Category: Trustee

Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

What if your executor or trustee decides to run off to the Bahamas with all your assets, leaving heirs with nothing? Ohio Farmer’s recent article entitled “What if trustee runs off with assets?” says that you should add safeguards to protect the heirs of an estate.

The most common way to protect against this possibility is a fiduciary bond. An executor, trustee, or guardian would get a bond early in a probate case and file it with the court. The bond would remain in place while the fiduciary is serving his or her role. If the fiduciary absconds with estate assets, the bond is there to help the beneficiaries.

This expense would be covered by the fiduciary, who would need to find a bond company willing to issue it. The bond amount is connected to the value of personal property, such as financial accounts, vehicles and personal effects.

Do you need a bond to cover the value of land? No. The primary difference is that land can’t be picked up easily and moved, making a bond unnecessary. It’s also very hard to transfer land without extensive safeguards. In some cases, court permission is required for a transfer. To sell a farm or ranch, a title company might raise suspicion. Real estate-related actions are also often public record. In some cases, a court action can correct issues or order damages.

It’s possible to waive the requirement of a bond. That’s a default setting for bonds with estates, trusts, or guardianships. Most estate planning documents waive the bond requirement, because family members often serve as fiduciaries.

State law may also describe several situations where a bond isn’t required. However, if a party motions the court, and the judge thinks there’s good cause for a bond, one can be required for a fiduciary.

While a bond can provide some important protections for heirs, the likelihood of a fiduciary running off with assets is low. As a result, most administrations view the bond as an unnecessary step and expense.

However, if a family is concerned about the trustworthiness of a fiduciary and want to add safeguards to protect your heirs, the bond requirement should be reinstated.

If an administration is pending, the family can petition the court to require a bond. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the role of bonds for your estate plan. if you would like to learn more about the responsibilities of a trustee, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ohio Farmer (Nov. 22, 2022) “What if trustee runs off with assets?”

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Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

There are steps to take to minimize, if not eliminate the likelihood of inheritance battles. Inheritance battles can create new conflicts, inflame long-standing resentments and squander assets intended to make heir’s lives better. What can families do to prevent estate battles when a loved one’s intentions aren’t accepted is the question asked by the recent article, “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them,” from mondaq.com.

Here are the more common scenarios leading to family estate battles:

  • Siblings who are always fighting over something
  • Second or third marriages
  • Disparate treatment of children, whether real or perceived
  • Mental illness or additional issues
  • Isolation or estrangement
  • Economic hardship

The most important step to begin is to have an estate plan in place, including all the necessary documents to clearly indicate your wishes. You may want to include a letter of intent, which is not a legally enforceable document. However, it can support the wishes expressed in estate planning documents.

Update the Estate Plan. Does your estate plan still achieve the desired outcome? This is especially important if the family has experienced big changes to finances or relationships. An estate plan from ten years ago may not reflect current circumstances.

Make Distributions Now. For some families, giving with “warm hands” is a gratifying experience and can remove wealth from the estate to avoid battles as everything’s already been given away. The pleasure of seeing families enjoy the fruits of your labor is not to be underestimated, like a granddaughter who is able to buy a home of her own or an entrepreneurial loved one getting help in a business venture.

Appoint a Non-Family Member as a Trustee. Warring factions within a family are not likely to resolve things on their own, especially when cash is at stake. Appointing a family member as a trustee could cause them to become a lightning rod for all of the family’s tensions. Without the confidence of beneficiaries, accusations of self-dealing or an innocent mistake could lead to litigation. Removing the emotions by having a non-family member serve as a professional trustee can lessen suspicion and decrease the chances of legal disputes.

Communicate, with a facilitator, if necessary. Families with a history of disputes often do better when a professional is involved. Depending on the severity of the dynamics, this could range from annual meetings with an estate planning attorney to explain how the estate plan works and have discussions about the parent’s wishes to monthly meetings with a family counselor.

