Category: Digital Assets

Conducting an Estate Inventory is Vital

Conducting an Estate Inventory is Vital

When a loved one dies, it may be necessary for their estate to go through probate—a court-supervised process in which his or her estate is settled, outstanding debts are paid and assets are distributed to the deceased person’s heirs. An executor is tasked with overseeing the probate process. An important task for an executor is submitting a detailed inventory of the estate to the probate court. Conducting an estate inventory is vital to ensuring your probate is not problematic.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?” looks at the estate inventory. During probate, the executor is charged with several duties, including collecting assets, estimating the fair market value of all assets in the estate, ascertaining the ownership status of each asset and liquidating assets to pay off outstanding debts, if needed. The probate court will need to see an inventory of the estate’s assets before distributing those assets to the deceased’s heirs.

An estate inventory includes all the assets of an estate belonging to the individual who’s passed away. It can also include a listing of the person’s liabilities or debts. In terms of assets, this would include:

  • Bank accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs
  • Investment accounts
  • Business interests
  • Real estate
  • Pension plans and workplace retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and 457 plans
  • Life insurance, disability insurance, annuities and long-term care insurance
  • Intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks and patents
  • Household items
  • Personal effects; and

Here’s what’s included in an estate inventory on the liabilities side:

  • Home mortgages;
  • Outstanding business loans, personal loans and private student loans;
  • Auto loans associated with a vehicle included on the asset side of the inventory
  • Credit cards and open lines of credit
  • Any unpaid medical bills
  • Unpaid taxes; and
  • Any other outstanding debts, including unpaid court judgments.

There is usually no asset or liability that’s too small to be included in the estate inventory. Working closely with an estate planning attorney to make sure you are conducting an estate inventory is vital to a smooth probate process. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Feb. 15, 2022) “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?”

 

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Incorporate Cryptocurrency into your Estate Plan

Incorporate Cryptocurrency into your Estate Plan

If you have $10 in a cryptocurrency wallet or $1 million stashed offline in cold storage, you need a plan to help your next of kin gain access when you die, especially if heirs are not familiar with the brave new world of digital money. That’s the no-nonsense message from a recent article titled “What Happens to Your Crypto When You Die? Make a Plan, Or Lose Your Investments Forever” from Next Advisor. It is estimated that early buyers of cryptocurrency have already lost millions or billions because they died without a succession plan or lost their wallet keys and were not able to access their accounts. You need to incorporate cryptocurrency into your estate plan.

Cryptocurrency is not small change today. It is here to stay.

Crypto estate planning is a balance between keeping the assets secure and accessible at the same time. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning they are not issued by any country’s central banking authority. Unless another person has the right information to access the account, the assets will be gone permanently when you die. There is no paper trail and no 800-number to call.

The first step is to set up proper storage for the crypto and any other digital assets, like NFTs (non-fungible tokens) under a number of layers of security. You will need to set up tiered back-up accounts to store these assets, with varying layers of security.

If you buy and sell crypto on an exchange, loved ones may be able to access the exchange by signing into the company’s portal, similar to ones commonly used for banking, accounting, or financial investments. They need to know your password and username and will probably need access to your cell phone and email to receive a two-step verification code.

However, if you have significant sums of cryptocurrencies, you will need a more secure back-up option, which will be harder for executors to access. You will need to give your executor a crypto education as well as an estate plan.

There are centralized crypto exchanges, like Coinbase. There are hot wallets, also known as mobile wallets, that are not on a centralized platform and require a 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase to gain access. There’s also cold storage, which works like a digital safe via a USB drive. A 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase is also needed to recover or backup account information.

Your plan to pass these assets to the executor includes a physical copy of security phrases and a physical fireproof, waterproof lock box. Secure your cold storage hardware wallet—a private wallet key with a 12 or 24 word secret seed phrase—in the lockbox and make sure your executor knows the location of the safe and how to access it. Then, in one or preferably more than one separate location, store physical documents describing each digital wallet.

Describe each wallet in detail: is it an exchange, mobile wallet, or hardware wallet? Include all of the security keys, seed phrases, usernames, password information with instructions for each, including cell phone codes for the mobile wallets on your phone. Do not store anything on the internet.

