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Death certificate request form with pen on top

The Beginner’s Guide to Death Certificates

By Estate Planning, Planning Tools

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you know how overwhelming it can be. You’re grieving, but you may also be trying to take care of their affairs. As you navigate the complicated world of funeral planning, life insurance, Medicaid, and estate settlement, one item you’ll need for everything is a death certificate.

Death certificates are official documents that provide the name of the deceased, the date, time, and place of death, and the cause of death. Different states have their own requirements for death certificates, so other details may be included, like the deceased’s birth date, Social Security number, or their parents’ names. Basically, death certificates provide official confirmation of a person’s death.

While obtaining death certificates may seem like an extra hassle at a time when you’re grieving, they play a necessary role in estate settlement. Plus, they can help you and your family members accept the death of your loved one. Here are 3 things you need to know about these important documents:

Person filling out a form

1. Why You’ll Need a Death Certificate

As you work through your loved one’s affairs, you’ll likely need 5-10 copies of the death certificate. The funeral home or crematory you work with will need a death certificate to get a burial or cremation permit. You’ll also need a death certificate to claim life insurance, close accounts, and transfer ownership of any vehicles, real estate, or other property. If your spouse has died, you’ll also need a death certificate to manage their pension or Medicaid or if you plan to remarry. Some companies will accept a copy of the death certificate, but insurance agencies typically need an official certificate.

If your loved one was a veteran, you’ll also need a death certificate for the veterans’ burial benefits provided by the VA. Whether your loved one’s death was service-related or took place after they were discharged, your family will need to present the death certificate at the VA’s office when you request burial benefits.

But death certificates are more than just legal records. By officially documenting someone’s death and what caused it, death certificates can provide some closure for your family. If your loved one died unexpectedly, knowing the official cause of death can give you and your family peace of mind as you begin your grief journey.

Black awning for a funeral home

2. Who Supplies the Death Certificate

While states have different requirements about death certificate filing, funeral directors must file them within 72 hours of the death. When you speak with a funeral director after the death of your loved one, they’ll need certain information to submit the death certificate. A coroner, physician, or medical examiner will also need to sign the certificate before it’s filed to certify the cause of death.

To get copies of a death certificate, you’ll likely request them from the funeral home or your local vital records office. Some states also offer the option to request a death certificate on their website. Additionally, there are third-party websites you can use to request death certificates.

If you choose to request death certificates online, make sure to choose a reliable site. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re requesting an official copy of the death certificate. Some sites offer informational copies, unofficial certificates, or death verification letters, which aren’t official documents. If you’re unsure if a site is reliable, ask your local funeral provider or your state’s vital records office.

3. What Information You Need to Request a Death Certificate

Laws about requesting death certificates vary in different states. In many areas, only a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or legal representative can request a death certificate. To request a certificate, you’ll need to bring an ID and proof that you’re related to the deceased, like your birth certificate or your marriage license. Extended family members may be able to request a death certificate with written permission from an immediate family member.

To request the certificate, you’ll likely need the following information about the deceased:

  • Full legal name
  • Sex
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Father’s legal name
  • Mother’s maiden name

Some states may require you to provide other information, like their last known address, race, birthplace, or marital status. If you’re missing any of the above information, you may be able to request a birth certificate to find it.

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to request 5-10 copies of the death certificate so you have plenty on hand. Pricing differs in each state, but death certificates usually cost between $5 and $25. Some states offer discounted pricing when you order more than one death certificate at a time. For example, the initial certificate may cost $20, but you only pay $5 for each additional certificate.

While navigating the world after your loved one’s death, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your local funeral provider can be a knowledgeable source of information. You can also speak with your attorney as you navigate estate settlements and life insurance. As you begin your grief journey, don’t be afraid to accept help from those around you and to take time to process your emotions.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. If you have questions about obtaining a death certificate, please contact a licensed funeral professional or local vital record’s office.

4 Reasons Why You Should Update Your Will

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

If you’ve written your will, you’ve already gotten a great start on your estate planning! But now that you’ve created a will, don’t just put it in a drawer and forget about it. As your life changes, your will should change, too.