A No-Contest Clause. For some families, a no-contest clause in the will can head off any issues from the start. If people are especially litigious, however, this may not be enough to stop them from pursuing a case. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to recommend the use of this provision, based on knowing the family and how much wealth is involved.

Addressing the problem now. The biggest mistake is to sweep the issue under the proverbial rug and “let them fight over it when I’m gone.” A better legacy is to address the problem of the family squabbles and know you’ve done the right thing.

Taking steps to minimize inheritance battles can reduce the stress you may feel as we head into the holiday season. These efforts to bring families together and prepare for the future will allow parents, children and grandchildren to enjoy their time together. If you would like to learn more about inheritance issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: mondaq.com (Nov. 4, 2022) “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 5 - Bad Moon Rising: The Corporate Transparency Act

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift is out now!

This is the time of the year when people feel most inclined to provide donations to organizations and charities that mean something to them. The saying goes that “Charity Begins at Home”, but sometimes you can give money to charity and bring it back home too – No Kidding!

In this episode, Brad Wiewel discusses charitable donations and how you can use “give and get” techniques to turn those donations into income and tax deductions for yourself. Just in time for the holiday season. You do not want to miss this one! These are complex estate and tax matters, requiring the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney for optimal results. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4  – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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Take Care When Naming a Co-Trustee

Take Care When Naming a Co-Trustee

It is important to take care when naming a co-trustee. If you’ve already created a revocable trust, congratulations—that means you’ve taken steps to protect the people important to you and eliminated concerns they may have about what will happen when you’re gone. A recent article, “3 Things to Consider when Naming Co-Trustees,” from The Street, asks if you should name an adult child as your co-trustee.

Most people name themselves as a trustee of a revocable living trust, allowing themselves to maintain control over how the funds are managed. As children become adults, you may start including them in your estate planning discussions, which may lead them to propose a relatively straightforward idea: letting them serve alongside you, by being named as co-trustees.

This might make sense. However, it may not. You need to ask some hard questions.

First, are you and your adult child in alignment on financial matters? If you are conservative when it comes to money and investing, but your child is a free-wheeling, come-what-may person, then you definitely don’t want to have them as a co-trustee. Not only will you disagree on how assets are to be used, you may also find yourself in a situation where your assets are funding a lot of fun, which is likely not what you have in mind for assets in a revocable trust.

As the primary trustee of the revocable trust, you have the legal power to fire a co-trustee. This presents another obstacle. Firing your child, especially if you’re firing one child and replacing them with another child, could lead to a lot of family friction. Many estate planning attorneys have seen what happens when parents are reluctant to act, even when it is crystal clear they need to be fired.

Second, does their logistical status make this person a good co-trustee candidate? Location and even time zones are not as confining as they used to be. However, there is a real benefit to being able to show up in person if something goes wrong. What if there’s an issue processing something and the bank will not accept a document sent by email or fax, but requires an in-person signature?

Your trust might include language allowing each co-trustee to act independently of the other. However you need to take care, this opens the door to the person you are naming a co-trustee being able to act unilaterally. If you’re still able to manage your own finances, you may not want to give up this amount of control to an adult child.

Would a co-trustee role with a child require you to revise the entire estate plan? For some trust creators, making one adult child their revocable living trust co-trustee means they need to change their estate plan to be fair to their other children. Sometimes they feel that another child should be named as a Power of Attorney or Health Care Power of Attorney.

“Fairness” or “keeping the peace” should never, ever, be a reason for children or other individuals to be named for estate planning roles. Each agent has a task to do in carrying out your wishes as directed by your last will and testament, POAs and trust documents. Naming a kid who’s a financial disaster as a co-trustee is asking for trouble. Naming someone who doesn’t share your beliefs about end-of-life treatment means your wishes are not likely to be followed.

However, it is possible to have your estate planning attorney create a workable co-trustee arrangement between you and an adult child. If they live close by, you mainly agree on financial matters and they can be available to you on short notice, it’s likely the arrangement will work. If there is no one who could serve, speak with your estate planning attorney about alternatives. For instance, making an adult child a successor trustee will let them step in if and when you are not able to manage your affairs, while you retain full and complete authority while you are still able to do so. The bottom line is this: Take care when naming a co-trustee. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your legacy. If you would like to learn more about trusts, please visit our previous posts.  

