April 2010 Archives

April 28, 2010

Write Down Those Passwords, Appoint a Digital Executor

When someone dies, it can be really difficult, if not impossible, to get into their electronic accounts: bank accounts, email accounts, social networking accounts, you name it. One of the last things that my father remembered to scribble down on a notepad was the password to the computer he was leaving my kids. I'd remembered to get his social security number, safe deposit box key, life insurance certificates, and bank records....but I hadn't thought of his password!

Here's a few good tips for those of you with precious digital archives,  The Wills, Trusts and Estates Prof. Blog:

  • Make a list of all of your online accounts and passwords. Decide which ones should be deleted and which ones will pass to your heirs. 

  • Nominate an executor for your digital accounts. There are companies that specialize in the handling and passing on of this information. 

  • Include your digital assets and the appointment of your digital executor in your will.
  • For more information on organizing your records to make it easier for your family to track down your important accounts and paperwork, see Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen and Shae Irving (Nolo).

    April 24, 2010

    Senate Budget Panel Approves Plan with 2009 Estate Tax Numbers

    Hmm. Maybe next year's estate tax exclusion won't go down to a million dollars per person. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports this week that the Senate Budget Panel has approved a spending plan that includes an assumption that last year's estate tax exclusion of $3.5 million dollars, and last year's top estate tax rate of 45%, will be reinstated. That's really good news for  most of us, who don't have that much money to begin with. It means that most people will be able to pass their estates to their heirs without having to worry about the estate tax.

    This may come about via the same reconciliation procedure that the Senate and House used to get health care legislation passed, so, it's not a done deal.

    The story reports that "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who is the chamber's chief tax writer, declined to say yesterday which tax provisions could be approved through reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass them in the Senate with a simple majority. Democrats control the chamber with 59 votes. "I have some ideas," said Baucus, adding "we don't even have a budget yet" and "we're getting way ahead of ourselves."

    April 21, 2010

    Study Shows that Advance Directives Help Elders Get the Care They Want

    A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in four elder adults need someone else to make decisions for them at the end of their lives.

    "The results illustrate the value of people making their wishes known in a living will and designating someone to make treatment decisions for them, the researchers said," The Associated Press reports. "In the study, those who spelled out their preferences in living wills usually got the treatment they wanted. Only a few wanted heroic measures to prolong their lives.

    As summarized in the LA Times: Those who requested limited care at the end of their lives received it most of the time. The study used data from the long-running Health and Retirement Study, which surveys adults ages 51 and older nationwide. In analyzing data from people ages 60 and older who died between 2000 and 2006, researchers found that of the 398 incapacitated people who had used a living will to request limited care at the end of life, almost 83% received it.

    For a guide to making informed decisions regarding elder care, see Long-Term Care, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

    April 17, 2010

    Presidential Memorandum on Patient's Right to Designate Visitors

    This week President Obama issued a memorandum to Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, that asks the Secretary to use her rulemaking authority to require all hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid patients to respect the wishes of patients with respect to who should be allowed to visit them.

    It directs that hospital rules should make it "clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability."

    This is great news for couples in non-traditional relationships, as well as widows and widowers, and really anyone who needs the love and support of non-family members while ill. And it makes it especially important (although it has always been especially important) for those who want to designate loved ones as their health care agents to complete valid Advance Directives or Health Care Proxies so that these designations have the force of law.

    Read more about advance directives in Nolo's article Living Will, Power of Attorney, or Advance Directive? .

    April 7, 2010

    Hospice: Don't Wait for the Doctors to Bring it Up

    One of the many weird experiences I had during my father's final illness was the tragic disconnect between my father's actual condition and the attitude of the doctors who cared for him. My father was emaciated, with a collapsed left lung, advanced coronary heart disease, and a chronic neurological condition that was causing his nerves to stop working. Bad, right?

    But despite our repeated attempts to get SOMEONE in the ICU to listen to our requests for a discusssion about when it was appropriate to discuss palliative care (treating a patient's discomfort, but giving up on aggresive treatment of the underlying condition), we got nowhere. I mean it was like we were speaking a completely different language.

    The one remotely sympathetic doctor promised us that if, "he felt he was just moving the pieces around he'd let us know." That was excellent, except 2 days later that doctor was out of the ICU rotation and we never saw him again.

    And guess what? After almost a month in the hospital, "moving the pieces around" was pretty much all that happened. In the end, they discharged my father to a nursing home in worse condition that when he entered the hospital -- still with a collapsed lung and now unable to swallow. Pretty depressing. And still, the main doctor insisted my father was "cured."

    What do they teach in medical school? Denial?

    If you are caring for someone who is very ill, and getting nowhere with the doctors, find your local hospice and get their help. Don't expect the doctors to tell you when it's time. Find out if there's a palliative care program at the hospital and get in touch with them, aggresively if possible. (Sometimes the doctors don't want them involved, Argh. It's like the Twilight Zone.)

    For a detailed discussion of hospice care, see Long-Term Care, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

    April 4, 2010

    Another Conversation to Have, if You Have Time

    As my father became increasingly ill, he began to send me an occasional list of where his important things were. This began in 1999. I would throw the emails into a file and just sort of avoid the whole issue. It's difficult to take death seriously, even for an estate planner. (Although, in my defense, I wasn't an estate planner back then.) The larger point is that many of us don't really want to imagine the finality of our parent's death.

    But here's the thing, as he lay dying this year, I just, somewhat foolishly in retrospect, figured the list was accurate. I didn't actually double check while I still had time to ask him where things were. It would have been easy. One of the first things that my sister and I did was go to his apartment and take the valuable things (and important papers) back to my house, to keep them safe.

    What we didn't do was look in the box of important papers and verify their existence.  I REALLY wish I'd asked him where that stock certificate was for the 850,000 (!) shares of that start up was. Because it's not under "B" like he said it would be (repeatedly, and often), But it's not there. Or anywhere else.

    And now I can't ask him. So, here's the take away: If you have time to discuss these things with your parent or loved one, do.

    Next blog: how you replace a stock certificate and the mysteries of the transfer agent.

    For a complete guide to organizing your records in order to make it easy for your family to track down your important paperwork, see Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen and Shae Irving (Nolo).