You will likely need to educate family members about how crypto and other digital assets work.  They may not be comfortable with this new kind of asset. An alternative is to liquidate digital currency into more traditional assets, by transferring the crypto from the wallet into a centralized exchange, then selling it for U.S. dollars. There will be taxes due, since the IRS recognizes selling crypto as selling assets. Incorporating cryptocurrency into your estate plan is a complicated process that should only be undertaken with the advise and guidance of your estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about protecting digital assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Next Advisor (Feb. 17, 2022) “What Happens to Your Crypto When You Die? Make a Plan, Or Lose Your Investments Forever”

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storing passwords in case of death

Storing Passwords in Case of Death

As more and more aspects of our lives become digital, storing passwords in case of death becomes even more urgent. Despite having the resources to hire IT forensic experts to help access accounts, including her husband’s IRA, it’s been three years and Deborah Placet still hasn’t been able to gain access to her husband’s Bitcoin account. Placet and her late husband were financial planners and should have known better. However, they didn’t have a digital estate plan. Her situation, according to the Barron’s article “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare” offers cautionary tale.

Our digital footprint keeps expanding. As a result, there’s no paper trail to follow when a loved one dies. In the past, an executor or estate administrator could simply have mail forwarded and figure out accounts, assets and values. Not only don’t we have a paper trail, but digital accounts are protected by passwords, multifactor authentication processes, fingerprints, facial recognition systems and federal data privacy laws.

The starting point is to create a list of digital accounts. Instructions on how to gain access to the accounts must be very specific, because a password alone may not be enough information. Explain what you want to happen to the account: should ownership be transferred to someone else, who has permission to retrieve and save the data and whether you want the account to be shut down and no data saved, etc.

The account list should include:

  • Social media platforms
  • Traditional bank, retirement and investment accounts
  • PayPal, Venmo and similar payment accounts
  • Cryptocurrency wallets, nonfungible token (NFT) assets
  • Home and utilities accounts, like mortgage, electric, gas, cable, internet
  • Insurance, including home, auto, flood, health, life, disability, long-term care.
  • Smart phone accounts
  • Online storage accounts
  • Photo, music and video accounts
  • Subscription services
  • Loyalty/rewards programs
  • Gaming accounts

Some digital accounts may be accessed by using a username and password. However, others are more secure and require biometric protection. This information should all be included in a document, but the document should not be included in the Last Will, since the Last Will becomes public information through probate and is accessible to anyone who wants to see it.

Certain platforms have created a process to allow heirs to access assets. Typically, death certificates, a Last Will or probate documents, a valid photo ID of the deceased and a letter signed by those named in the probate records outlining what is to be done with assets are required. However, not every platform has addressed this issue.

Storing a list of digital assets, such as passwords, in case of death  is about as much fun as preparing for tax season. However, without a plan, digital assets are likely to be lost. Identity theft and fraud occurs when assets are unprotected and unused.

Just as a traditional estate plan protects heirs to avoid further stress and expense, a digital estate plan helps to protect the family and loved ones. Speak with your estate planning attorney as you are working on your estate plan to create a digital estate plan. If you would like to learn more about managing digital assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Barron’s (Dec. 15, 2021) “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare”

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What Assets are in an Estate?

What Assets are in an Estate?

Estate planning attorneys are often asked what assets are included in an estate, from life insurance and real estate to employment contracts and Health Savings Accounts. The answer is explored in the aptly-titled article, “Will It (My Home, My Life Insurance, Etc.) Be in My Estate?” from Kiplinger.

When you die, your estate is defined in different ways for different planning purposes. You have a gross estate for federal estate taxes. However, there’s also the probate estate. You may also be thinking of whether an asset is part of your estate to be passed onto heirs. It depends on which part of your estate you’re focusing on.

Let’s start with life insurance. You’ve purchased a policy for $500,000, with your son as the designated beneficiary. If you own the policy, the entire $500,000 death benefit will be included in your gross estate for federal estate tax purposes. If your estate is big enough ($12.06 million in 2022), the entire death benefit above the exemption is subject to a 40% federal estate tax.

However, if you want to know if the policy will be included in your probate estate, the answer is no. Proceeds from life insurance policies are not subject to probate, since the death benefit passes by contract directly to the beneficiaries.