Reference: The Street (Oct. 11, 2022) “3 Things to Consider when Naming Co-Trustees”

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Factors to Consider when Picking Trustee

Factors to Consider when Picking Trustee

Having your estate planning documents created with an experienced professional is important, as is naming the people who will be putting your plan into action. A key sticking point is often deciding who is the right person for the role, says an article from Nasdaq titled “Estate Planning: 5 Tips to Pick Trustees, Executors and POAs.” It helps to stop thinking about how people will feel if they are not selected and focus instead on their critical thinking and decision making abilities. There are some factors to consider when picking a trustee, executor or power of attorney.

Consider who will have the time to help. Having adult children who are highly successful in their professions is wonderful. However, if they are extremely busy running a business, leading an organization, etc., will their busy schedules allow the flexibility to help? A daughter with twins may love you to the moon and back. However, will she be able to handle the tasks of estate administration?

Take these appointments seriously. Selecting someone on an arbitrary basis is asking for trouble. Just because one child is older doesn’t necessarily mean they are capable of managing your estate. Making a decision based on gender can be equally flawed. Naming agents and executors with financial acumen is more important than giving your creative child the chance to learn how to manage money through your estate.

Don’t make the process more complicated. There are many families where parents name all the siblings to act on their behalf, so no one feels left out. This usually turns into an estate disaster. An odd number of siblings can lead to one group winning decisions by sheer numbers, while aggressive, win-at-all-costs siblings—even if it’s just two of them—can lead to delayed decisions and family divisions.

Name the right person for right now. Younger people who don’t yet have children often aren’t sure who their best agent might be. Picking a parent may become problematic, if the parent becomes sick or dies. Naming a close friend in your thirties may need updating if your friendship wanes. Make it simple: appoint the best person for today, with the caveat of updating your agents and documents as time goes on and circumstances change. Remember, circumstances always change.

Consider the value of a professional trustee or fiduciary. The best person to be a trustee, executor or power of attorney may not always be a family member or friend. If a trustee is one sibling and the beneficiary of the trust is another sibling who can’t manage money, the relationship could suffer. If a large estate includes generational trusts and complex ownership structures, a professional may be better suited to deal with management and tax issues.

The value of having an estate plan cannot be overstated. However, the importance of who will be appointed to oversee and administer the estate is equally important. The success of an estate plan often rests on the people who are assigned to handle their respective tasks.

Consider these factors seriously when picking a trustee or executor. Be candid when speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney about the people in your life and their abilities to manage the roles. If you would like to learn more about the role of a trustee or executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nasdaq (Sep. 4, 2022) “Estate Planning: 5 Tips to Pick Trustees, Executors and POAs”

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Creating an Estate Plan with Minor Children

Creating an Estate Plan with Minor Children

Creating an estate plan with minor children in mind has a host of variables quite different than one where all heirs are adults. If the intention is for the minor children to be beneficiaries, or if there is a remote chance a minor child might become an unintended beneficiary, different provisions will be needed. A recent article titled “Children need special attention in estate planning” from The News-Enterprise explains how these situations might be addressed.

Does the person creating the will—aka, the testator—want property to be distributed to a minor child? If so, how is the distribution is to occur, tax consequences and safeguards need to be put into place. Much depends upon the relationship of the testator to the minor child. An older individual may want to leave specific dollar bequests for minor children or great-grandchildren, while people with younger children generally leave their entire estate in fractional shares to their own minor children as primary beneficiaries.

While minor children and grandchildren beneficiaries are excluded from inheritance taxes in certain states, great- grandchildren are not. Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide details on who is subject to inheritance, federal and state estate taxes. This needs to be part of your estate plan.

