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Estate Planning

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What to Consider when Estate Planning for a Blended Family

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As you look ahead and realize that you will be in hospice care for a while, it may be time to start getting things taken care of. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get your affairs in order, especially if you have a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges you must consider when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

Young blended family of 4 having fun baking in the kitchen

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

If you have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  6. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

Blended family of 4 outside, mom carrying daughter on back and father carrying son on back

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

Here are 5 estate planning documents to consider as you prepare a plan that will protect your family and make your wishes known.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

If you are feeling very unwell, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. For some, the process is arduous and inconvenient, so consider appointing a power of attorney.

Blended family sitting on couch, enjoying each other's company, mom, dad, teenage son, and teenage daughter present

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

Grandparents, parents, and two kids wallking outside together and enjoying time

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Blended family of 5 sitting at breakfast table, eating a meal together

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal will gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-children try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

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5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some estate planning challenges, start talking with the people closest to you. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Take time to set things in place now so that your family is taken care of tomorrow!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Woman wearing orange sweater sitting at table with laptop, checking on her digital accounts

How to Complete Your Digital Estate Planning

By Estate Planning No Comments

If you or a loved one are in hospice care, you have the opportunity to ensure that your family is aware of your wishes for your estate. While you have probably given thought to writing a will and advance health care directives, one area of estate planning that is often neglected is a person’s digital assets.

Focus on woman's hands as she holds smartphone with keyboard on table in front of her

First, What Is a Digital Estate?

Getting your affairs in order is an important task to accomplish, and your digital estate is just one piece of the puzzle. Just so you have a clear definition of what your digital assets are, they include:

  • The data and photos on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer
  • Personal email accounts
  • Online bank and brokerage accounts (including credit cards, retirement plans, loans, insurance, etc.)
  • Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Websites you may own (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.)
  • Online retail accounts (including eBay, Amazon, and iTunes)
  • Photo- or video-sharing sites like YouTube or Flickr
  • Music sites (Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
  • Subscription sites (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.)
  • PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, or other online payment accounts
  • Utility bills you may pay online
  • And a multitude of other things (frequent flier accounts, fitness app accounts, etc.)

As you can see, you may have quite a few digital accounts. However, with a few simple tips, you can start pulling together the information needed to protect your data and ensure everything is taken care of after your passing.

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6 Simple Tips to Successful Digital Estate Planning

Keep Track of Your Online Accounts

According to a recent report on digital estate planning, the average internet user has around 90 different accounts. Hopefully, you have recorded the usernames and passwords for your accounts and devices, but if you haven’t, that’s okay. Identify the most important accounts (those that include your personal data or charge monthly or yearly fees). So, gather all email addresses, subscriptions, online shopping sites or apps, and anything else that seems important. Then, make sure a loved one or your emergency contact know where to find the information if the need arises.

Decide What Should Be Done with Each Account

Once you’ve compiled a list, you will also need to decide what should be done with each individual account. This may mean requesting that some accounts be deleted entirely, while for others, it may mean turning an account into a memorial page. Each business or social media platform is different so you may need to do a little research as you make your plans.

For example, Facebook and Instagram can either delete an account completely or “memorialize” it, meaning that any friends can still view your profile and post memorial messages (the account is secured so no one can sign in). Twitter and LinkedIn will work with family members to delete an account, but they won’t give anyone but you access to the account.

Woman wearing orange sweater sitting at table with laptop, checking on her digital accounts

Determine What Should Be Done with Your Digital Content

It’s also important to think about what should be done with any digital content. Do you want your Flickr photos sent to family members? If you have unused credits on an account, do you want to give them to someone? Are there videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube that you’d like removed? If you have a blog, do you want the blog deleted but the content saved somehow? All of these are great questions to ask about any digital content you may possess.

Make Sure Your Emergency Contacts Know How to Access Your Information

You should select a person to serve as your digital executor, and make sure they will be able to access your devices and digital accounts after you are gone. This person may be the same person you choose to serve as the executor of your will or one of your emergency contacts. If you would like your digital executor to be a different person than the executor of your will, you can include roles in your will so that everyone is clear about who should do what. The clearer you can make things, the easier it will be for everyone to manage your estate the way you want.

Middle-aged man sitting at home, looking at digital accounts in laptop as he reviews paperwork

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you want to ensure that everything is done correctly, consider talking to an estate planning attorney. They will help you through the process of planning for both your physical and digital estate. You can discuss adding any language that may be needed to grant authority to your executor regarding your digital assets. Also, if you’ve already put together a will or other legal documentation but forgot about including digital assets, you might consider going back to update your documentation so that it’s the most current.