A good rule of thumb is to update your will every three to five years. However, if something big changes in your life, you may need to update it sooner. Here are a few times you might need to update your will:

Woman taping a packing box shut

When your life changes

When something in your life drastically changes, you should check your will and see if anything needs updating. For example, you will definitely want to make changes if a loved one mentioned in your will dies. Other life changes may prompt a review, such as a big move or a significant change in health status. You might also take a look if you start a new business or job or get a new pet.

Since a will also discusses guardianship of minors, if you have a child or gain care of anyone under 18, you should update your will to provide for them and name a guardian to care for them in your absence. Otherwise, the court will appoint a guardian with no input from you. You should also update your will if you’ve been caring for a minor who is now a legal adult.

African American man putting a ring on a woman's finger

When your relationships change

As time passes, your relationships with friends and family members will shift. Relationships change naturally as family members get married, divorced, or have children. But also consider that conflict can change your relationships with others. Every new relationship – or lost relationship – doesn’t require an update to your will. However, if there is a change with someone you’ve named as a beneficiary, guardian, executor, or any other role in your will, a change may be necessary.

You should also update your will if your own marital status changes, whether through marriage, death, or divorce. All three of those events can cause upheaval in your life, and it’s easy to forget to update your will. Once you have space to think, be sure to set aside time to review your will. This is especially important if you have a blended family. You may want to make sure that children from your previous marriage are taken care of.

Additionally, if relationships between your beneficiaries or other family members become volatile, you may want to update your will to make it more secure. If you’re worried about someone challenging your will, you could include a no-contest clause. This clause would disinherit the person if they challenge the will in court. Make sure to consult a lawyer to learn about your state’s specific laws if you’re considering a no-contest clause.

hand stacking quarters in stacks that increase in height

When your financial situation changes

Since your will lays out your wishes for your property and assets, you’ll want to update your will when your financial situation shifts dramatically. This doesn’t mean you need to readjust your will every time your net worth fluctuates. But if you experience significant gains or losses, like if you inherit a large amount of money from another family member or suffer a large financial setback, you may want to take another look at your will. A change in your assets may make you reconsider how you distribute your belongings, or you may want to set up a living trust.

Also, pay attention to any specific pieces of property you’ve named in your will. Conflict might ensue if, for example, you’ve named your daughter as the heir to your antique desk, but you later sell it or give it to your son for his new house. Keep track of any specific items you’ve mentioned and update your will as needed.

Judge banging a gavel

When laws change

Just as life changes unpredictably, laws can change that affect your will. Estate tax laws directly affect the proceeds of your will, and as other laws are passed and amended, they could also impact your will. Plus, if you move to a different state or country, laws about wills may be different. Some states ask you to use a different number of witnesses or require you to include certain statements in your will. If you’re unsure what laws affect your will, ask your attorney if there are any changes you need to make.

While the events above are great signs that you should check your will, you don’t need a big life change to update your will. It’s up to you to decide how you want your assets distributed, so you can make changes whenever you wish, as long as you are of sound mind.

As you make changes to your will, make sure to exchange your updated copies for any out-of-date versions to avoid confusion. Your new will should make any old versions invalid, but it’s a good idea to destroy any copies of your original will. If you have your will on file with your lawyer or have given copies to any family members, make sure to give them the updated version.

After you’ve updated your will, don’t forget to check your other estate planning documents! Your powers of attorney, emergency contacts, and funeral plan might need to be updated, too, so take a look at your documents and see if anything has changed.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Young couple reviewing official documents with advisor

4 Reasons to Keep Your Beneficiaries Up to Date

By Estate Planning

Wouldn’t it be great if estate planning was a “one and done” type of task? If life came without change, then it could be, but we all know change is inevitable. That’s why it’s so important to update your estate plan needs over time, too. While it may seem like a hassle, failing to update your beneficiaries can actually have long-reaching effects that you’ll want to avoid. If you’re not convinced, let’s go over 4 key reasons why keeping your beneficiaries up to date is so valuable!

Older man and woman signing documents

What is a Beneficiary?

Before we jump into the reasons why it’s so important to update your beneficiaries, let’s first review what a beneficiary actually is. To define the term, a beneficiary is the person or entity that will receive the proceeds of your accounts upon your death. You may name a beneficiary on:

It’s always good to name both a primary beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary. That way, if the primary beneficiary were to die before you, the contingent beneficiary would inherit in their place.

