March 2009 Archives

March 11, 2009

Preserving Your Online Life (and All Those Annoying Passwords)


I love it when computers help solve problems that they've created! When Quicken first came out, it solved the problem of how to keep track of all those new ATM receipts and still balance your checkbook. (I'm old -- this was in the dark ages BEFORE online banking, if you can believe it.)

Now, Legacy Locker comes along -- a startup designed to make it easy to pass along your digital treasures (like photos, correspondence, and videos) to your loved ones at death. For $29.99/year or $299.99/for life, you can set up your very own "digital will".

The service makes it easy to pass on your log-in credentials for such things as your email or PayPal account at your death, making it possible for your family to gain access to these digital remains of yours without a court order. It also allows you to write Legacy Letters, personal notes that will be sent to the intended beneficiary in the event of your death.

Interested? There's a free trial account available for those who want to give it a try, limited to 1 beneficiary and 3 digital assets (login info for any website, email, or other online site).

Sounds great. I just wish I could use it to keep track of my digital life BEFORE death.

For more information on organizing your records and personal information, see Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen and Shae Irving (Nolo).

March 8, 2009

Parents Denied Use of Deceased Son's Frozen Sperm

In the first case of its kind to be decided, a New York appeals court has denied the right of parents of a deceased son to use his frozen sperm to create a grandchild. In 1997, the son deposited sperm at a tissue bank. He had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to ensure his ability to create children if he survived the diagnosis. He signed an agreement with the lab asking them to destroy the sperm in the event of his death. He died six months later.

While going through his possessions, his parents discovered that there was a sperm deposit and asked the lab to continue to preserve it while they fought for the legal right to use the sperm to create a grandchild.

The New York courts have denied their claim to either ownership of the sperm or for permission to use the sperm. Their reasoning?  New York law requires certain screening tests be done before sperm can be donated for public use, and such tests are impossible to conduct at this point.
March 4, 2009

You CAN Take it With You! Debts and Death

As if things aren't hard enough right now, the New York Times reports this week that collection agencies are now working to collect debts owed by the dead. They're banking on the fact (no pun intended) that most people don't know that they AREN'T personally liable for these debts all. Jeez, how low can you get?

Specially trained agents are calling the heirs of the recently departed and politely asking them to pay up the outstanding balances on credit card debt, car loans, and the like. If an estate is filing an official probate proceeding, creditors have a process for filing claims against the decedent's property. But that's not who these collection agents are calling.

They're calling the relatives of people who have died who aren't in formal probate proceedings either because they had created living trusts during their lifetime or because the estate was too small for a probate proceeding.

Here's my advice: No matter how nice these people are (or well-trained), simply ask them why they think that you're legally responsible for the debt. In the vast majority of cases, you aren't obligated to pay them a nickel.  It's true that married people can be jointly liable for debts, and creditors can try and get repaid from the property you've inherited from the decedent depending on your state's laws -- but that's their problem, not yours.

In fact, most estate planning attorneys can successfully get credit card companies and the like to accept a fraction of the outstanding balance on those debts that the survivors are responsible for, because these companies know just how hard it really is to collect anything on the dead's debts.

For a comprehensive guide to the legal, personal and practical aspects of administering a living trust, see The Trustee's Legal Companion, by Liza Hanks and Carol Elias Zolla (Nolo).