Monday, June 28, 2010

Who takes care of your Estate's Digital Assets?

The following is an excerpt from an article by Dennis Kennedy, an information technology lawyer who authors a monthly  column in the American Bar Association Journal.  You can find the full text of the article at

Andy Olmsted was a rare individual, in no small part because he is one of the few who thought carefully about what would happen to his online presence if he were to die. A popular blogger, Olmsted wrote a post before he left for service in Iraq, along with instructions for his survivors to post it to his blog in the event he was killed in action. Unfortunately, it had to be posted. I read the post on the day it appeared in 2008, and I re-read it when I prepared to write this article. It remains for me one of the most moving posts in the history of blogging

Tips for Providing Digital Assistance After the Death of Another

It’s also possible that either as a survivor, you might find yourself in a position where you need to handle someone’s digital affairs. I have a few tips.

  • Find knowledgeable technical and legal help.
  • In the case of a death, try to get to contact lists, e-mail accounts and social media accounts to notify friends who the deceased would want to be notified.
  • Change all passwords as soon as possible.
  • Try to understand the totality of the person’s online presence and identify some of the people he or she has interacted with most for assistance, especially in the social media platforms.
  • Do not start closing accounts, shutting down hosting and e-mail, or taking other drastic steps until you have a good sense of the individual’s presence and what you are ultimately going to do with it. Keeping a Web site up for a year or more will not be expensive. Shutting it down too early and losing valuable data could be quite expensive.
  • Be slow to delete, but when you delete or dispose of computers and drives, delete in accordance with forensic standards so data cannot be retrieved by others.
  • Spend $100 on an external USB hard drive and make a copy of all hard drives, flash drives and other data and keep them in one safe place. Once you start to go through the data, you can keep another drive with the “good stuff.”
  • Make copies of Web sites and other online accounts.
  • Locate all the financial information and client records as soon as possible and aggregate and isolate them.
  • Remove credit card information from shopping accounts.
  • Err on the side of keeping e-mail, documents and photographs for family members.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Resurrection of the Estate Tax?

The absence of rules for the estate tax is concerning.  Greg Turza is a fellow estate planning attorney who practices in Skokie, IL.   He read a recent article on the estate tax situation, and what follows is his summary.  His post also includes a link to the more detailed article.  And you are welcome to contact me with any of your questions.   

The good news is the estate tax is repealed! The bad news is, not for long. Since Bush's 2001 tax cuts went into effect the exemption from estate taxes climbed year by year from $1 million to a high of $3.5 million in 2009.

This year, 2010, is the repeal year but the Bush administration could never garner the 60 votes he needed in the senate to make the repeal permanent.
The consequence is the so-called "sunset" rule. As of January 1, 2011 the law automatically goes back to the way it was in 2001. In the case of the estate tax that means only a $1 million exemption and a top 55% tax rate.

The Obama administration advocates extending the 2009 exemption of $3.5 million on a permanent basis. This appeared to be where the Senate was headed on May 18th when an agreement was reached that had the support of more than 60 senators.

But the deal fell apart when the Democratic leadership decided that it will not allow the legislation to come to the floor for a vote unless the legislation has the support of more than half of the Democrat's 59 votes. Since the Democrats lack 50% support within their party the legislation failed.

Regardless of what happens there will be an estate tax next year. The only question is whether the exemption will be $3.5 million or $1 million –and $ 2.5 million is a huge difference in the plans for millions of taxpayers.

For the full story click here.

The “up-in-the-air” situation with the estate tax is concerning.  It is best to have a plan of action that you can execute quickly once the direction is finally established.  If you’d like to discuss ways to assemble a plan in advance, either comment on this blog with your questions or call me to meet in person.     


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Listening is Key with Aged Adults

Mary Lynn Pannen is one of the nation’s leading experts on Geriatric Care Management and Home Care for seniors. As President of Sound Options, she has built a very successful home care business in the Puget Sound region.  Mary Lynn recently described her company’s service this way: “Able to transform potentially stressful circumstances into readily manageable solutions, Sound Options works with clients with a wide range of needs and medical conditions.” I was struck with how similar her mission is to my mission in constructing comprehensive and well-thought-out estate plans.  For those of you wrestling with plans for your older adult parents, I thought you would benefit from this recent blog post by Mary Lynn.

One of the reasons that I am intrigued with working with older adults is their life stories. I really like listening to how a person summarizes their life or how they remember the simplest detail. Listening is a pleasure and it is so important while helping older adults live out the last chapters of their lives. One can learn so much by listening. As an adult child you may hear things you never knew before and that may allow you to see your parent in a different light. You may learn the very reason for why your parent made decisions – good or bad. I find listening creates for me more understanding and that at the end of the day we all have similar wishes and desires.

  1. If possible have your older parent participate in planning their care
  2. Create a safe environment for your parent
  3. Provide quality of life- this will be different for each person.
  4. Talk about the old times. Reminiscing can be very satisfying to both your parent and you.
  5. Do not make promises you cannot keep
  6. Make sure that their end of life desires are fulfilled
  7. Do not forget that your parent is an adult – not a child
  8. Provide ways for your parent to remain as safely independent as possible

Planning and sensitivity becomes even more important with age.  And it is even more important to address the personal as well as the factual elements of the situation.  If I can be of assistance in “transforming your potentially stressful circumstances into readily manageable solutions”, please, let’s talk.  Call me.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A word or two about ethics brings the comfort of confidentiality

Meet one of my fellow Wealth Counsel attorneys, Suzann Beckett. Suzann is a colleague who practices in Connecticut, and she recently posted to her blog this reminder of ethics guidelines as they apply to sharing confidential information.

Perhaps one of the least talked about aspects of working with a lawyer
is the fear some of us have of exposing our personal lives to a total
stranger. That reluctance takes a back seat in criminal law, where the
process you are thrust into isn't voluntary. But when considering the
larger decisions in life, opening the books on a lifetime of financial
acquisitions, debts, and concerns to a total stranger can lead some
people to avoid involving a lawyer when making long term plans.

Like most fears, the emotional reaction we have can be profoundly
counter-productive. Sadly, it isn't all that unusual for costly,
irreparable mistakes to be the result of our attempts to keep prying
eyes out of our business.

The key is to be selective. When you plan for the future, you don't
necessarily want to show the records of your financial holdings to your
hairdresser, or the guy who mows your lawn. But it would be a good idea
to come clean with the IRS on an annual basis. And although it may seem
counter-intuitive, the best way to maintain control of your wealth and
property over the long haul is to have an open, honest discussion of
your plans with a legal professional who has your best interest at
heart. Whether you are buying a home, building a business, filing for
bankruptcy protection, or planning for the handling of your estate, you
want to be the person in control - and you want the decisions you make
to be based on solid legal grounds, not a gut feeling that may or may
not stand up when you need it to.

Keep in mind that you are the customer, and the law is in a very real
sense, a service industry.

So rest easy when you think about laying open your books, and your plans
to a lawyer. The Bar Association holds lawyers to a very high ethical
. Like your doctor, your lawyer is required by law to keep your
confidence. A responsibility that we take very seriously, and one that I
find comforting whenever I sit with a client who indicates the slightest
concern for the security of their personal information.

When serving as your legal counsel, it is my responsibility to act with your best interests at heart. This posting by Suzann Beckett is a concise reminder that my counsel to you is for you and in your best interest. When offering counsel in my professional capacity, it is always confidential and it is specific to your needs.