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February 13, 2011

Write that Will, Really

Will being signed.jpgDear Liza: My husband and I have two kids, aged 5 and 2. We don't have a Will or anything written down. Most of our friends don't either. Is that so bad? You know, I totally have sympathy for you. And, believe me, you are not alone. But here's the thing, you really, really should take a little bit of time and write a Will. It doesn't have to be elaborate. It doesn't have to be expensive. For less than the cost of a date night, you can go to and  write a simple, effective Will that nominates guardians for your children and puts a simple plan in place to manage assets for your kids until they're old enough to manage those assets for themselves. You can go to the library and create a Will with a book for free. You can work with a lawyer and put together an estate plan. But, here's the thing: Without a Will, a judge would have to decide who to appoint as guardians for you children until they turn 18. Without any sort of plan in place, your children would inherit everything you've left to them (equity in your house, life insurance, and anything else youv'e managed to save) when they are only 18--which, honestly, is way too young, isn't it?

There are lots of reasons responsible, caring parents such as yourselves don't get this done. Procrastination is only part of it. There's also denial, exhaustion, not knowing who to pick as a guardian; not knowing how to do it, not knowing what to do. I recently wrote a longer blog at about exactly this that I think you'll find helpful. But whatever is holding you back, please commit to getting this done, soon. In an ideal world, it will never matter. But, if it does matter, the people you love the most will so appreciate your thoughfulness in planning ahead. Think of it like that car seat, those immunizations, those trips to the dentist--one more parental thing your kids need you to do for them.



October 6, 2010

What should I do to help my Dad now that he's getting older?

old dad.jpgDear Liza: My father is 80, and in failing health. I don't know what I should do to be able to take care of him if he gets sicker. You need to get your father to sign a Durable Power of Attorney for Property Management and an Advance Health Care Directive. Don't put this off. These documents make it possible for you to take care of your Dad if he can't take care of things himself. 
The Power of Attorney allows you to pay his bills, manage his accounts, and take care of his property (like paying his rent, hiring a gardener, or getting an apartment cleaned). The Advance Health Care Directive (in some states this is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) allows you to make medical decisions for him, like what kind of medical procedures, what hospital, or what end-of-life measures he does or doesn't want. If your Dad trusts you, it can be very helpful to have a joint checking account with him as well. A shared account makes it even easier to write checks for his benefit, but it's not always the best solution because it means you would have access to his money in that account. Don't wait until he's too sick to sign these documents or open this account because then you'll have to go to court and get an adult guardianship or conservator appointed--which is more expensive, more public, and more time-consuming. These documents are available online or at local senior centers and are drafted by estate planning attorneys as part of a comprehensive estate plan--which your Dad should also put in place, but let's get your immediate needs figured out first. For more information on powers of attorney and living wills, see Nolo's Estate Planning Center.

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).

    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).

    December 30, 2008

    Estate Planning Sale at!

    08hp_37_estate_ad.gifClick here to save 37% on all of Nolo's great estate planning essentials, including my book, The Busy Family's Guide to Estate Planning: 10 Steps to Peace of Mind. But hurry! Sale ends February 2, 2009. 
    July 27, 2008

    Estate Auctions Online: Avoid Family Strife


    It's classic: grandmother dies, and a formerly happy family dissolves into unhappiness over distributing up her personal property. The problem is that everyone wants that pie plate, special painting, or lemonade pitcher and all the will says is that her children and grandchildren should "divide up the personal property in substantially equal shares."

    Deciding who gets what has a tendency to reduce even the most mature of us to four-year olds, squabbling over toys, because there's only one of each treasured thing, and it's just not possible to divide them into pieces.

    Now, eDivvyUp, an online auction site, offers a new alternative to what can be a very uncomfortable situation. At eDivvyUp, a family estate manager can register the estate, catalog and photograph the available items, invite the family to participate in the auction, and then (here's the critical thing) assign each family member an equal number of points.

    Want that pie plate more than anything? You can bid all 1,000 points and win it, but you won't get anything else in the auction. At the end of the auction, the estate manager's job is to distribute the property to those who won.

    Online auctions are not a substitute for the kind of good family communication that may help avoid conflicts in the first place. I'm sure unhappy families would still be able to find something to squabble about (like the auction results). But they might be just the ticket for some families, who can use an online auction to divide up treasured things as fairly as possible.