Now that you have an understanding of what a beneficiary is as well as what types of accounts they are associated with, let’s talk about why it’s essential to keep your beneficiary information up to date!

Young couple reviewing official documents with advisor

4 Reasons to Keep Your Beneficiaries Up to Date

Reason #1 – Your Relationships Are Going to Change Over Time

If one thing is certain, the relationships in your life are going to change. Whether you’re a young person who hopes to marry one day or you’re an older adult who may eventually face the death of a spouse, things are going to change, and most likely, your listed beneficiaries will be affected.

When you go through a major life change, like marriage, birth of a child, death of a spouse, divorce, etc., make sure you update your beneficiaries. If you don’t, your family may face unintended consequences. Let’s look at a few examples.

Marriage

If you marry and don’t add your new spouse as a beneficiary, your spouse may not inherit anything. Of course, it all depends on who your beneficiaries are. If you are a young person and have always named your parents as beneficiaries, they will hopefully make sure that your spouse is taken care of. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, especially with estranged relationships. The best route is to update your beneficiaries to include your new spouse.

Divorce

Let’s say you marry in your twenties. You have two children and set up a life insurance policy, naming your then-spouse as beneficiary. Fast forward 20 years. You have divorced and re-married, and now, you have a child with your new partner. If you never updated your beneficiaries on your policy, your ex-spouse would inherit, leaving no proceeds for your current spouse or any of your three children. By updating your beneficiaries as needed, you can avoid this unpleasant situation. For more helpful tips on estate planning for a blended family, click here.

Deceased Beneficiary

In some cases, you may name a beneficiary who happens to die before you. If you don’t update your beneficiary to someone new, it can cause complications down the line and may require your family to go to court to straighten things out. And in some cases, you can’t untangle things, and your family won’t receive your assets.

Even after only a few examples, it’s easy to see how complications creep in quickly. By staying on top of your beneficiary updates, you can ensure that everything goes smoothly for your loved ones.

Two people reviewing official documents together

Reason #2 – Your Beneficiary Designations Supersede Your Legal Will

Did you know that the United States Supreme Court ruled that beneficiary designations supersede the provisions of a will or trust? What does that mean? It means that keeping your beneficiaries up to date is more important than ever before.

Even if you write a legal will, whoever is listed as your beneficiary on the individual accounts is the person who will inherit. So, if you write in your legal will that your spouse should inherit the proceeds of your investment account, but your parent is named as the beneficiary on the account, your parent will inherit, if they are still living. If they aren’t living, things get more complicated from there, and your spouse may need to go to court to receive any proceeds at all.

In situations where there is divorce and re-marriage, it’s essential to update beneficiary information. If you don’t, an ex-spouse may receive support you intended for a current spouse. By keeping things as current as possible, you can prevent headache and heartache for those you love.

Reason #3 – You Eliminate Confusion and Avoid Probate Court

Reflecting back on what we’ve already discussed, it’s easy to see how quickly things can get confusing with your estate plan and beneficiary selection. By keeping your beneficiaries up to date and accurate, you eliminate unnecessary confusion for your loved ones.

By matching up your beneficiary information with your legal will, you can make sure that your intentions are crystal clear. With everything clear-cut and in agreeance, your family can avoid the costly expense of probate court and receive the financial benefit of your accounts much sooner.

Older woman signing official documents while seated with spouse and advisor

Reason #4 – You Ensure Your Loved Ones’ Financial Security

Without the correct beneficiaries listed on your financial accounts, the wrong person may receive the proceeds of your hard work. To ensure that your loved ones receive everything you want them to, it’s best to stay on top of your beneficiary information. The last thing your loved ones need after your passing is to untangle your legal affairs and possibly go to court to ensure their own financial security. And even in court, they may not win because many beneficiary mistakes are irreversible.

What’s Next?

Now, it’s time to go check your accounts and make sure that your beneficiary information is accurate and up to date. Has your beneficiary moved or died? Have phone numbers changed? Are your relationships different now? Would like someone else to inherit? All of these things could trigger the need to update your beneficiary information.