Update Regularly

We can all agree that things change almost constantly. Because of this fact, it’s important to always update your information. If you create a new account in the coming months, add it to the list you’re keeping. If you delete one, take it off. Take time to review privacy policies (even if you only review the ones for your most-used accounts). While this whole process may take a little bit of time, it will give both you and your family the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything – including your digital assets – has been considered and taken care of.

Folded legal will sitting on table near coffee mug, pen, and eyeglasses

How to Avoid Common Pitfalls When Writing a Legal Will

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If you or a loved one are entering into hospice care without a written legal will, you may be wondering: “How do I get started?” and “How do I make sure I do this the right way?”

Those are great questions. As you probably know, if a family member passes away without a legal will, the surviving family must face not only their grief, but the headache (and heartache) of moving the estate through probate court.

That is why creating a legal will is one of the most vital areas of estate planning. A legal will ensures that your property and possessions will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. When someone dies without a legal will, that person is said to have died “intestate,” and the person’s property and assets will be subject to distribution by the state of residence. And with the state making the decisions, your family may not receive everything you want them to receive.

Folded legal will sitting on table near coffee mug, pen, and eyeglasses

Intestacy

Intestacy can be the cause of unpleasant arguments among family members. If your final wishes for your property aren’t signed, witnessed, and documented while you are in a clear state of mind, then your loved ones will be left with the headache of trying to interpret your wishes in a way that doesn’t cause significant conflict.

Developing a Plan

To avoid all the legal red tape, take some time now to write your legal will, so that your wishes are legally valid and clearly understood. Requirements for a will’s legality vary from state to state, so you may have to do some research on specific requirements in your state or simply speak to an attorney to make sure your legal will is valid.

Here’s how to avoid some common pitfalls of writing a will:

1. Don’t wait

To ensure its legality, your will must be signed when you are of sound mind. Many people think that they have plenty of time to get around to writing a will, but if your state of health calls into question your mental clarity, then your will could be declared invalid. Depending on the severity of your illness, it’s better to complete your legal will sooner rather than later.

2. Select your witnesses

Your will should be written in the presence of witnesses. At least two witnesses will need to sign it, but some states will not accept less than three. Make sure that the witnesses are disinterested parties, people who are not beneficiaries and have no stake in the proceedings.

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting at table, looking at computer, reading the screen

3. Choose an executor

Be sure to assign an executor of the will to fulfill the duty of settling the estate. This is the person who will represent your wishes after your death. People often appoint a spouse or close friend as an executor. Remember, if you don’t select an executor, an administrator of the estate will be chosen for you. And unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that the person selected will know how to follow your wishes. That’s why you should make sure to choose your own executor ahead of time.

4. Provide for dependents (including pets)

If you are responsible for the care of minors, it is important to outline your wishes for their continued care. Make sure to assign a guardian you trust to take on their care.

5. Communicate clearly

Organize your thoughts clearly. Identify your heirs and give instructions that are free of ambiguity. Read back over the material and make sure that there is an unmistakable connection between person and property, gift and recipient.

Man looking at document, pen poised to sign the bottom

6. Have an attorney review your will

Estate planning attorneys have a lot of experience with what types of wills will hold up in court and which ones will not. If you are using an online service or writing the will yourself, have an estate planning attorney review the will, just to be on the safe side.

State Law Requirements

These general principles will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of will-writing. However, it is essential that you also educate yourself on your specific state’s laws for creating a will. Alternatively, you can work closely with a knowledgeable attorney to make sure that your will is written within the parameters of state law.

By creating a legally sound will, you can relieve your family of unnecessary stress and make your wishes known. Ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your preferences will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

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How to Create a Facebook or Instagram Memorial Page

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With a loved one in hospice care, it’s important to ask some of the tough questions, especially if you’re unsure of the answers. Has your loved one completed a will? How would they like to be honored and remembered at a funeral or memorial service? Do they prefer burial or cremation? And while these are incredibly important questions (and you do need the answers), don’t forget to ask about their digital assets as well.

In this article, we will specifically address Facebook and Instagram, as you and your loved one consider whether to delete social media pages or create memorial pages out of existing accounts. Let’s get started.

Adult bearded man sitting at table, typing on a computer

The Importance of Digital Estate Planning

You may associate estate planning with a will or power of attorney, but digital estate planning is an important, often overlooked part of estate planning. It’s just as valuable to provide instructions for online accounts, digital assets, and social media profiles as it is to write down your wishes for physical holdings. To learn more about digital estate planning, take a moment to read Managing your Digital Estate and How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple.

