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.

Uncategorized

Is COVID-19 Putting Your Social Security at Risk

The recent pandemic has caused for many drastic changes in our economy including social security funding. The US Social Security Administrations funding trusts are known as the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. In their 2019 annual report to Congress, the Board of Trustees released some startling detail about projected insolvency for the Social Security Program by the year 2035. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been dipping into its “trust fund” to meet scheduled benefit payouts. Social Security program costs continue to exceed non-interest income.

The OASI has no authority to borrow money, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American workforce is severely reduced. Now there are far fewer workers paying into the Social Security system. The payroll tax is the cash liquidity needed to fund by far the single most significant source of federal spending, and it is drying up. Trust reserves will be depleted faster than the projection of 2035.

The situation became dire in what seems like an instant, but it is due to more than 22 million Americans losing their jobs in the past four weeks. Twenty-two million fewer people are propping up the Social Security system at a time when a lot more money will soon be going out. People who are now out of work will be able to draw benefits and may do just that out of sheer economic need.

According to Market Watch reporting, by columnist Alicia H. Munnell, a leading expert on Social Security “We are going to lose a lot of payroll tax revenue this year” as “expenditures keep at their regular pace, if not at an immediately  higher pace because older people can’t find a job might turn to claim early.” The gap between what the SSA takes in versus pays out will widen further, and the trust fund that fills this gap will be depleted faster than ever. Social Security trustees Labor Secretary Acosta, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have yet to release their updated projections on just how quickly the trust fund will run out of cash.

With the advent of COVID-19 and ever-increasing expenditure to protect the unemployed and vulnerable people of America, it will behoove those who have retirement and estate plans to review and make appropriate changes to cover what may be shortfalls to their expected Social Security benefits. Also, consider any expected employee pensions you may have from businesses that may go bankrupt. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time to get a good fix in place for you or the government because of the world-wide economic market crashes. The fix for Social Security has moved to a scale of monies not seen before this pandemic. The current solution of the SSA is for the American taxpayer to receive somewhere around 75 percent of their previously promised benefits. Still, that percentage was established before the loss of 22 million workers and their payroll tax contributions.

The perfect storm has come to pass. Americans are experiencing a pandemic that spurs massive unemployment, which in turn leaves, at minimum, 22-million fewer payroll tax contributors, which accelerates the timeline of a projected insolvent Social Security system. The Social Security solvency problem, coupled with the US Census Bureau reporting a declining US birth rate for the fifth straight year while people are living longer than ever before, and this perfect storm becomes cataclysmic.

The good news is American people want to go to work and get on with their lives. Successful retirement and estate planning are all about mitigating risk and expanding rewards. We can help with your planning. The sooner you start, the better, as we could remain in uncertain times for a while longer. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law

The Importance of a Living Will

It is important to lay out your preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment with a living will. It is often accompanied by a health-care proxy or power of attorney, which allows someone to make treatment decisions for you if you are incapacitated and the living will does not have specific instructions for the situation at hand.  “Living will” and “advance directive” are often used synonymously, but a living will legally only applies after a terminal diagnosis, whereas an advance directive is much more comprehensive and includes the health care proxy.

As of 2017, only around one in three American adults had an advance directive for end-of-life care prepared. Those who are older than 65 are more likely to have an advance directive prepared than those who are younger, as are those have chronic illness more likely than those who are not. People may be unwilling to prepare these documents because they fear that they won’t necessarily reflect their wishes at the time they become relevant; sometimes patients become more willing to undergo treatments they rejected when they were younger as they age and develop medical problems. However, the documents can be changed as long as they are witnessed and potentially notarized (depending on current law). And if you continue to communicate your values with your proxy, they can make decisions based on your most recent preferences.

So why is a living will important? It reduces ambiguity which can prevent family disputes during what is already a difficult time. It may seem like something that can be put off, but life is unpredictable; one never knows when these documents could become relevant. Furthermore, it needn’t be a hassle. A living will is a straightforward document, however it’s important to work with legal counsel to make sure your beliefs are properly stated. Other health care documents should also be prepared at that time, like a health care power of attorney that designates a person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable.  Once you have signed any documents make sure you keep them updated, especially if you change states, and be diligent in communicating with whomever you named to act on your behalf.

If you need a living will or health care power of attorney or already have one that you would like reviewed, contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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