While it would be great if you could do everything once and be done, life isn’t always that straightforward. Consider reviewing your beneficiary information every two – three years (or whenever you have a significant life change), so that you don’t fall into this common estate planning mistake. Instead, you will protect your family’s interests and well-being, both today and in the future.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state. 

How to Create a Memorial Page on Facebook and Instagram

By Estate Planning, Grief/Loss, Memorial

More and more, people across the globe are cultivating a social media presence. Some put more effort into it than others, but for many of us, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are a normal part of life. But what happens to these online profiles when someone dies? Today, let’s talk about the ins and outs of creating a memorial page on Facebook and Instagram.

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.

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, memorialized accounts with no Legacy Contact can’t be changed 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.

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 and 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.

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.

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 that 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.

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 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 a lost loved one’s 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.

How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple

By Estate Planning

There’s no denying that the internet is here to stay. Twenty-five years ago, the internet was just a baby, but now, it’s a huge part of people’s lives. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 81% of Americans go online daily. That’s huge! We now do our banking, our shopping, and most of our research online, which means that we all have a lot of online accounts to keep track of.

With so many accounts, what would happen to them if something were to happen to you? Have you considered the importance of taking time to prepare your digital estate plan in addition to writing a will, putting advance care directives in place, or planning ahead for funeral wishes?

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:

  • 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.)

After looking at the list, how many digital accounts do you think you have? Do you have a plan in place to ensure that your data is protected and taken care of after your passing?

6 Simple Tips to Successful Digital Estate Planning

Planning for your digital estate may seem complicated and a little overwhelming, but with time and a few tips, you can mark this necessary task off your list. Let’s get started.

Keep Track of Your Online Accounts

According to a recent report on digital estate planning, the average internet user has around 90 different accounts. With that many accounts, it just makes sense to keep track of the profiles you have out there, whether it’s social media profiles, email addresses, online banking, credit cards companies, or simply an app you use for rewards at a local restaurant. Write down or use a password protector (like LastPass or Sticky Password) to keep track of your usernames/passwords and make sure that a loved one or emergency contact knows where to find them if the need arises.

Decide What Should Be Done with Each Account

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 the 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 access to the account.

Determine What Should Be Done with Your Digital Content

It’s also important to think about what should be done with any digital content. Should your Flickr photos be sent to family members? If you have unused iTunes credits, 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. This person may be the same person you choose to serve as the executor of your will or one of your emergency contacts. The most important thing is to decide who will take care of your digital assets should something happen to you. 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 left behind to manage your estate the way you want.

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you are concerned about making sure that you’ve crossed every T and dotted every I, then consider talking to an estate planning attorney. They will be able to help you through the process of planning for your physical estate as well as your 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, Update, Update

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, 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 planning process may take some time, it will be worth it in the end. Both you and your family will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything – including your digital assets – have been considered and taken care of.

6 Reasons to Write Your Will Now

By Estate Planning

Perhaps unconsciously, we often think we have to own a lot of stuff or at least be in our 5th decade to write a will. This simply isn’t the case. In fact, the sooner you write a will, the better. A will is a legal document that offers certain protections. Without one, if something were to happen to you, the people you care about and the possessions or assets you’ve acquired might not be taken care of the way you would want them to be.

Rather than wait for the unexpected to happen, take charge. Decide how you want to provide for the people you love and distribute the things you care about. Not quite convinced? Let’s go over 6 key reasons why you shouldn’t wait another day to write your will.

1. Because you love your children

Have you thought about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you (and/or your spouse)? 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. They may not choose the people you would have chosen. Additionally, if you want to leave possessions or property to your children, you protect their financial security by outlining your wishes in the will.

2. Because you should decide what happens to your worldly goods

Throughout our lives, we make cherished memories, we gather precious mementos, and if we’re able, we make our bank accounts grow. Whether it’s ensuring that a trust fund is created for a child or that your mother’s favorite set of dishes goes to your oldest daughter, 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.

3. Because you want to eliminate arguments

In many families, there’s often someone who creates strife or dissension amongst the group, either intentionally or unintentionally. To lessen 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 never be a super star (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. Because you are part of a blended family

Many blended families enjoy loving relationships, but not all. 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.

