Friday, November 20, 2009

'Issues' for Younger People

While some people might be happy their relatives can't get access to their email or other accounts, others are taking matters into their own hands. As attorneys, we are facing new issues for this generation. Savvy folks in their 30’s are requesting specific instructions for their Facebook page. Who would have ever thought?

This all raises the question: How do you protect your sensitive data while you're alive while at the same time ensuring your heirs have access to the necessary account information once you're gone? It's not as though handing out your passwords is always a good idea.

One solution is to give a lawyer or trusted relative all the information. Be sure to put this information in your will and/or estate plan and dont neglect to update it as needed. Another idea: Divvy up different accounts to different people. Or, store the information in a safety-deposit box or home safe -- just make sure someone can gain access to the box or safe.

There are also companies that aim to help you sort through these issues. One source is Legacy Locker. It allows you to store all log-in and password information for your online accounts as well as leaving arrangements for sending it to the appropriate people upon your death. Others have features such as writing and storing letters to be sent to relatives.

The bottom line today is that in our ever changing technological world, protecting assets has become even more tedious. Not only is it a good idea to have an updated estate plan but one that reflects everything you use in your day to day life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Social Networks and Death

Social networking has become almost as important as networking in person. The ability to share our photos, information, news and professional events is not only easy today but incredibly convenient. While this is great now-thinking about what happens to all of these growing online accounts when we are dead isn’t likely on the top of our minds.

Do you have your photos stored on sites such as Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery or another? Do you participate in social-networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter? If so, you may want to exert some control over what happens to your profile after you die, but unless you leave your username and password with a trusted person, it will be tough for them to gain access.

What happens to your Facebook page if no one has that log-in information? A Facebook spokeswoman says that, "if a family member alerts us that a loved one has died, we will place the profile in Memorial State, or take the profile down, based on their wishes." In memorial status, certain profile sections "are hidden from view to protect the privacy of the departed." She adds: "We will not give access to the person's account."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Creating an Estate Plan Today or Updating One Needs to Address Areas That Were Once Never Considered

If you have a will detailing your assets, make certain that you create it or update it to include not only the list of financial accounts but your usernames and passwords, too! Without log-in information, survivors usually need to go to court for legal authority to gain account access. The process varies from state to state; it doesn't always require a lawyer but it always takes time. In addition, the process can involve the heir approaching the individual online companies to heed her authority - a task that can be very frustrating. Many married couples today already face this issues when trying to get a simple balance on a credit card that is only in one spouse name. Companies today are reluctant to release any information at all-regardless of avoiding potential litigation for personal information violations.

Try contacting customer service and telling them, 'I've been appointed as my late brother's administrator. Please give me his user ID and password”. Eventually, of course, this type of problem is solved when you can reach a real human being who doesn't act like this is the first customer ever to die. But these people have to be sought out within every institution.

The process can be even more complicated if someone is incapacitated rather than dies. If there's no power of attorney, then you have to have a guardian or conservator appointed to have access to these records. Furthermore, some companies won't release any information without a specific court order.

The time to gather all of this information can be lengthy and the costs associated with it, can be more than most families expect. It is definitely an area that can be avoided if you plan for it in your estate plan or be sure to update your existing plan with all of your usernames and passwords.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Usernames + Passwords + Estate Planning?

With the constant fear of online identity theft, we create strong and varied passwords for all of our accounts. In fact, we even change these passwords often and never write them down or share them with anyone.That's all well and good while we are alive, but this safe protective measure taken while living can wreak havoc for our heirs after we die. With an increasing portion of our personal lives stored online in password-restricted accounts -- including bank accounts, automatic bill-pay arrangements, personal messages and even items with small monetary but major sentimental value, such as photos -- piecing together an estate after a death can cause major headaches. Let’s use banking as an example: If you have an online savings account separate from your regular bank account and the statement notifications are only emailed, not mailed, that account may get overlooked when your finances are disbursed to beneficiaries. Attorneys today are faced with days of searching for some accounts and other personal online site access - a costly task that can be avoided.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why should I pay a lawyer a lot of money for some simple documents?

You can buy software that produces most of the estate planning documents an attorney will prepare for you. Using such documents could turn out all right for you and your heirs, but things could go horribly wrong as well, and you'll never know if you did it right until it's too late. You could end up paying a nursing home unnecessarily or your heirs could pay unnecessary taxes or expend legal fees fighting each other.

Only a qualified attorney can educate clients on what issues they should be aware of in their individual circumstances and then recommend appropriate language to deal with the client's specific situation. Do you have a taxable estate? Do you own significant amounts of tax-deferred retirement plans? Do you know how to fund the revocable trust provided on the computer program? Is there anything about your estate that is unusual, such as having a disabled child? In short, if there's anything about your situation that's not plain vanilla, you need to see a lawyer. And only a lawyer can determine whether your situation qualifies as "plain vanilla." As with joint accounts, the problems you may create by not getting competent legal advice probably won't be yours, but may well be your children's. Do you want to risk leaving that legacy?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Health Care Power of Attorneys

The Health Care Power of Attorney

If an individual becomes incapacitated, it is important that someone have the legal authority to communicate that person's wishes concerning medical treatment. A health care power of attorney allows an individual to appoint someone else to act as their agent for medical, as opposed to financial, decisions. The health care power of attorney is a document executed by a competent person (the principal) giving another person (the agent) the authority to make health care decisions for the principal if he or she is unable to communicate such decisions. By executing a health care power of attorney, principals ensure that the instructions that they have given their agent will be carried out. A health care power of attorney is especially important to have if an individual and family members may disagree about treatment.

In general, a health care power of attorney takes effect only when the principal requires medical treatment and a physician determines that the principal is unable to communicate his or her wishes concerning treatment. How this works exactly can depend on the laws of the particular state and the terms of the health care power of attorney itself. If the principal later becomes able to express his or her own wishes, he or she will be listened to and the health care power of attorney will have no effect.

Appointing an Agent

Since the agent will have the authority to make medical decisions in the event the principal is unable to, the agent should be a family member or friend that the principal trusts to follow his or her instructions. Before executing a health care power of attorney, the principal should talk to the person whom he or she wants to name as the agent about the principal's wishes concerning medical decisions, especially life-sustaining treatment.

Once the health care power of attorney is drawn up, the agent should keep the original document. The principal should have a copy and the principal's physician should keep a copy with that individual's medical records.

Those interested in drawing up a health care power of attorney document should contact an attorney who is skilled and experienced in estate planning and elder law matters. Many hospitals and nursing homes also provide forms, as do some public agencies.