Next, is the policy an estate asset available for heirs, creditors, taxing authorities, etc.? The answer is a little less clear. Since your son was named the designated beneficiary, your estate can’t use the proceeds to fulfill bequests made to others through your will. Even if you disowned your son since naming him on the policy and changed your will to pass your estate to other children, the life insurance policy is a contract. Therefore, the money is going to your son, unless you change this while you are still living.

However, there’s a little wrinkle here. Can the proceeds of the life insurance policy be diverted to pay creditors, taxes, or other estate obligations? Here the answer is, it depends. An example is if your son receives the money from the insurance company but your will directs that his share of the probate estate be reduced to reflect his share of costs associated with probate. If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to cover the cost of probate, he may need to tap the proceeds to pay his share.

Another aspect of figuring out what’s included in your estate depends upon where you live. In community property states—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—assets are treated differently for estate tax purposes than in states with what’s known as “common law” for married couples. Also, in most states, real estate owned on a fee simple basis is simply transferred on death through the probate estate, while in other states, an alternative exists where a Transfer on Death (TOD) deed is used.

This legal jargon may be confusing, but it’s important to know, because if property is in your probate estate, expenses may vary from 2% to 6%, versus assets outside of probate, which have no expenses.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state of residence to know what assets are included in your federal estate, what are part of your probate estate and what taxes will be levied on your estate from the state or federal governments and don’t forget, some states have inheritance taxes your heirs will need to pay. If you would like to read more about placing assets in an estate plan, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 13, 2021) “Will It (My Home, My Life Insurance, Etc.) Be in My Estate?”

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estate planning documents everyone needs

Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs

This is the time of year when people start thinking about getting piles or files of paperwork in order in preparing for a new year and for taxes. There are certain estate planning documents everyone needs. A recent article “How to Prepare, Organize and Store Estate-Planning Documents” from The Street gives useful tips on how to do this.

First, the most important documents:

Estate Planning documents, including your Will, Power of Attorney (POA), Healthcare Proxy, Living Will (often called an Advance Care Directive). The will is for asset distribution after death, but other documents are needed to protect you while you’re alive.

The POA is used to name someone to act on your behalf, if you cannot. A POA can be created to be specific, for example, to have someone else pay your bills, or it can be general, letting someone do everything from paying bills to managing the sale of your home. Be cautious about using standard POA documents, since they don’t reflect every situation.

A Healthcare Proxy empowers someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. The Living Will or Advance Care Directive outlines the type of care you do (or don’t) want when at the end of your life. This alleviates a terrible burden on your loved ones, who may not otherwise know what you would have wanted.

Add a Digital POA so someone will be able to access and manage your online accounts (subject to the terms and conditions of each digital platform).

Your Last Will and Testament conveys how you want your estate—that is, everything you own that does not have a surviving joint owner or a designated beneficiary—to be distributed after death. Your will is also used to name a guardian for minor children. It is also used to name an executor, the person who will be in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will.

A list of all of your assets, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, savings and checking accounts, will make it easier for your executor to identify and distribute assets. Don’t forget to check to see which accounts allow you to name a beneficiary and make sure those names are correct.

Both wills and trusts are used to convey assets to beneficiaries, but unlike a will, “funded” trusts don’t go through the probate process. An experienced estate planning attorney can create a trust to distribute almost any kind of property and follow your specific directions. Do you want your children to gain access to the trust after they have reached a certain age? Or when they have married and had children of their own? A trust allows for greater control of your assets.

Finally, talk with your family members about your estate plan, your wishes for end-of-life medical care and what you want to happen after you die. Write a letter of intent if it’s too hard to have a face-to-face conversation about these topics, but find a way to let them know. The documents listed above are the bare minimum estate planning documents everyone needs to acquire. Your estate planning attorney has worked with many families and will be able to provide you with suggestions and guidance. If you would like to learn more about estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (Dec. 20, 2021) “How to Prepare, Organize and Store Estate-Planning Documents”

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Avoid Password Problems in Estate Planning

Avoid Password Problems in Estate Planning

Barron’s recent article entitled “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare” explains that even financial planners may not consider until too late, how difficult it can be to recover and access a loved one’s accounts after they pass away. Since we are much more paperless with our finances, getting access to these accounts can be extremely hard for heirs, if they don’t have the right information. That’s because digital accounts are protected by encryption, multifactor authentication and federal data privacy laws. There are ways to avoid password problems in your estate planning.