5. Because you want to keep things simple for your family

So many things in life become needlessly complicated. The care of your dependents and distribution of your assets doesn’t have to be one of them. 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, state laws come into play and matters can become complicated very quickly. Keep things simple for everyone by making your wishes known.

6. Because our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing. None of us are promised tomorrow. By writing your will now, you can protect your family and ensure they are taken care of when you’re gone. If you are someone without a spouse or children at this time, think about whom you would want to benefit. Perhaps you’d give to friends, other family members, or a charity. No matter what you want, writing a will now can make a big difference in the lives of others.

To get started, it’s always best to speak with an estate attorney, especially if you have a large number of assets. However, if you can’t afford the services of an attorney, there are will writing services online. However, by doing it yourself, you run the risk of not addressing certain issues. This may unintentionally create problems for your family. 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.

No matter your age – recent college grad or grandparent – it’s never too early to write a will and ensure that your people and possessions are taken care of your way.

Estate Planning for the Blended Family

By Estate Planning, Explore Options, Precare

In today’s world, it’s more and more common to be part of 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 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?

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

For those who 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 should something happen to you?
  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. When you make your estate plans, do you need to include a former spouse in addition to a current spouse?
  6. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  7. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

It’s never too early to put together an estate plan. After all, our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed. So, no matter your age, review these 5 important estate planning documents and decide if any of them are right for you in your current season of life.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

For some families, 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. This means time and money lost.

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.

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.

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal 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-relationship 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.

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 of the estate planning challenges and are familiar with the five most important estate planning documents, start talking with the people closest to you about how to set things in place so that no matter what tomorrow brings, you’re prepared!

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.

Healthy Practices for Your Later Years: 60s

By Estate Planning, Living Well

You’re in your 60s now, and if you’re intentional, it’s going to be an amazing decade for you. Now’s the time to reinvent your lifestyle and make decisions about what the next 20-30 years are going to look like. Life may still be a bit hectic. You may be looking forward to retirement. Your adult children may have moved back in while they ground themselves. You may be caring for aging parents. You may want to travel or spend time with all the grandkids. No matter what your goals, you need healthy habits and practices to get you there.

Just remember that no matter what your lifestyle looked like before, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can change your lifestyle to reflect your new goals in life. It just takes time and determination. How you age – whether well or poorly – is almost entirely up to you and the habits you cultivate. Now, let’s talk about 10 helpful and healthy practices you can cultivate in your 60s that will lead to better physical health, mental health, and aging well.

Kick Bad Habits

We all have bad habits, but it’s never too late to kick them to the curb. Some of the most common medical concerns – obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer – are directly related to lifestyle choices. So, take steps to quit the habits that may be hurting your body.

For example, quit smoking, lose excess weight, drink alcohol in moderation, increase your activity levels, and reduce your sugar intake. In addition to these, you may have a few more bad habits you’d like to leave behind. Write a list of your new goals and make a realistic and actionable plan for how to accomplish them.

Exercise Regularly

As you grow older, focus on strength training, aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Building up your muscles will help you maintain strength, increase bone density, and boost energy levels. If you use weights or resistance bands, start with lighter weights and work your way up. Weight-bearing exercise will help to increase bone density and keep you active longer into your later years. Adding in aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart rate up – will increase your heart health and help with weight management. And finally, flexibility works in tandem with your exercise regime and is vital to developing strong muscles and bones.

To begin, find an activity you like and stick with it. Invite a friend to join you. Yoga, swimming, golf, and walking are all great ways to stay strong and active. Experts say to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. If needed, you can break the time up – two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions. Whatever works best with your schedule and lifestyle.

Eat Healthy & Hydrate Often

Of course, we all know that what we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how well our bodies function. So, consider adding more fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, lean meats and proteins (e.g. chicken, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and good fats (e.g. avocado, cheese, dark chocolate, whole eggs). Then, as much as you can, avoid eating too many sugary and processed foods.

As for hydration, did you know that as we age, we begin to lose our sense of thirst? That’s why so many older people suffer from undetected dehydration. Be intentional about drinking water, even if you think you don’t need it. The water will hydrate you, increase your metabolic rate, and keep you from feeling as fatigued after exercise.

