Category

Estate Planning

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.

7 Steps to Telling Your Children About Your Funeral Plans

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

You’ve made an important decision. By preplanning your funeral, you are giving your family a great gift: an expression of your great love and the gift of a mind at peace, knowing that everything has been taken care of. However, as important as your funeral plans are, it’s even more important that you share your funeral wishes with your loved ones and invite them into the preplanning process. During a time of loss, families are often stressed and may end up “emotionally overspending.” By telling them your plans ahead of time, you can save them stress and money.

Ideally, it’s best to have this conversation when you are in good health. Whether you have the conversation in person or over the phone, it’s important to prepare yourself. Children may be very uncomfortable discussing your mortality. They may try to brush the topic aside or protest that they will take care of everything; however, tell them firmly but kindly that you have specific wishes that you want them to know.

Here are seven steps to telling your children about your funeral plans:

1. Start off by talking about your health.

If you are in good health, reassure your children that everything is fine and that you are just thinking ahead. Perhaps mention that you’d rather have this discussion now than when you are ill. On the other hand, if you are already fighting an illness, let them know that you are thinking about them. Explain that you wanted to do this because you love them.

2. Acknowledge that the conversation isn’t easy.

Let them know that you don’t take this conversation lightly. Share with them how you have thoughtfully considered the best way to share this information.

3. Share why you preplanned your funeral.

Highlight the reasons why you decided to preplan your funeral. Perhaps you wanted to ease some of the decision-making burdens they will feel when the time comes. Or, you wanted to have some sense of control over what your final disposition will be. It could also be that you want to save money and pay for the funeral costs over time rather than have the burden fall on your children.

4. Present your plan.

Make sure that you’ve written a fairly comprehensive plan before you share it with your family. Your children may have ideas that are different from yours, and you need to know which elements are non-negotiable so that you can stand your ground, if necessary. Don’t feel the need to expound on every small detail of the plan. Just make sure that they each know where to find it when the need arises.

5. Ask them if there is anything specific they’d like to contribute.

The funeral is for the living, after all. Check in with them to see if they have any creative ideas they would like to share. Thoughtfully consider how those ideas fit into your plan. You might want to look into resources such as the Talk of a Lifetime website to find ideas on what to discuss.

6. Answer their questions.

It’s natural for children to have questions. Listen to what’s on their hearts and minds, and be willing to change a few things on your funeral plan. If their responses seem negative, try to understand the fear that is motivating them, and address that fear directly.

7. Reassure them about your motivation.

As your conversation draws to a close, let your children know how much you love them. Reiterate that you have created a plan that you hope will bring them peace and comfort when you cannot physically be with them. If they disagree with each other on what their preferences are for your funeral, let them know you are just settling things for them ahead of time!

As you end the discussion, assure everyone that this is an ongoing conversation. If they have questions or concerns later, you are open to discussing this topic as much as they would like.

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing: none of us are promised tomorrow. The future is uncertain. We can make a difference in the lives of our loved ones by planning ahead and sharing those plans with them.

Even if they aren’t too wild about hearing that you’ve made funeral plans, in the end, they will be grateful that you are thinking ahead. On one of the most difficult days of their lives, the day they lose you, they can rest easier, knowing that all the big decisions have been made already.

Now that your funeral plans have been taken care of, consider taking the next step: getting all of your affairs in order. The more you can take care of now, the better it will be for your children in the future.

6 Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead
Why do we have emergency contacts? Ultimately, it’s because we will all need—at one point or another—a trustworthy person to represent us if we are incapable of doing so ourselves. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse, adult child, or trusted friend.
If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. You can take a little time now to make things easier in the future.

Conversation Tips

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

The Six Things That Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies

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

2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts

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

3. Your Wishes for Medical Care

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

4. Allergies and Blood Type

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

5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets

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

6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans

One way we can love and protect those we will leave behind is to put together a healing and meaningful funeral plan. The best way to do this is with a licensed funeral director at the funeral home of your choice. The funeral director can educate you about your options so you can make decisions that are good for you and your loved ones. Your local funeral director or advance planning specialist will ensure that your plan is practical, legal, within your budget, and ultimately, healthy for your grieving family. Be sure to give your emergency contacts a copy of your funeral plans and keep a copy on file at the funeral home of your choice.

IMPORTANT: After prearranging your funeral, it is very important to share your plans with your emergency contacts. If you don’t, you run the risk that your family will never learn about your plans and may do something you didn’t request. Not knowing your wishes, they may spend more money than you would have preferred. On top of that, if you’ve purchased burial insurance to pay for your funeral in advance and your emergency contacts don’t know about it, they may pay for the funeral out of their own pocket (when you have already paid for the funeral in full). If this happens, the amount you’ve already paid toward your funeral may go unclaimed. If the insurance company is unable to reach your family, the funds will go to the state’s unclaimed property office. While the state will continue to try to contact your family, this may take years and is subject to state laws. To avoid this possibility, it’s best to share your plans.

Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns

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

  1. Alarm. Any discussion about funerals can lead to feelings of alarm because the other person may wonder if you are okay, if something is wrong. Prepare to discuss your health situation with them. The most important thing is to be truthful.
  2. Denial. Funerals are a subject most people would rather avoid. So, children may say, “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of this later. Let’s not talk about it now.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that denial is not an effective strategy. The fact is, we are all going to die someday. The most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance.
  3. Disagreement. You may encounter some opposition to your plans if your emergency contacts are people who are very close to you. They may have ideas of their own on the topic. You will need to review your plans and determine if anything is up for debate or not.
  4. Confusion. Some of your loved ones may not understand or trust a prepaid funeral plan. Many of their fears can be addressed with a basic understanding of consumer protection laws, cost guarantees you may have received from the funeral home, and Medicaid asset protection. If they still are unsure about your plans, feel free to contact your local funeral director or an estate planning attorney who can answer their questions.

Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible

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

For a complete list of information your emergency contacts need to know, download this helpful checklist: What Your Emergency Contacts Should Know. By gathering all these documents, you are taking the first steps to getting your affairs in order. Depending on how far along you are in this process, it may take some time to get all of this information organized. Be sure to consult trusted professionals, such as an estate planning attorney and your local funeral director, as needed. In the end, you will be glad you did!

The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

By Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

It’s not uncommon for families to expect to pay for a funeral with life insurance benefits.

Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it?

The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications with life insurance policies. Some are no longer valid because no one has paid on them in years, and they have now lapsed. Some have beneficiaries named who are no longer living, which means delays and complications with getting your claim paid. The policy may have a lien on it. Or, the date of death or cause of death could limit the death benefit. Listing an ex-spouse or a minor as beneficiary is also a very common issue. In some states, an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary will receive nothing unless the divorce decree specifically states that they should. More delays and complications. Any of these “red flags” could prevent you from using your policy for funeral expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Additionally, have you carefully considered the amount of your life insurance policy? Aside from funeral expenses, what else do you want your loved ones to be able to pay for? Is your life insurance beneficiary a co-signer on your credit card bills, and therefore, liable to pay them? Would you want to pay off the mortgage on your home so your surviving spouse can stay there? Or, pay off vehicles or other large items? If your family members rely on your income, will they have enough to cover basic expenses until your income can be replaced? If you incur high medical bills before you pass away, they will be paid for by your estate (assets). Is your insurance policy amount enough to fill the potential loss in your estate’s worth? If you have not considered these secondary expenses, your family may have a hard time covering all the potential costs.

So, a simple plan isn’t so simple anymore.

Here are a few solutions that may help avoid complications with life insurance at the time of death:

Review Your Policies.

If you plan to use life insurance benefits to cover your funeral, check the policy and make sure it is still valid. If you have any questions, contact an elder law attorney. They will help identify any “red flags” in your policies and assist you in correcting them. Or, if you are in the midst of planning a funeral for a lost loved one, you can direct your questions to the funeral home. Please contact your life insurance company for specific questions about your policy.

Make Sure the Policy is Assignable.

When you review your policy, make sure it is “assignable.” You must be able to assign the benefits to go to a third party who will file the claim for you (the funeral home, or an assignment company). The type of policy you signed up for and the life insurance company determine whether a policy is assignable. Funeral homes generally accept a life insurance policy in lieu of payment for a funeral, though it’s best not to assume that they will. Remember, if they do accept a policy as payment, it must be assignable. Retirement benefits and 401(k) benefits are not assignable. If the policy is not assignable, families will be unable to use life insurance to cover funeral costs. This is in large part because insurance companies can take at least 6 to 8 weeks to process a claim. Typically, this is long after the funeral has taken place.

Use an Advance Funding Company.

Some funeral homes partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company). Similar to a tax return advance you might get from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. In short, an assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. Funds are advanced within 24-48 hours once the verification process is complete. The best part is, your claim is filed for you, and any funds in excess of funeral expenses can be advanced right to you. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

If you are interested in finding out more about assignment companies, one reputable assignment service company is CLAIMCHECK. Take a few moments to look at the website. Think about whether an assignment company is an option you’d like to pursue. If it is, contact the funeral homes in your area to find out if they partner with an assignment company. Please note, you must go through the funeral home in order to use an assignment company. This option may not be available in your area, so ask the funeral home for their best solutions. They are knowledgeable and will have helpful suggestions for you.

Take Care of Any Issues Before Death Occurs.

It’s hard to deal with the financial assets of a lost loved one. If there is no clear heir, the courts will likely probate the estate. When an estate is probated, it means that the court system must approve the validity of a last will and testament and confirm the appointment of the executor. This process can sometimes be lengthy and incur additional costs. You will make it much easier for your heirs to inherit your assets according to your wishes if you create a will and update the beneficiary information on your policies regularly.

Preplan Your Funeral.

Another way you can help your loved ones is by planning the details of your funeral in advance. This actually helps your family save money because they know your wishes. When family members are grieving, it can be hard for them to make decisions. Sometimes there is a tendency to overspend because people want “only the best” for Mom or Dad. But buying with this mentality leaves less money in the proverbial pot. Will there be enough for living expenses, debt repayment, and maybe even college for the kids? A prepaid funeral plan offers several surprising benefits above and beyond what a simple life insurance policy can do. See the chart below for a few of the benefits of a prepaid funeral plan.

Though it is sometimes a challenge, the funeral home will work with families to discover solutions for funeral payment. Sometimes a death comes quickly and unexpectedly, and people are not always prepared for such a great expense. Determine your plan before tragedy strikes. By doing so, you can relieve your loved ones of money worries on one of the worst days of their lives.