Now, let’s move on to Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook Memorial Page

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Facebook

With Facebook, you have two options after death: delete the account or create a memorial page. Thankfully, Facebook has clear-cut instructions on how to do both of these things.

The most common reason to turn a Facebook page into a memorial is to create a place where family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances can process grief together and offer condolences to surviving family members. People can post memories, offer words of encouragement and sympathy, share photos, and more. Let’s start by going over a few pieces of key information!

Was a Legacy Contact chosen?

With Facebook, estate planning means designating a Legacy Contact. In other words, you tell Facebook who should manage your account after your death (often a spouse, close friend, or family member). The Legacy Contact can monitor your profile by deleting or memorializing the account, accepting friend requests, pinning tribute posts, updating profile and cover photos, and more. However, a Legacy Contact cannot log in to the account to view private messages or remove past posts, photos, or friends.

Currently, you can only add a Facebook friend as a Legacy Contact. When you select a Legacy Contact, Facebook gives you the option to notify that person right away, which is recommended so that person is in the know about your wishes. To learn how to add a Legacy Contact, go to How Do I Add, Change, or Remove a Legacy Contact?

On the other hand, if you’ve been added as a Legacy Contact to someone’s account and aren’t sure how to manage a memorialized Facebook page, go to How Do I Manage a Memorialized Profile on Facebook? for some helpful tips.

A woman wearing a blue scarf typing on her smartphone

What if there is no designated Legacy Contact?

That’s okay. Family members can simply reach out to Facebook directly with a request to memorialize the account. However, you cannot change memorialized accounts with no Legacy Contact in any way. To request that an account without a Legacy Contact be memorialized, go to the Memorialization Request.

What happens when you memorialize a Facebook page?

Memorialization locks the account and prevents anyone from logging in. While a Legacy Contact can’t log in to the account anymore, they can still make decisions on basic functions, like viewing posts, removing tags, updating profile and cover images, etc.

Additionally, a memorialized account will no longer appear in “search” results. However, any existing friends can still view the page and share photos, memories, and wall messages. The word “Remembering” will appear next to the deceased person’s name on their profile.

For a full list of links to helpful information, go to All You Need to Know about Facebook Memorialized Accounts.

Older husband and wife sitting on red couch while working on a computer together

Option 2: Deleting a Facebook Account

Alternatively, you can choose to have an account deleted instead. Keep in mind, if/when Facebook learns of a death, their policy is to memorialize the account if no instructions were left behind (i.e. no Legacy Contact and no request to delete the account).

If you are completing your own digital estate planning and want your account permanently deleted after your passing, go to Settings. Click Manage Account. Scroll down until you see Request that your account be deleted after you pass away. Then, follow the prompts.

If you would like to delete the Facebook account of a deceased family member, you can reach out to Facebook directly. To learn more about the process and the required documentation, click here. Once you have your documentation gathered together, you can use the Special Request Form to begin the process of deleting the account. Please be aware, Facebook cannot provide you with login information for someone else’s account even after a death has occurred, but they can either delete or memorialize the account.

That’s it for Facebook – let’s move on to Instagram.

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Instagram Memorial Page

While Instagram has been working on its memorial options for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their efforts. Now, similar to Facebook, you can either memorialize or delete an Instagram account.

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Instagram

While Instagram now offers the ability to memorialize accounts, they do not currently allow you to designate a digital heir (Facebook calls this person a Legacy Contact). However, with the proper documentation, you can memorialize a loved one’s Instagram account after their death.

What are the key features of a memorialized Instagram account?

With a memorialized account:

  • The account locks and no one can log in.
  • The word “Remembering” appears on the person’s profile.
  • Any posts the deceased shared prior to death will stay visible.
  • You can no longer make changes to photos, videos, comments, privacy settings, or the current profile picture. Also, followers and the pages the deceased was following cannot be changed.

However, if you feel a comment or post on a memorialized profile violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines or Terms of Use, you can report it to Instagram by going to How to Report a Comment or How to Report a Post.

Young man and woman working together on a computer, sitting at table

How do you memorialize an Instagram account?

The first step is to put in a request. When Instagram receives a valid request (regardless of whom that request is from), they will memorialize the account. To ensure the request is valid, you must provide proof of death, such as an obituary or a news article. Just like Facebook, Instagram will not give out login information.

With a validated request, Instagram will memorialize the account. To submit a request to memorialize an account, go to the Request to Memorialize and fill it out.

Option 2: Removing an Instagram Account

The second option is to remove/delete the account. To entirely remove an account from Instagram, the requester must provide evidence that they are an immediate family member of the deceased.