Get Regular Check-ups, Screenings, and Diagnostic Checks

While regular check-ups, preventative screenings, and diagnostic tests may not sound like much fun, wouldn’t you rather know if there’s an issue so you can take steps to correct it? Visit with your doctor and discuss which screenings they recommend to keep your body healthy and strong.

And don’t be afraid to ask questions – research shows that patients who don’t ask questions or don’t understand their medical condition or prescriptions are at increased risk for complications. So, make sure you fully understand what’s going on with your health.

Pay Attention to Your Bone Density

Our bones are incredibly important to overall health. Bone mass builds rapidly until the age of about 25, and then, without proper care, our bones begin to grow weaker over time. This is one reason why older people are more likely to develop osteoporosis or to fall and break or fracture bones. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will suffer from a fracture due to osteoporosis.

But it’s not too late. You can build up your bones even now. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D but also exercise. Both strength training and weight bearing, like jumping or marching, can help to improve bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

Keep Your Brain Healthy

You may be approaching retirement and looking forward to taking it easy. Enjoy your time – you’ve earned it. Just remember to keep your brain supplied with new challenges. As we age, our brains produce less serotonin (mood), acetylcholine (memory, learning, and concentration), and dopamine (movement, motivation, and learning). This means that we need to keep the brain active to keep it healthy. Don’t just sit on the couch, catching up on the last 30 years of TV shows. Instead, keep your brain healthy by taking courses, learning new things, or adding to your skillset.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

In a culture that glorifies youth, it isn’t easy to accept aging. But time marches on for us all, and to age well, it’s best to accept it and make the most of it. In fact, according to research, you can add up to 7.5 years to your life just by cultivating a positive attitude about aging. Additionally, adults with a positive attitude toward aging are less likely to develop dementia. Adults who carry a gene that poses the strongest risk for dementia are 50% less likely to develop dementia. That’s huge! It goes to show the power of perception and positivity to our bodies and minds.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Whether or not you’ve hit retirement yet, be intentional with your time. But especially after retirement, many of us are more likely to become sedentary. In fact, the average retired person spends over 4 hours a day watching TV. That’s time that might be better spent doing things that are healthy for your brain and body. Exercise, socialize, volunteer, cook new things, travel, explore your creativity, or all of the above. Those things that you said you’d do once you had time – do them! Seek meaningful activities and relationships. You won’t regret it.

Maintain a Social Life

We all need relationships. Interacting with those we like boosts our overall health because they help us manage our emotions, reduce our stress, and hold us accountable for maintaining good habits. Perhaps you feel that you have less energy now that you’re a little older, but still, take time to be with others. But make sure that those you spend time with actually add value to your life. If there are people in your life who just drain you, limit your interactions with them and focus on the relationships that bring joy. For your own well-being, you may need to forgive those who have hurt you in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a part of your normal social circle.

Get Your Affairs in Order Now

Getting your affairs in order can seem like a daunting task. Maybe you’ve considered organizing all the necessary documents and making all the right calls, but you just aren’t quite sure where to begin. Now is a great time to start. Have you written a legal will so your family knows how you would like to disburse your assets? Have you considered preplanning your funeral, so you can save money and provide your loved ones with a plan? Have you talked to your family or doctor about advance care directives, so they know what kind of medical care you want? All of these are important questions to answer and best done when you are still healthy. Now is a great time to start putting your affairs in order so that you can live with greater peace of mind for years to come.

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

There’s no getting around the fact that estate planning is a necessary part of life, even though we may not feel ready to face it. It is especially important that older Americans begin this important part of planning. Five documents typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen a number of high profile people die without a will in place. Both Prince and Aretha Franklin fall into this category. Because they each died without a will, their families could be embroiled in court for years when a simple document might have prevented any confusion.

But you can get started now. It’s not too late, and it’s never too early. Let’s take a moment to review the 5 important 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 for the elderly and those who are suffering from memory loss. On the other hand, even if you are young, a power of attorney can be helpful if you are juggling a large amount of financial transactions.

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.

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.

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 future 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.

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.

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).

Now you know which documents are important to the estate planning process. As you work toward getting your affairs in order, you might also consider a few other areas of advance planning: funeral planning, getting all your important documents together, designating emergency contacts, and taking care of your digital estate. It’s never too early to start!

