Estate Planning

Steps to Discussing Finances and Estate Planning with Aging Parents

Sometimes these conversations can be difficult but it’s essential that as your parents’ age, you have conversations with them about their finances. To broach the topic, you might bring up current events like the coronavirus pandemic, its effect on economic conditions, and how it relates to the security of their financial future. The conversation should come from a calming place of love and concern. Speak to them respectfully about how the coronavirus pandemic has you thinking about the importance of their planning and preparedness.

Once you begin the conversation, move away from the pandemic as your introductory technique as you do not want to create a sense of panic or fear.  Instead, delve into legal and financial reviews, processes, and parameters. US News reports that your parents’ financial analysis should include essential legal documents, financial accounts, and associated vital contacts, long-term care decisions, and claims. If you live apart, lay the groundwork to help them with their finances remotely.

It is generally most comfortable to begin your conversation with legal documents that hopefully your parents already have in place like a will, trust, living will, and a health care proxy. If your parents do not have these documents, they must retain an attorney and create the ones that best suit their needs. If you need to help your parents manage their finances, you must have a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney allows you to make financial decisions for your parents in the event they become incapacitated. This is an essential estate planning document. In the absence of a durable power of attorney, the courts become involved, and solving health or financial issues becomes a lengthy, expensive process over which you have little control. If your parents already have their legal documents drawn up, find out where they keep them and review them carefully. If any documents need to be amended, suggest that your parents meet with an attorney to make the relevant changes. Be sure their documents reflect the state law in which they reside.

Once you have assessed your parents’ legal documents, it is time for some financial discovery. Even if your parents do not currently need help, having an overview of their finances and a durable power of attorney to help them in the future is crucial to their aging success. Begin by listing all of their accounts, account numbers, usernames, and passwords as well as employee contact names. Include insurance policies, the agent’s name, and where the policy is, as well as how they pay their premiums. Include any online medical accounts or list their doctors’ names and office numbers. The idea is to create a comprehensive list of all of these accounts. Gather your parents’ Medicare and Social Security numbers and their drivers’ license numbers. Know where they keep this information so that in the future you will know where to look. Also, learn about any online bill paying or automated, re-occurring activity. These usually include monthly bills like electricity, natural gas, water, etc. but may also include quarterly payments or annual subscriptions.

If your parents still live in their long-time home, discuss if it is viable that they live out their days there, or if downsizing to a retirement community or moving closer to where you live appeals to them. Help them come to a decision that is best for their set of circumstances.  If they do not have long-term care insurance or some other mechanism to aid them in times of need, talk about the topic, and try to come up with a solution. If they do have long-term care, be sure you have a copy of the policy, contact information, and the name of the insurer and agent. Review the requirements for receiving benefits so you can help them when they need to file a claim as most policies have a waiting period of 30 to 90 days before benefits begin. Know what to expect.

Digital technology has made oversight of parents and their finances easier than ever as long as you have a durable power of attorney and access to their account information. If they do not yet pay their bills online, or use auto payment, help them set up this option for their monthly bills. Remind them you will provide oversight to ensure proper billing. Offer to help them with their annual tax filings. Your help relieves some pressure on them and provides you with information about the goings-on in your parents’ accounts. For your parents’ peace of mind, you can establish a monthly video chat to let them know their bill payments are progressing normally. Your involvement will allow you to identify any abnormalities in account activity, which may indicate scam attempts.

Having these financial and planning conversations with your parents today can help them live more securely and with less stress as they age. Most parents will try to avoid these discussions with their children because they may not be adequately prepared for what can lie ahead. Conversations that focus on proper legal documents and gathering financial account information will give you the data you need to help protect your parents.

We would be happy to help you and your parents with critical planning documents. We are open and taking new clients, and we hope to talk with you soon about your particular needs. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

During COVID-19 Americans of All Ages Are Creating Their Wills

Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has created the scramble to set up wills and end-of-life-directives. There has been an explosion in the numbers of Americans rushing to make their will online. However, online do it yourself (DIY) wills are often deemed invalid as they do not comply with all of the legal requirements of your state. According to Caring.com, the prevalence of will and estate planning has been on the decline since 2017 but this trend is quickly reversing itself with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, who needs a will? Ask yourself if you care who gets your property or money if you die? If you have minor children, do you care who will act as their legal guardian? The answer is anyone married, anyone with children or anyone with assets needs a properly executed will. Wills are governed by state law. Your will should reflect your wishes in the language and format required by the state in which you live for it to be valid.

Many law offices are turning to teleconference with their clients to address social distancing protocols while still providing legal services such as writing a will. Businesses like Zoom are experiencing a quadrupling of daily users. Part of this significant increase includes hosting secure attorney/client meetings for will preparations. The importance of an attorney guiding you through the process of creating a will cannot be understated as they understand the nuances of how things need to be written. Once your will is complete, it must be correctly notarized as mistakes made in the will-signing process can potentially invalidate your will.  Your attorney will guide you through the signing process, and could involve signing during a video conference.