Accepted forms of proof that you are an immediate family member are:

  • The deceased person’s birth certificate
  • The deceased person’s death certificate
  • Proof of authority under local law that you represent the deceased person

To request the removal of an Instagram account, you must complete the Removal Request and submit the required documentation.

Woman sitting at her desk, holding phone in both hands as she looks at the screen

Thankfully, both Facebook and Instagram have made the process simple and clear. Now that you know more about how to memorialize or delete accounts, take some time to talk with your loved one in hospice care and carefully consider the best way to move forward. Every person is different, so decide what’s best for you and your family and do that. It may mean memorializing the account so that friends and family can share memories and photos. It may mean removing the account entirely because it’s too painful to manage. There’s no right or wrong answer – just what makes the most sense for your needs.

Person filling out Social Security Benefits Application Form

Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits

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If you or a loved one are in hospice care, you may be wondering about what kinds of Social Security survivor’s benefits are available for the family after a loss. After the death of a loved one, the next of kin should immediately contact the local Social Security Office to apply for survivor’s benefits because they may not be retroactive.

How much are the benefits?

Typically, Social Security pays out a special one-time payment of $255 to the surviving spouse of an eligible recipient. However, additional monies will depend on the earnings of the deceased. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits.

Person filling out Social Security Benefits Application Form

Who is eligible to receive benefits?

Survivor benefits can be paid to a surviving:

  • widow or widower – full benefits at 65 and older or reduced benefits as early as age 60. A disabled widow can receive benefits at age 50-60.
  • widow or widower – at any age if he or she is taking care of your child under the age of 16 or disabled.
  • unmarried children – until the age of 18. Your child can receive benefits at any age if they were disabled before the age of 22 and have not recovered from their disability.
  • dependent parents – at the age of 62 and older.
  • divorced spouses – your former spouse can receive benefits under the same circumstances as your widow or widower if your marriage lasted 10 years or more. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.

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Information you need to provide

If you would like to receive survivor benefits, you must provide the following information at the time of your claim:

  • Proof of death
  • Social Security number (yours and the person who has died)
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate – if you’re a widow or widower
  • Divorce papers – if you’re applying as a surviving divorced spouse
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers
  • Deceased worker’s W-2 forms
  • Bank name – if direct deposit is an option

It is important to remember that Social Security benefits and qualification rules for benefits change periodically. With this in mind, be sure to contact your local Social Security Administration office or visit their website to learn more. Go to ssa.gov to find more information.

Open laptop sitting on desk with notepad and pen nearby

7 Tips to Simplify Digital Estate Planning

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As you or a loved one moves into hospice care, it’s time to start thinking about digital estate planning. By leaving behind specific instructions, you can save family members from a lot of stress and heartache. With the rise of technology, it’s important to plan ahead for your digital assets.

To ensure that a portion of your identity isn’t left floating around in cyberspace, you may want to start outlining your plans for your digital estate. Below are some tips and guidelines to help you arrange for the distribution of your digital assets.

Older man on the phone while looking at computer

Create an inventory of your digital material and devices.

Before doing anything else, create a list of your online material and digital devices with password protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Social media accounts, email information, blogs, pictures, retail accounts, cash sending apps, and videos…there is a lot of information out there, and you want to make sure that you acknowledge the entirety of your digital estate before you go any further.

Consider using an online resource or app as a tool to organize your assets.

New apps and websites are available that allow you to store all of your assets in a digital space. They function as a sort of bank for your digital assets. This is an easy way to compile your material so it is easily accessible to loved ones. However, do some thorough research on the company you choose to make sure it’s reputable.

Woman sitting at computer, wearing yellow sweater, books on desk nearby

Construct a list with all of your usernames and passwords and store it in a safe place.

As you gather login information, you may even want to create two separate lists, splitting the username and password information and storing them in two separate locations for greater security. Another option is to use a code your family will understand but would be difficult for a stranger to decipher. Be sure to update these lists every time you update your passwords. Be sure to keep this information out of your will because the will ends up in the public records, which raises safety concerns. Don’t forget to include your computer and phone pass codes! Many people overlook the fact that their devices (and all the information and photos stored on them) are often inaccessible to loved ones after they die without those very important codes.

Begin looking at individual companies’ policies.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of legal gray area concerning the distribution of digital information after the death of an individual. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn…all of these companies have different policies for dealing with the material of a person who has passed. Familiarize yourself with the individual polices so that you can determine the best course of action.

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Provide instructions.