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. 

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

By Estate Planning, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Paying for a funeral in advance doesn’t have to be a difficult task. All you really need is a knowledgeable funeral professional who thoughtfully educates you on all the options available and the differences between them. With an informed partner, making a decision that works best for you and your budget should be much easier.

There are four common ways to pay for funeral expenses. They are: 1) with a life insurance policy, 2) with a final expense policy, 3) with a prepaid funeral plan, and 4) with personal funds. For more information about using a life insurance policy for end-of-life needs, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses to review the pros and cons.

For now, let’s focus on final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans. Important note: a prepaid funeral plan is funded by an annuity, a trust, or an insurance policy. While many use life insurance for funeral expenses, its primary purpose is to replace any income lost by the death of a loved one. On the other hand, most people choose final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans specifically to help offset end-of-life expenses.

Let’s Start Off with Definitions

Final Expense Insurance

Final expense insurance is a type of insurance that covers funeral expenses and/or outstanding bills after death. In terms of insurance, the coverage offered is relatively low, proportionate to the expense of your desired funeral and whatever amount a family may need to cover outstanding bills at the time of death. Final expense policies are usually easier to qualify for than traditional life insurance, and typically, the older you are, the higher your monthly premium will be. With this type of insurance, you usually pay a premium every month until your death, at which time the policy benefits go to your named beneficiary. However, keep in mind that your named beneficiary is not technically (or legally) required to use your final expense funds to pay for funeral or medical expenses.

Prepaid Funeral Plan

Prepaid funeral plans typically offer greater protection. Typically, you will meet with a funeral planning professional to itemize a prearranged funeral contract, including all your desired services and merchandise, and fund the contract using a prepaid funeral insurance policy, annuity, or trust. You may choose to make a prepaid funeral plan revocable or irrevocable. With an “irrevocable” policy, you waive your right to cancel the plan, which offers an added benefit if you need to qualify for Medicaid to cover nursing home expenses at a later date.

Myth vs. Fact

Final expense plans are often touted as the best solution when planning ahead for funeral expenses. However, prepaid funeral plans offer several advantages over final expense plans:

1. Asset Protection for Medicaid

Properly structured prepaid funeral plans can be set up as exempt assets for Medicaid so that those funds are protected from going to the nursing home. On the other hand, under Medicaid rules, a final expense plan qualifies as a limited asset (not exempt). Additionally, the capped amount is usually $1,500—not nearly enough to cover a dignified funeral or cremation service.

2. Plan Is Paid in Full

You can pay for a prepaid funeral plan in full in one lump sum or set up for a specific number of payments. Once you’ve finished paying the total amount of premiums, the plan is considered paid in full. This is a huge benefit considering that many seniors live on a fixed income later in life. Meanwhile, most people with final expense policies must pay premiums throughout their lifetime.

3. Protection from Inflation

Prepaid funeral plans grow over time by design. The growth protects the value of your dollar and helps your funds keep up with inflation. On the other hand, final expense plans do not generally grow over time, meaning that they lose value every year due to decreasing purchasing power.

4. Stay Within a Budget

The amount you pay toward a prepaid funeral plan is directly related to the choices you make regarding your final wishes. So, if you choose cremation with memorial service, the costs associated are itemized, put into a written plan, and your payments set. In the end, you control the cost of the funeral. With final expense insurance, you select an estimated amount that you believe will be enough to cover a funeral. Additionally, in the long run, a prepaid funeral plan is less expensive. While your monthly payments may be a bit higher, you will only make a set number of installment payments. With final expense plans, you will pay monthly premiums for the rest of your life.

5. Plans are Portable

Some people think that final expense plans are more convenient because you can use them at any funeral home. The same is true of prepaid funeral plans. Widely accepted as a method of payment, prepaid plans are transferable to other funeral homes. Moving away or changing your mind are two reasons why you might transfer your plan.

6. When Funds Are Available

Funds from a prepaid funeral plan are typically available within 24-48 hours of submitting your claim. Your family will be able to move forward with payment and funeral arrangements almost immediately. With final expense insurance, it can take up to six to eight weeks to process a claim.

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