Beyond the creation of a will, many Americans are increasingly concerned about their powers of attorneys, health care surrogates, living wills, and end of life directives. These “life documents,” as they are active while you are alive, are equally as important as your will. Named executors, successors, beneficiaries, power of attorneys should have several back-up representatives as the mortality rate due to the coronavirus remains unknown.

According to research in a recent New York Times report, health care workers are more likely to contract COVID 19 than the average person. During this pandemic, many doctors and other medical professionals are rushing to have their wills drawn up. In addition to doctors, anyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID 19, from hospital custodians to nurses to EMS responders, should either make a will or review and possibly update their existing one. However, the truth is no matter what your profession or likelihood of contracting this virus, you should have a properly executed will during this time of considerable uncertainty.

There are few things you can act on during the COVID 19 pandemic that can bring you assurance and a sense of relief. The legal creation of your will and life-directives is an action you can take that protects you and your family. We can help. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 to schedule an appointment.

Estate Planning

As your digital footprint grows, have you planned?

Do you know how your digital footprint plays a part of your estate plan? From social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitch.tv and Twitter, blogs and licensed domain names, email, music, photos, seller accounts on eBay, Amazon, or Itsy, gaming accounts, even your financial, utility, and medical accounts are all part of your digital footprint. When most of us created these accounts, we blithely accepted the End User License Agreement (EULA) without much thought to when we would no longer be around to manage their content and activity. However, a EULA designates in detail the rights and restrictions that apply when using the software known as terms of service (TOS). Most EULA’s are a standard form of contract, a contract of adhesion, which is known to exploit unequal power relationships. A user has no option to negotiate the terms of a EULA if they want to use the software.

A Power of Attorney

When you create your will and its associated documents like a durable power of attorney (in the event you become incapacitated) it is prudent to include digital assets and a designation for someone to access your online accounts and manage their activity. Without specific instructions, most of your online accounts will not pass through the typical estate planning devices like trusts and wills because they are not your property. Still, they are very representative of your being. Since most TOS are non-transferable, you will likely be unable to transfer the “ownership” of your online accounts legally. However, you can still plan for how they should be handled when you die.

Understand Digital Platform Policy

In terms of Facebook and other social network platforms, each company has its policy regarding the account of the deceased. Facebook, for example, will permit your account to be placed in a “memorial” status so that it can be viewed, and loved ones can leave memorial messages. Other social networking sites will delete or deactivate your account. If the social network is not appraised of your death, the company won’t know for a while, allowing someone to make changes to your account after your death, perhaps even posting a final status or update of your choosing. Though this is in opposition to most social networking platform policies, it is difficult for online companies to know about and monitor user activity in the event of death.

Your executor should inform readers of a blog or other licensed domain names you maintained while alive. A licensed domain name should be transferred or ended as continued licensing payment makes no sense. The content of these sites should be removed or archived. If you belong to online communities such as a book group or community list serve, you may also choose to leave a final message or have your executor notify the group of your passing.

Digital Storage Plan

If you store movies, music, photos, eBooks, or other digital online files, your executor should have access to the files and carry out your wishes as to what to do with them. If you do not leave access to your online accounts, they will eventually become disabled due to inactivity, and no one will have access to the files. In the event you own the data, i.e., personal photos, you can use your will or living trust to leave them to a loved one or a friend. You will have to leave detailed descriptions (My trip to Paris) for photos. As far as purchased online music or eBooks it is not the same as owning a physical CD or book. Software or digital content does not permit acquisition of ownership rights. This means the money you paid for the online content was more of a subscription service solely for your use and not transferable upon your death. Your virtual music and film library will die with you.

Online Store Access

If you are an online seller on eBay, Amazon, Itsy, or the like, leave specific instructions about what to do with your online store. You may leave all profits that continue to come in and the stock items you sell through your will or living trust. When the company knows of your death, your executor will have no power over the account itself, but you can make provisions for the profit and stock items to be bequeathed. If you want someone to take over your online store after you die, you will need to reference the TOS of the company. Most do not allow accounts to transfer; however, the new “owner” can open a new account and reimagine your storefront.

Important digital account access

Financial, utility, and medical accounts should all be addressed very clearly in your digital will. Leave instructions as to what website, username, and password are for each account. Also, leave written instructions about what to do with each of them. Regarding your financial accounts, their contents will be addressed in your will or trust, but your executor will have to access these accounts to wrap up your estate. These accounts include checking and savings accounts, mortgage, life insurance, and retirement accounts, as well as phone, cable, gas, and electric bills, tax preparation services, medical accounts, and more.

Your online presence requires digital legacy planning. Take a good look at all of your online accounts and be sure to leave reliable access to them and instructions for your executor. We can help you with this process, and with drafting appropriate planning documents to deal with these assets. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.