irrevocable trust strategies in the past. Trusts can benefit the person with special needs, but other family members had limited access to the investments. The lifetime estate tax exemption is now doubled under the tax overhaul, so most Americans do not face a federal estate tax. The change in the tax law and higher exemptions have made it possible for people to plan for the loved one’s care, while ensuring protection for the family.

  • Estimate the cost of caring for a family member with special needs. A good plan should preserve eligibility for government benefits, such as Medi-cal and SSI. However, it is important to note that many expenses are not covered. This plan must also state who will care for the disabled person, if the primary caregiver dies or is incapacitated.
  • Decide how to fund the plan. Families frequently use a permanent life insurance policy to help cover any gaps left by limited government aid. The death benefit, which is generally income tax-free, provides money to help replace caregiver services, add to benefits provided under government programs and provide a liquidity source to help equalize the inheritance for other family members.

When the federal estate tax exemption was lower, a parent or caregiver usually would create an irrevocable third-party special needs trust during their lifetime. The trust assets would be used to purchase a life insurance policy, with the trust made owner and beneficiary. At the insured’s death, the death benefit received by the trust would be excluded from the grantor’s estate for estate taxes. The policy distributions would provide ongoing care for the relative, while allowing for access to government benefits.

However, the new higher exemptions have made it possible to plan for a loved one with special needs and also protect the entire family. This can be done by a caretaker personally owning a life insurance policy on his/her life, that names a special needs trust as the beneficiary.

  • Work with an estate planning attorney. Use an attorney who has experience with special needs planning, to determine the appropriate ownership structure, based on your personal situation.

Reference: Financial Planning (January 15, 2019) “A new special needs planning approach under the tax overhaul”

How Can a Trust Keep My Family From An Undesirable Lifestyle?

How Can a Trust Keep My Family From An Undesirable Lifestyle?
incentive trust beneficiaries

Some people are hesitant to use trusts in their estate planning. Some have the notion that if you leave money in trust, it will make “trust fund babies” of your children or grandchildren.

You may be afraid that they’ll become spoiled brats, who do nothing but spend money they haven’t earned or invest foolishly.

FEDWeek’s recent story, “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs” explains that trust distributions can be limited to modest amounts or left to the discretion of the trustee, who’ll manage the trust assets.

This article suggests that if you do leave money in trust, you should avoid the common practice of providing for distributions at the ages 25 and 30.

That’s because, at those ages, most people are better off finishing their education and establishing their careers. Giving them a bagful of money at that age might decrease their drive to pursue a meaningful career.

One way to do this is what’s called an “incentive” trust. This type of trust offers rewards to trust beneficiaries who accomplish specific goals.

With an incentive trust, the beneficiaries might get a particular amount of money for getting higher education degrees, attaining certain levels of earned income or volunteering at a church or in the community. For instance, your trust could be drafted by your estate planning attorney to state that the trustee will distribute to each of your grandchildren a certain percentage (such as 25%) of earnings each year, up to a certain amount. This could be tied to a requirement that you make.

Another way to go about this trust is to leave the distributions to the discretion of the trustee. The trust might detail the types of activities that will be rewarded, then permit the trustee to make appropriate distributions.

When you’re going to depend so much on the judgment of the trustee, for this type of arrangement to work, it’s critical to choose a highly-qualified trustee.

The trustee could be a relative, friend, professional advisor, or licensed private fiduciary. They must be able to empathize with your beneficiaries but still make prudent decisions about distributions. It is best to nominate someone who is independent and will not benefit from the distributions themselves. In addition, add a plan for trustee succession, in case your first choice becomes unable or cannot serve.

Reference: FEDWeek (January 17, 2019) “Using a Trust as an Incentive for Your Heirs”

What Does a Fiduciary Do?

What Does a Fiduciary Do?
Lunch Meeting

It sounds a little like something financial, like maybe something you do at a bank. But a fiduciary relationship is a legal relationship that includes responsibilities that can be enforced, reports the Denton Record-Chronicle in a detailed article with the edgy headline “What is the “F” word?” The article addresses this serious topic that is often glossed over.

In a fiduciary relationship, whether between a lawyer and a client, a CPA and a client or two non-professionals, one person has a duty to act only in ways that will benefit the other person or group of people. The fiduciary is required to be loyal, act in good faith, be completely honest and refrain from doing anything that would benefit the fiduciary, instead of the person they are responsible for. This is required, even if the people are not aware of being in a fiduciary relationship.

The fiduciary may not use their position, as trustee or financial advisor or executor, to “self-deal,” or take actions that benefit the fiduciary and not the other person or people. The fiduciary must also share all relevant information with the beneficiary.

So, who are these fiduciaries? They could be business partners, someone who has power of attorney for another person, trustees or estate representatives, attorneys, licensed private fiduciaries, or employees. These formal relationships are created by a relationship; in these instances, they are usually around legal agreements in the shape of partnership agreements, estate planning documents, retainers (for attorneys) and employment contracts for employees.

Some fiduciary relationships come with more responsibilities than others. Trustees and personal estate representatives, like executors, are charged with tasks in addition to general fiduciary duties. They are usually given the responsibilities of handling money, property, and investments. They have a duty to properly manage those assets and report on those assets to the beneficiaries and heirs.

For attorneys, client-attorney privilege, that is, not sharing information that the client tells the attorney in confidence, is a fiduciary duty. It is also an ethical duty for the attorney.

For employees, the duty to act in an employer’s best interest may not be as limiting. Unless there is a non-compete contract, the employee may seek employment from a competitor or create a competing business, while working for the employer. However, the employee may not steal customers or other employees, before resigning from a position.

If a fiduciary does not follow through on their duties, it is called a breach of fiduciary duties. In estate planning, the executor is expected not to self-deal, and to put the interest of the estate and its beneficiaries first. The executor may charge a fee. However, the amount is determined by the laws of the state.

It should be noted that estate planning attorneys are guided by fiduciary duties and ethical responsibilities that are part of their training as attorneys. An attorney must always put their client’s interests first and keep the client fully informed, even when it’s not good news.

Reference: Denton Record-Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2019) “What is the “F” word?”