If minor children are the intended beneficiaries of a fractional share of the estate in its entirety, distributions may be held in a common trust or divided into separate share for each minor child. A common trust is used to hold all property to benefit all of the children, until the youngest child reaches a determined age. When this occurs, the trust is split into separate shares according to the trust directions, when each share is managed for the individual beneficiary.

Instructions to the trustee as to how much of the income and principal each beneficiary is to receive and when, at what age or intervals each beneficiary may exercise full control over the assets and what purposes the trust property is intended for until the beneficiary reaches a certain age are details which need to be clearly explained in the trust.

Trusts for minor children are often specifically to be used for health, education, maintenance, or support needs of the beneficiary, within the discretion of the trustee. This has to be outlined in the trust document.

Even if the intention is not to make minor children beneficiaries, care must be taken to include provisions if they are family members. The will or trust must be clear on how property passed to minor child beneficiaries is to be distributed. This may be done through a requirement to put distributions into a trust or may leave a list of options for the executor.

Testators need to keep in mind the public nature of probate. Whatever is left to a minor child will be a matter of public record, which could make the child vulnerable to scammers or predatory family members. Consider using a revocable living trust as an alternative to safeguard the child and the assets.

Regardless of whether a will or trust is used, there should be a person named to act as the child’s guardian and their conservator or trustee, who manages their finances. The money manager does not have to be a parent or relative but must be a trustworthy person.

Review your specific situation with your estate planning attorney when creating an estate plan to protect your minor children. This will ensure their financial and lifestyle stability. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for minor children, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 10, 2022) “Children need special attention in estate planning”

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The Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

The Difference between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

A living trust can be revocable or irrevocable, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?” And not everyone needs a trust. For some, a will may be enough. However, if you have substantial assets you plan to pass on to family members or to charity, a trust can make this much easier. There is a difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts.

There are many different types of trusts you can establish, and a revocable trust is a trust that can be changed or terminated at any time during the lifetime of the grantor (i.e., the person making the trust). This means you could:

  • Add or remove beneficiaries at any time
  • Transfer new assets into the trust or remove ones that are in it
  • Change the terms of the trust concerning how assets should be managed or distributed to beneficiaries; and
  • Terminate or end the trust completely.

When you die, a revocable trust automatically becomes irrevocable and no further changes can be made to its terms. An irrevocable trust is permanent. If you create an irrevocable trust during your lifetime, any assets you transfer to the trust must stay in the trust. You can’t add or remove beneficiaries or change the terms of the trust.

The big advantage of choosing a revocable trust is flexibility. A revocable trust allows you to make changes, and an irrevocable trust doesn’t. Revocable trusts can also allow your heirs to avoid probate when you die. However, a revocable trust doesn’t offer the same type of protection against creditors as an irrevocable trust. If you’re sued, creditors could still try to attach trust assets to satisfy a judgment. The assets in a revocable trust are part of your taxable estate and subject to federal estate taxes when you die.

In addition to protecting assets from creditors, irrevocable trusts can also help in managing estate tax obligations. The assets are owned by the trust (not you), so estate taxes are avoided. Holding assets in an irrevocable trust can also be useful if you’re trying to qualify for Medicaid to help pay for long-term care and want to avoid having to spend down assets.

But again, you can’t change this type of trust and you can’t act as your own trustee. Once the trust is set up and the assets are transferred, you no longer have control over them.

Speak with an experienced estate planning or probate attorney to help understand the difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts. If you would like to learn more about trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 10, 2022) “Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Better?”

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A Pot Trust can Provide Flexibility

A Pot Trust can Provide Flexibility

A pot trust is a type of trust that names the children as beneficiaries and the trustee is given discretion to decide how the trust assets should be spent. This trust lets the grantor create a single pool of assets to be used for the benefit of multiple children. A pot trust can provide flexibility as to how trust assets are used if you plan to leave your entire estate to your children, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

If you create a family pot trust for your three children and one of them experiences a medical emergency, the trustee would be able to authorize the use of trust funds or assets to cover those costs.