Once everything has been planned, appoint a representative who will act on your behalf and follow your instructions regarding your online information. Do not include username and password information in a legal will. However, you should designate your representative in the will and provide general instructions for your digital assets. Contact your representative to ensure they know where and how to obtain your personal information.

Make sure that loved ones know to act fast.

Many companies have a legal right to the ownership of your account after you die, and often, an account is merely shut down and the material lost. However, if your family members act fast and access the material before the company deletes the account, or if they contact the company directly, they can find a way to access the material. If it’s a social media account, they can post a final tribute or retrieve some precious photos. If it’s an email or an account with important personal information, they may be able to access the account to transfer some of the information before the account is terminated.

However, if your illness is slow-moving, there may be time to begin preserving photos, posts, videos, and more. By working with family members or trusted friends, you can gather the digital information you want protected and safeguarded.

Father and adult son sitting at desk together, looking at documents with computer nearby

Check your state’s laws.

As with so many legal issues, digital estate planning may vary based on the laws of your state. Some states have specific laws for handling the online material of a deceased person. Other states have no such laws regarding these issues. To ensure that you’re doing things correctly, look into your state’s guidelines or contact an estate planning attorney.

Hopefully these tips and guidelines will give you a foundation to build on as you complete your digital estate planning. Don’t forget to also complete a legal will and any other recommended documents to ensure that everything is taken care of for your family.

Mother and adult daughter sitting on couch talking and smiling

6 Things to Share with Your Emergency Contacts

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If you have entered hospice care, it’s important to make sure that your emergency contacts know certain things about your health and wishes. An emergency contact is a trustworthy person who will represent your interests if you’re unable to do so yourself. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse/significant other, adult child, or trusted friend.

If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. By taking a little time now, you can set the record straight about your wishes.

Mother and adult daughter sitting on couch talking and smiling

Conversation Tips

  • Set up a time to talk with each emergency contact individually or bring them together at the same time.
  • Select a quiet, private place so that you can share freely.
  • Share your reasons for getting your affairs in order.
  • Tell them where you keep your important documents, and if you’ve completed a funeral plan, give them a copy.
  • Listen to any concerns they may have and answer questions.

Six Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies

Your emergency contacts need to know where to find important documents like your legal will, birth and marriage certificates, deeds, titles, insurance policies, powers of attorney documents, health care directives, funeral planning documents, and records of creditors as well as assets, including digital assets and passwords. If you don’t have a legal will, consider creating one, and be sure to review your insurance policies and update your beneficiary information. Also, if needed, consider whether it is appropriate to give your emergency contacts power of attorney (medical and/or financial). This way they can handle your financial matters in case you are unable to do so. If you have questions, make an appointment with an attorney to review these legal matters.

hand searching through filing cabinet drawer

2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts

Be sure to go over your will with your emergency contacts. This includes your wishes for the distribution of your assets, heirlooms, furniture, and keepsakes. To ensure that your wishes are honored, include as many of your assets in the will as possible. It is possible that you will appoint one of your emergency contacts as the executor of your will. Be sure to let your executor know the contents of your will so there are no surprises. If there are any belongings or assets that are not directly addressed in the will, be sure to cover your wishes with at least two of your emergency contacts and put your wishes in writing. Additionally, you may also wish to set up trusts for your children or grandchildren with certain terms. Consider appointing one of your emergency contacts as trustee and discuss the terms of those trusts.

3. Your Wishes for Medical Care

Have you made your medical wishes known through an advance care directive? Have you given your emergency contacts medical power of attorney? These documents will protect you in case you become incapacitated and/or unable to make medical decisions for yourself, which is possible during hospice care. Be sure to talk to whomever you’ve appointed as your medical power of attorney about your wishes for medical treatment and life-saving measures.

At home nurse taking blood pressure of older male patient, sitting on couch

4. Allergies and Blood Type

If you have allergies to foods or medications, your emergency contacts should know so that they can alert medical professionals if you are unable to do so. It is also a good idea to provide your emergency contacts with a record of your blood type in case of emergency.

5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets

Be sure that you have made provision for the care of your dependents should anything happen to you as the primary caregiver. The same is true for your pets. Let your emergency contacts know who you name as guardian and how you would like any insurance policy benefits, 401(k) funds, or other assets to be set up after your death to provide financially for your children. If you have a family member or friend who is willing to care for your pets, be sure to contact that person to let them know your wishes.

6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans

One way we can love and protect those we will leave behind is to put together a healing and meaningful funeral plan. The best way to do this is with a licensed funeral director. If you are unable to visit the funeral home, they can come to you. The funeral director can educate you about your options so you can make decisions that are good for you and your loved ones. Your local funeral director or advance planning specialist will ensure that your plan is practical, legal, within your budget, and ultimately, healthy for your grieving family. Be sure to give your emergency contacts a copy of your funeral plans so that they know which funeral home to work with and your wishes don’t get lost in the shuffle.