Create a list of digital accounts and instructions on how to access them. The list should include not only financial assets but social media and other accounts. Digital accounts that loved ones or advisors may need to access following a death include:

  • Traditional financial accounts
  • Cryptocurrency accounts
  • Home payment and utilities accounts
  • Health insurance benefits
  • Email accounts
  • Social media
  • Smartphone accounts
  • Storage and file-sharing
  • Photo, music and video accounts
  • E-commerce accounts
  • Subscriptions to streaming services, such as Netflix, newspapers, music services; and
  • Loyalty/rewards programs for airlines and hotels.

Create a list of accounts, passwords and access information, keeping it up to date as information changes and letting a trusted person, such as an executor or estate planning attorney, know its location. Without a password list, it can be a nightmare.

Note that with every digital account, there’s a specific process that heirs must undertake to gain access, which should then be communicated clearly in your estate plan. Make a list of all digital assets and their access information, but don’t include this in the will itself, since the document is part of the public record in probate.

Being prepared well ahead of time in your estate planning can help your family avoid password problems that may cause undue stress and delays as they probate your estate. It also ensures that they don’t forfeit significant financial assets concealed behind an impenetrable digital wall. If you would like to read more about protecting digital assets, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Barron’s (Dec. 15, 2021) “How to Ensure Heirs Avoid a Password-Protected Nightmare”

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Cryptocurrency should be considered in estate plans

Cryptocurrency should be Considered in Estate Plans

Cryptocurrency accounts are not like any traditional investment accounts. However, their growing prevalence and value means cryptocurrency should be considered in more and more estate plans, especially when they take an enormous leap in value. These accounts are more vulnerable, according to the recent article “Millennial Money: What happens to your crypto if you die?” from The Indiana Gazette, and in most cases, there’s no way to name a beneficiary for your crypto accounts.

If you store your cryptocurrency on a physical device at home and a few friends know your key—the crypto password that grants access to a crypto wallet—one of those friends could very easily wander into your home and steal your crypto without you even noticing.

On the flip side, if you don’t share your key with anyone and become incapacitated or die, your crypto assets could be lost forever. Knowing how to store these assets safely and communicate your wishes for loved ones is extremely important, more so than for traditional assets.

How is crypto stored? Crypto “wallets” are digital wallets, managed on an app or a website, or kept on a thumb drive (also known as a memory stick). How you store crypto depends in part on how you intend to use it.

A “Hot Wallet” is used to buy and sell crypto. They are usually free and convenient but may not be as secure as other methods because they are always connected to the internet.

“Cold Wallets” are used to store crypto for a longer period of time, like a deep freezer.

The Hot Wallet is more like a checking account, with money moving in and out. The Cold Wallet is like a savings account, where money is kept for a longer period of time. You can have both, just as you probably have both a checking and savings account.

Whoever holds the “keys” to the wallets—whoever has custody of the password, which is a series of randomly generated numbers and letters—has access to your cryptocurrency. It might be just you, a third-party crypto exchange, or a hybrid of the two. Consider the third-party exchange a temporary and risky solution, as you don’t have control of the keys and exchanges do get hacked.

Naming a beneficiary in your will and adding a document to your estate plan containing an inventory of cryptocurrency and any passwords, PINs, keys and instructions to find your cold wallet is part of an estate plan addressing this new digital asset class.

Do not under any circumstances include any of the crypto information in your will. This document becomes part of the public record when filed in court and giving this information is the same as sharing your checking, saving and investment account information with the general public.

Some platforms, like Coinbase, have a process in place for next of kin, when an owner dies. Others do not, so it’s up to the crypto owner to make plans, if they want assets to be preserved and passed to another family member.

Cryptocurrency should be considered in your estate plans if you plan to trade heavily in it. Preparing for cryptocurrency is much the same as preparing for the rest of your planning. Keep the plan updated, especially after big life events, like marriage, divorce, birth, or death. Keep instructions up to date, so the executor and beneficiaries know what to do. Bear in mind that crypto wallets need occasional updates, like every other kind of digital platform. If you would like to learn more about cryptocurrency and estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Indiana Gazette (Nov. 7, 2021) “Millennial Money: What happens to your crypto if you die?”

