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Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning

May 8, 2012

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning — Tags: , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:44 am

As a Michigan estate planning and elder care attorney, I try to stay on top of news articles referencing estate planning.  Some are good, some are bad. Forbes has a pretty good article on the Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning.  The author starts out commenting on how “It never fails to amaze me that so many otherwise savvy individuals, many of whom have there financial lives otherwise buttoned-up use poor judgment (or no judgment) when it comes to their estate planning.”  I’d have to agree, I’ve seen many wealthy individuals who have most of their ducks in a row, but little to no estate planning.  Or estate planning that was put together by an estate planning attorney, but wholly inappropriate for their situation.

The author goes on to list seven different areas where people make state planning mistakes.

Not Having a Plan

Many people come into our office with no estate plan at all.  Often people will ask when is a good time to initially think about estate planning, and my answer is when they have things or people they want to protect.  For example, with the birth of a child you would want to put together an estate plan that provides for your child in trust, as well as puts guardianship provisions so that your child does not go into a foster home.

Online or DIY Rather than Utilizing a Professional

There has been a noticeable uptick in people using online legal preparation software such as Legalzoom or Suze Orman.  Unfortunately, relying on these web-based DIY options can be a recipe for disaster.  Just look at some of my previous blog posts on the concerns with creating your own last will and testament.

Failure to Review Beneficiary Designation and Titling of Assets

Too often people will buy a living trust based estate plan from an estate planning attorney, but they will not fund it properly or fail to keep up with their funding.  I say “buy” a trust based estate plan, because all they’ve done is bought a set of documents.  It very well might not be worth the paper it was drafted on if it’s not funded properly.  That’s the difference between a product based estate planning attorney versus a counseling based estate planning.  If you’re going to go through the estate planning process, make sure you fund your trust properly.  That’s why our office will do a funding audit, to make sure that your revocable living trust is funded properly.

The author lists the rest of the mistakes here: Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning.

The US Government Wants you to Write a Social Media Will…

May 4, 2012

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Trust,Will — Tags: , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:04 pm

Yes, apparently our US Government wants each of us to put together a “Social Media Will.’  I’m an estate planning attorney in Michigan, and advise clients on how to plan for their assets, including digital assets.  So, when I stumbled upon a blog post by USA.gov, I was intrigued.

Reading the blog post (How and Why You Should Write a Social Media Will), I kinda liked what I saw…

First, they outline how social media is not becoming a large part of everyone’s daily life and the issue of what happens with all that “stuff” if you were to pass away.  Lord knows, I have enough Facebook, Twitter, Email, Flickr, SmugMug accounts that it’s hard for me to keep track, let alone anyone else if something were to happen to me.

Next they outline some steps that should be taken to ensure that these digital assets are handled the way you would want if you were to pass away.  They recommend that just like a traditional last will and testament (or living trust!) handles your affairs for your physical belongings and financial assets, there should be a document that spells out how you want your online identity to be handled as well.

The idea of the social media will, is that like a traditional will, you’ll need to appoint someone you trust as a personal representative/trustee/executor.  That person will be responsible for closing your email addresses, social media profiles, and blogs after you are deceased.  Then that person should take the following steps:

  • Review the privacy policies and the terms and conditions of each website where you have a presence.
  • State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to completely cancel your profile or keep it up for friends and family to visit. Some sites allow users to create a memorial profile where other users can still see your profile but can’t post anything new.
  • Give the social media executor a document that lists all the websites where you have a profile, along with your usernames and passwords.
  • Stipulate in your will that the online executor should have a copy of your death certificate. The online executor may need this as proof in order for websites to take any actions on your behalf.

The timing of this was ironic, since just yesterday I blogged about how to manage and find a Deceased Loved One’s Digital Assets.

So, what do you think?  Do you have a “Social Media Will?”

Finding a Deceased Loved One’s Digital Assets

May 3, 2012

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning — Tags: , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:41 pm

Society with the increased used of the internet and the idea of “going paperless” is relying less and less on the real world and hard copies and putting more trust into the digital, virtual world or even the cloud.  When a loved one passes away and you are a trustee or personal representative trying to gather assets, this can present some interesting problems and quirks.  As Michigan estate planning and probate lawyers, I wanted to share some tips with you.

Know What to Find

Digital assets can include things like internet accounts, data, contractual and ineffectual property in the digital world.  You should be looking for things like email accounts, bank statements, investment accounts, credit cards, bill paying accounts, Facebook, Twitter, online gaming, online gambling, e-books, and retail.  Additionally, check for cloud based documents such as Dropbox, Google, Box.net, or SugarSync.

Get Your Google On

Do a Google search for the loved one’s name.  This may help reveal different accounts, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other social networking or internet sites.  It’s amazing what you can find sometimes from a simple Google search.

Get Access to An E-Mail Account Quickly

Most people keep a spreadsheet on their computer of passwords or pass codes.  See if you can find a list stored on their computer.  If you can’t, take a stab at guessing some passwords, worse case, bring in an IT professional.

Get Access to E-Mail The Slow Way

If you are unable to access your loved one’s e-mail account, the slower option is to access it by contracting the e-mail provider.  Generally, sending a scanned copy of the death certificate along with letters of authority to the e-mail host will grant access to the account.

Do Not Close the E-Mail Account Immediately

Similar to keeping the “snail” mail coming to check on bills and accounts, it is important not to immediately shut down your loved one’s e-mail address.  This can be an easy way to find out about any bills, accounts, etc that your loved one had as the monthly emails come in to the account.

Close Your Loved One’s Other Accounts

It is important to close out the other accounts of your loved one, including Netflix, Pandora, iTunes, and especially anything that has a monthly fee associated with it.  However, be careful with certain digital assets because you need to know the value.  For example, some World of Warcraft accounts could be worth thousands of dollars and should consider being inventoried and then possibly sold.

Put Your Loved One’s Digital House in Order

Hopefully your loved one planned properly for their digital assets, for example a master document with all the relevant accounts and passwords could be stored with one’s estate planning documents.  This must be kept safe just like any other assets.

Special thanks to ICLE and Attorney Michele C. Marquardt.



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