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Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns

Depending on who your emergency contacts are, they may express some concern when you discuss your funeral plans. Some of the most common reactions include:

Denial. Funerals are a subject most people would rather avoid. So, your spouse or children may say, “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of this later. Let’s not talk about it now.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that denial is not an effective strategy. The most loving thing you can do is take care of as much as possible in advance.

Disagreement. You may encounter some opposition to your plans if your emergency contacts are people who are very close to you. They may have ideas of their own on the topic. You will need to review your plans and determine if anything is up for debate or not.

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Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible

Lastly, put all of your important documents in a safe place. Make sure that your emergency contacts know where to find them. If you decide to keep your documents in a safe, share the combination with your emergency contacts. Some people may choose to use a safety deposit box. If you do so, coordinate with the bank to ensure that your emergency contacts have access to it. As an alternative, you might consider purchasing a watertight, fire-proof, easily transportable container. This way, your documents are safe and transportable.

For a complete list of information your emergency contacts need to know, download this helpful checklist: What Your Emergency Contacts Should Know. Be sure to consult trusted professionals, such as an estate planning attorney and your local funeral director, as needed.

Two people reviewing legal will and other documentation

6 Compelling Reasons to Write Your Will

By Estate Planning No Comments

Perhaps unconsciously, we often think we have years to write a will, but if you or a loved one are entering hospice, the time to write a will and protect your family and your assets is now. A will is a legal document that offers certain protections. Without one, the people closest to you might not be taken care of the way you would want them to be.

If you aren’t quite convinced, here are 6 key reasons you should start working on your will now.

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1. Protect minor children

If you have minor children, a legal will allows you to designate a specific guardian for your children, which ensures that the people you want raising your child will be able to do so. Without a designated guardian, the state decides who will raise your children. The state may not choose the people you would have chosen. Additionally, if you want to leave possessions or property to your minors in a trust, you can protect their financial security by outlining your wishes in the will.

2. Leave instructions about your goods and assets

A will gives you the ability to decide what happens to your worldly possessions. Without a will, your state laws will determine how your goods and assets are distributed, and those laws may not be in accordance with your wishes. Creating a will ensures that your wishes are known and followed.

One person giving a gift-wrapped box to another person

3. Eliminate arguments

To avoid the possibility of arguments or disputes, it’s best to clearly outline what you want done with your estate (e.g. home, car, funds, possessions, care of dependents, etc.). If no one knows your wishes, there’s room for dispute. While you may not be a super star or celebrity (not many of us are), we only have to look at the cases of Prince, Aretha Franklin, or Sonny Bono to see just how complicated things can become without a will.

4. Clarify questions of inheritance for a blended family

If you are part of a blended family, a legal will may be even more necessary. While many blended families enjoy loving relationships, not all do. If you have parented children who are not your legal heirs, you may wish to add them into your will. If you have legal heirs that you do not wish to leave assets to, you may need to exclude them from your will. Either way, blended families can introduce a few challenges, so it’s better to write a legal will so that everyone is clear about your wishes.

Family of 4 with grandparents sharing a meal together at home

5. Keep things simple for your family

Your family is grappling with the pain and confusion that comes along with losing a loved one. To keep things simple for those you love, put things in writing. With a will, your family can just get things taken care of. Without a will, the probate process can become complicated very quickly. Keep things simple for everyone by making your wishes known.

6. Ensure that your wishes are followed

If you don’t have a spouse or children at this time, things may not be so clear-cut. In this case, think about whom you would want to benefit. Perhaps you’d like to give goods or assets to friends, extended family members, or a charity. No matter what you want, writing a will now can make a big difference in the lives of others.

Two people reviewing legal will and other documentation

To start, speak with an estate attorney. They will know all the ins and outs of completing a will in your state. However, if you can’t afford the services of an attorney, there are will writing services online. If possible, ask a lawyer to review any document you draw up.

In addition to writing a will, it’s always good to consider whether now is the right time to put together advance care directives, powers of attorney, and advance funeral plans. In addition to a will, these documents create a net of safety and peace of mind for your loved ones.