Flexibility is a key element of family pot trusts. Assets are distributed based on the children’s needs, rather than setting specific distribution rules as to who gets what. You might consider this type of trust over other types of trusts if:

  • You have two or more children;
  • At least one of those children is a minor; and
  • You plan to leave your entire estate to your children when you pass away.

Pot trusts can be created for children when you plan to leave all of your assets to them. Generally, a pot trust ends when the youngest included as a beneficiary reaches a certain age. As long as the trust is in place, the trustee can use his or her discretion to determine the way in which trust assets may be used to provide for the beneficiaries’ well-being. The aim is to satisfy the financial needs of individual children as they arise.

However, pot trusts don’t ensure an equal distribution of assets among multiple children. And a family pot trust can also put an increased burden on the trustee. In effect, the trustee has to take on a parental role for financial decision-making. That’s instead of adhering to predetermined directions from the trust grantor. And children may also not like at having to wait until the youngest child comes of age for the trust to terminate and assets to be distributed.

Setting up a pot trust isn’t that different from setting up any other type of trust and it can provide you with more flexibility as to how assets are managed. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you. If you would like to learn more about pot trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Aug. 30, 2021) “How Does a Pot Trust Work?”

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Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianship

Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianship

The benefit of less restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to explore if these less restrictive alternatives to guardianship work for your family’s situation. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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There are Benefits to a QTIP Trust

There are Benefits to a QTIP Trust

There are some significant benefits to a QTIP trust. A Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust, or QTIP, is a trust allowing the person who makes the trust (the grantor) to provide for a surviving spouse while maintaining control of how the trust’s assets are distributed once the surviving spouse passes, as explained in the article “QTIP Trusts” from Investopedia.

QTIPs are irrevocable trusts, commonly used by people who have children from prior marriages. The QTIP allows the grantor to take care of their spouse and ensure assets in the trust are eventually passed to beneficiaries of their own choosing. Beneficiaries could be the grantor’s offspring from a prior marriage, grandchildren, other family members or friends.

In addition to providing the surviving spouse with income, the QTIP also limits applicable estate and gift taxes. The property within the QTIP trust provides income to the surviving spouse and qualifies as a marital deduction, meaning the value of the trust is not taxable after the death of the first spouse. Rather, the property in the QTIP trust will be included in the estate of the surviving spouse and subject to estate taxes depending on the value of their own assets and the estate tax exemption in effect at the time of death.

The QTIP can also assert control over how assets are handled when the surviving spouse dies, as the spouse never assumes the power of appointment over the principal. This is especially important when there is more than one marriage and children from more than one family. This prevents those assets from being transferred to the living spouse’s new spouse if they should re-marry.

A minimum of one trustee must be appointed to manage the trust, although there may be multiple trustees named. The trustee is responsible for controlling the trust and has full authority over assets under management. The surviving spouse, a financial institution, an estate planning attorney or other family member or friend may serve as a trustee.

The surviving spouse named in a QTIP trust usually receives income from the trust based on the trust’s income, similar to stock dividends. Payments may only be made from the principal if the grantor allows it when the trust was created, so it must be created to suit the couple’s needs.

Payments are made to the spouse as long as they live. Upon their death, the payments end, and they are not transferable to another person. The assets in the trust then become the property of the listed beneficiaries.

The marital trust is similar to the QTIP, but the is a difference in how the assets are controlled. A QTIP allows the grantor to dictate how assets within the trust are distributed and requires at least annual distributions. A marital trust allows the surviving spouse to dictate how assets are distributed, regular distributions are not required, and new beneficiaries can be added. The marital trust is more flexible and, accordingly, more common in first marriages and not in blended families.

There are benefits to a QTIP trust and a marital trust. Your estate planning attorney will explain further how else these two trusts are different and which one is best for your situation. There are other ways to create trusts to control how assets are distributed, how taxes are minimized and to set conditions on benefits. Each person’s situation is different, and there are trusts and strategies to meet almost every need imaginable. If you would like to learn more about different types of trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Investopedia (Aug. 14, 2022) “QTIP Trusts”

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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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