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Using Cryptocurrency in your Estate Planning

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy online goods and services, explains Forbes’ recent article entitled “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know.” Part of cryptocurrency’s appeal is the technology that backs it. Blockchain is a decentralized system that records and manages transactions across many computers and is very secure. If you are intent on using cryptocurrency in your estate planning, there are things you need to know.

As of June 24, the total value of all cryptocurrencies was $1.35 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. There are many available cryptocurrencies. However, the most popular ones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Binance Coin and Dogecoin. Many believe cryptocurrency will be a main currency in the future, and they’re opting to buy it now. They also like the fact that central banks are not involved in the process, so they can’t interfere with its value.

In addition, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, are also gaining in popularity. Each token is one of a kind and they’re also supported by blockchain technology. They can be anything digital, such as artwork or music files. NFTs are currently being used primarily as a way to buy and sell digital art. An artist could sell their original digital artwork to a buyer. The buyer is the owner of the exclusive original, but the artist might retain proprietary rights to feature the artwork or make copies of it. The popularity of NFTs is centered around the social value of fine art collecting in the digital space.

Here are three reasons to have an estate plan, if you buy bitcoin:

  1. No probate. Even if your loved ones knew you were using cryptocurrency, and even if they knew where you stored your password, that wouldn’t be enough for them to get access to it. Without proper estate planning, your cryptocurrency assets may be put through a lengthy and expensive probate process.
  2. Blockchain technology. You must have a private key to access each of your assets. It’s usually a long passcode. A comprehensive estate plan that includes this can help you have peace of mind knowing that your investments can be passed on to loved ones’ if anything were to happen to you unexpectedly.
  3. Again, central banks don’t play any part in the process, and it’s secure because its processing and recording are spread across many different computers. However, there’s no governing body overseeing the affairs of cryptocurrency.

Using cryptocurrency in your estate planning could have benefits and consequences. Speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure you have a full grasp on how it works.

If you would like to read more about cryptocurrency and other digital assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (July 21, 2021) “Cryptocurrency And Estate Planning: What Digital Investors Should Know”

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How to Organize Digital Assets

Did you ever wonder what happens to old emails, videos, or photos when people die? Some family stories become headlines, when families battle with big tech firms to get their loved one’s photos or business records. Today, you need to plan for how to organize digital assets, as explained in a recent article “Don’t leave grieving relatives searching for your passwords: Here’s how to organize your digital life before you die” from USA Today.

Your digital life includes far more than your photos or business records. It includes financial accounts, like PayPal or Venmo, websites, videogames, online investment portfolios, social media, online video games and anything for which you need a password.

Social media accounts that are not closed down or deleted when someone dies, are at risk of being taken over by cybercriminals, who use the accounts to get access to financial accounts and use the decedent’s identity to commit crimes across the internet.

Start by making a list of all of your accounts, including account numbers, usernames and passwords. If the account has two-factor authentication, you’ll need to include that information as well. If the account uses biometrics, like a facial scan, you’ll need to find out from the platform itself how you can create a directive to allow another person to gain access to the account.

Your will needs to reflect the existence of digital assets and name a person who will be your digital executor. Many states have passed legislation concerning how digital assets are treated in estate planning, so check with your estate planning attorney to learn what your state’s requirements are.

In many cases, the best option is to use the platform’s own account tools for digital assets. Google, Facebook, PayPal, and a number of other sites offer the ability to name a legacy contact who will be able to gain some access to an account, to access the information and to delete the account in the event of your death.

One big issue in digital estate planning is that some platforms automatically delete accounts and their contents, if the account is inactive for a certain amount of time. Content may be lost forever, if the proper steps are not taken.

Some financial advisors maintain online portals, where their clients may store important documents that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This may be an option, in addition to keeping an organized list of digital assets in the same location where you keep your estate planning documents.

We all live in a digital world now, and when a person dies, it’s challenging to locate all of their accounts and gain access to their contents. Your grandchildren may be able to figure out some workarounds, but it would be much easier if you organize digital assets and make them a part of the conversation you had with your children when discussing your estate plan.

If you would like to learn more about digital assets and how to protect them, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: USA Today (Nov. 25, 2020) “Don’t leave grieving relatives searching for your passwords: Here’s how to organize your digital life before you die”

 

Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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