Older man sitting at computer, writing notes in notebook

Helping a Loved One Get Their Affairs in Order

By Estate Planning No Comments

The worst has happened, and your loved one has entered hospice care. While much of your time will be spent caring for your loved one, now is also the time to have some necessary discussions, if you haven’t already. While it may not seem like the “right” time, now may be your only chance to learn exactly what your loved one wants regarding their final wishes. To give you a place to start and hopefully make the process as seamless as possible, use the checklist below to help you gather everything that’s needed to get your loved one’s affairs in order.

Middle-aged woman sitting at table looking at documents

Gather All Important Documents

The information and documents listed below will apply to most families. However, there may be additional documents that are important to you and your family. Think through any additional documentation that would be helpful and include it. The list below is an excellent starting place and covers the vast majority of what you will need to include.

  • Full legal name
  • Social Security number/card
  • Legal residence
  • Date and place of birth
  • Names and addresses of spouse and children
  • Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption (whichever are applicable)
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Employers and dates of employment
  • Education and military records (including DD-214 or equivalent)
  • Names and phone numbers of religious contacts (if applicable)
  • Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors
  • Medications taken regularly (keep this updated!)
  • Location of living will, legal will, power of attorney, and other legal documents
  • Sources of income and assets – pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, royalties, etc.
  • Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
  • Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, etc.) with policy numbers, beneficiaries, agents’ names, and phone numbers
  • Copy of most recent income tax return
  • Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
  • Liabilities, including property tax
  • Mortgages and debts
  • Location of original deed of trust for home
  • Car title and registration
  • Credit and debit card names and numbers
  • Location of safe deposit box and key
  • Passwords and pins for email, phone, social media accounts, digital financial assets, subscriptions, etc.
  • Funeral preferences/wishes

Woman in pink sweater sitting at table, signing a legal will

Consider Your Loved One’s Estate Planning Needs

Estate planning is about ensuring that your loved one’s wishes are carried out regarding their estate. While most of us don’t have a literal estate with a grand manor and a stable full of horses, we do all have an “estate.” In legal terms, an estate consists of everything a person owns – car, home, other real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, 401(k)s, insurance policies, furniture, digital accounts, personal possessions, and even pets.

By determining what your loved one’s wishes are, who will receive what and when, and who is responsible for carrying out any final wishes, you participate in estate planning. A few important questions to consider are:

1. Does your loved one have a legal will?

In essence, writing a legal will is one of the best things your loved one can do for your family. To reduce the risk of misunderstandings, heartache, and the possible headache of taking the estate through probate court, it’s best to clearly outline who gets what and when. In fact, state law determines the distribution of a person’s property and assets if there is no legal will. So, if there’s no legal will, you might ask your loved one if they are willing to write or dictate one. If they are, first contact a lawyer about next steps.

2. If there is a legal will, has your loved one appointed an executor? And does the chosen executor have access to and know where to find all important documents?

Above all, the executor should be someone trustworthy. They will carry out the wishes outlined in your loved one’s legal will to the letter.

3. Has your loved one named their beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries are the people or organizations that will receive any assets and/or property after death. In general, it is a good practice to double-check who the beneficiaries are on a legal will and on any life insurance policies to ensure that everything still reflects your loved one’s wishes.

Older man sitting at computer, writing notes in notebook

4. Does your loved one want or need a trust?

If you are unfamiliar with trusts, they are similar to a will. Both a will and a trust are meant to spell out someone’s wishes regarding assets and property. The main difference between the two is that a will is effective only after the person dies and then must be probated (carried out) by the court system and the chosen executor. On the other hand, in the case of a trust, there is no need to go through the court system – an appointed successor trustee (the executor, if you will) will carry out the person’s wishes after death as they are written in the trust.

Additionally, with a trust, the successor trustee can manage any financial, healthcare, or legal affairs if your loved one becomes incapacitated. Talk with an estate lawyer to see if this option is right for your family. Typically, a trust is helpful if you have a large number of assets and property.

5. Have you considered your loved one’s digital estate?

Anyone who uses an email account or a networking website has a digital estate. It’s just as important to determine the future of your loved one’s digital estate as their physical estate. For suggestions on how to manage digital estate assets, please click here.

6. Does your loved one have any dependents (including pets)? Have they made their wishes clear regarding the well-being of any dependents?

Most people know that they should indicate who will care for their dependents once they are gone. However, pets are also an important part of the family, and while we love them dearly, sometimes we overlook them in the estate planning process. To that end, make sure to include any veterinary documentation in your loved one’s important paperwork and outline who should take over the care of any beloved animals.

Lit remembrance candles

Funeral Planning

While it may be difficult to ask your loved one about funeral planning, it should be discussed at some point. If nothing else, ask a few simple questions about their preferences so that you know how they want their life honored and remembered when the time comes.

For example, do they prefer burial or cremation? With burial, do they have a preference on where they are buried? With cremation, would they like their ashes scattered, placed in a columbarium, or something else? What are some of their most favorite memories or accomplishments they are proud of that can be mentioned in a eulogy? If they are a veteran, do they want any military honors included? Getting answers to these kinds of questions will help you create a service that is meaningful and personalized, giving you peace of mind that you’ve honored their life the way they wanted.

For additional information, click on the links below:

Keep It Current

Hospice care can be a long road, so it’s important to keep any documentation you gather up to date and current. At the beginning, it’s quite an undertaking to gather all of the necessary information. But, once it’s together, keeping everything updated is much simpler.

While the conversations may not be easy, they can be good, and they will give you a clear sense of what your loved one wants regarding their earthly goods and their final send-off.

Middle-aged couple looking at documents

5 Estate Planning Documents You Should Consider

By Estate Planning 3 Comments

Receiving a diagnosis or entering hospice care can be a very emotional time. One way to cope is to focus not on what you can’t control, but on what you can control. An important area you can control is estate planning. Your estate plan can protect your loved ones and bring them comfort after you are gone. To make sure that all the bases are covered, work with an estate planning attorney to draft and sign the five documents that typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

Middle-aged couple looking at documents

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen high profile people like Prince and Aretha Franklin fail to leave a will, which left their families embroiled in court for years. This doesn’t have to be your family if you take a little bit of time now to put your wishes in writing. Now, let’s take a moment to review 5 estate planning documents, what they are, and why they are important.

Financial Power of Attorney

Definition

With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf.

Main Benefit

It is beneficial to have another person who can help you with financial needs, especially since you may not be up to the task right now. By giving a loved one the ability to access your financial accounts, you can focus on your own health and needs.

Cost of Inaction

If you become incapacitated, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

Focused on clasped hands of an elderly husband and wife

Medical Power of Attorney

Definition

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

Main Benefit

If you become incapacitated, a trusted individual can make decisions regarding your medical needs, and if you take time to share your medical or end-of-life care wishes, that person can ensure that your desires are followed.

Cost of Inaction

If you do become incapacitated, your family will be left with the burden of decision making, not knowing whether their choices align with your wishes or not. This lack of clarity can cause disagreements and strain among family members.

Before we move on…

Two final notes regarding powers of attorney

You can set up either document to be general or limited. With a general power of attorney, your appointed agent has full access. They can operate as if they are you. With a limited power of attorney, you restrict their access to certain functions.

Also, you can designate whether a power of attorney is durable. This means that it remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. In some states, “springing” is an option. This means that you can specify when the powers of attorney are in effect. Perhaps, they come into effect on a certain date or if you become incapacitated.

Adult daughter and mother looking at documents while sitting at table

Living Will

Definition

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will. Despite what its name may imply, a living will pertains to your medical care. The document clearly outlines which medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. The list is extensive and addresses topics like resuscitation, dialysis, palliative care, and organ donation. As you make decisions regarding your medical care, discuss your wishes with your doctor and family members.

You can change your medical directives at any time, but make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Main Benefit

Peace of mind for you and your family. If your desires are written down, you know that your wishes are known, and your family can be confident in any choices they (or your medical power of attorney agent) need to make regarding your care.

Cost of Inaction

Without a living will, your care preferences may not be known, especially in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

Man and woman sitting at table, working at computer

Legal Will

Definition

A will is a legal document that provides instruction for the distribution of your assets. After death, a will is considered public record once it has been registered with the probate court. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes. A will can be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

You ensure that your family knows your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Cost of Inaction

Without a will, your assets may not be distributed as you would desire. Also, in many cases, family members must go to court to determine the fate of your estate.

Husband and wife talking to estate planning expert

Revocable Living Trust

Definition

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills in that you transfer your property into the trust. Once the property is transferred, you become the trustee (naming a successor trustee to take over upon your death). The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes. A living trust is most beneficial to those who own a large amount of property and assets. A living trust can also be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

Most people choose a living trust because it avoids the possible complications of probate court. Additionally, a living trust is more difficult to attack in a court battle and is kept private (no public record).

Cost of Inaction

If you have a large estate, the lack of a living trust may make the distribution process lengthier and more complicated.  Again, not everyone will need a living trust. Speak to an estate planning attorney to determine if this route is best for you.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. There are a number of things you cannot do in a living trust, namely appointing guardians for minor children, designating an executor, and assigning a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Estate planning while in hospice care is more complicated because your mental state comes into play. In other words, the attorney must ensure that you are of sound mind, so the sooner you can get things done, the better.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.