How to Protect Digital Property

When people built wealth, assets were usually tangible: real estate, investments, cash, or jewelry. However, the last year has seen a huge jump in digital assets, which includes cryptocurrency and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). Combine this growing asset class with the coming biggest wealth transfer in history, says the article “What happens to your NFTs and crypto assets after you die?” from Tech Crunch, and the problems of inheriting assets will take more than a complete search of the family attic.

One survey found only one in four consumers have someone in their life who knows the details of their digital assets, from the location of the online accounts to passwords. However, digital assets that require two factor authentication or biometrics to gain access may make even this information useless.

There are many reports about people who purchased digital assets like Bitcoin and then lost their passwords or threw away their computers. More than $250 million in client assets vanished when a cryptocurrency exchange founder died and private keys to these accounts could not be found.

Digital assets need to be a part of anyone’s estate plan. A last will and testament is used to dictate how assets are to be distributed. If there is no will, the state’s estate law will distribute assets. A complete list of accounts and assets should not be part of a will, since it becomes a public document when it goes through probate. However, a complete list of assets and accounts needs to be prepared and shared with a trusted person.

Even traditional assets, like bank accounts and investment accounts, are lost when no one knows of their existence. If a family or executor doesn’t know about accounts, and if there are no paper statements mailed to the decedent’s home, it’s not likely that the assets will be found.

Things get more complicated with digital assets. By their nature, digital assets are decentralized.  This is part of their attraction for many people. Knowing that the accounts or digital property exists is only part one. Knowing how to access them after death is difficult. Account names, private keys to digital assets and passwords need to be gathered and protected. Directives or directions for what you want to happen to the accounts after you die need to be created, but not every platform has policies to do this.

Password sharing is explicitly prohibited by most website and app owners. Privacy laws also prohibit using someone else’s password, which is technically “account holder impersonation.” Digital accounts that require two factor authentication or use biometrics, like facial recognition, make it impossible for an executor to gain access to the data.

Some platforms have created a means of identifying a person who may be in charge of your digital assets, including Facebook and more recently, LinkedIn. Some exchanges, like Ethereum, have procedures for death-management. Some will require a copy of the will as part of their process to release funds to an estate, so you will need to name the asset (although not the account number).

A digital wallet can be used to store access information for digital assets, if the family is reasonably comfortable using one. A complete list of assets should include tangible and digital assets. It needs to be updated annually or whenever you add new assets.

Consult a qualified estate planning attorney about how to protect your digital assets. They will be able to help you create a plan to assure your assets are protected properly.

Reference: Tech Crunch (April 5, 2021) “What happens to your NFTs and crypto assets after you die?”

What are Most Common Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?

AARP’s recent article entitled “What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?” reports that the FDA says the most common side effects among participants in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Phase 3 clinical trials were the following:

  • Injection site pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain; and
  • Fever.

These reactions are temporary and will “self-resolve” within a few days.

Side effects from vaccines aren’t uncommon. For example, the seasonal flu shot can cause fever and fatigue, or reactions.

Doctors say that a mild to moderate reaction is a good thing because it shows that the immune system is responding to the vaccine. However, the key, experts say, is temporary discomfort versus the long-term benefits of a potentially high level of protection from COVID-19, a disease that’s responsible for the deaths of more than 1.6 million people globally.

Federal analyses of both vaccine trials show that few adverse events, which the CDC defines as any health problem that happens after a shot (separate from the less serious side effects), were reported. There have been a few people who’ve reported severe allergic reactions — known as anaphylaxis —after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As a result, the CDC is recommending that anyone who has ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine not get it. The ingredients of authorized vaccines are on the FDA’s website. Talk to your doctor, if you have questions and keep in mind that serious reactions are relatively rare.

People must continue their prevention efforts to help slow the spread of the disease: mask wearing, social distancing and frequent handwashing. Note that it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity to a disease after vaccination, so it’s possible you can get sick with COVID-19 even after you’ve been vaccinated. Experts also aren’t certain if the vaccines also block transmission of the virus.

Remember that it takes time to build up herd immunity, where enough of the population is protected from the virus that transmission slows significantly. Scientists aren’t sure what the magic number is to obtain herd immunity for COVID-19, but they think it’s around 70% of the population, which could take months to achieve through vaccination.

Reference: AARP (Dec. 21, 2020) “What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?”

For more information about this or other topics, click here.

Happy 4th of July from Calvin Curtis

To all our clients and friends, we wish you a happy 4th of July. Today we celebrate America’s birthday and remember the sacrifices that have been made for this amazing country. We are lucky to be able to call ourselves American. We want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have sacrificed to make this country a better place.

 

Have a safe 4th everyone, and happy birthday America.

Calvin Curtis Elder Law

C19 UPDATE: Paying for Covid-19 Testing and Treatment if You Have a High Deductible Insurance Plan

What is a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)?

A HDHP is a health insurance plan with a higher deductible than traditional insurance plans. Many people choose this type of health insurance for the cost savings as the monthly premiums are usually lower than traditional insurance plans. A high deductible plan (HDHP) can be combined with a health savings account (HSA), allowing you to pay for certain medical expenses with pre-tax money.

For 2020, the IRS defines a high deductible health plan as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. An HDHP’s total yearly out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) can’t be more than $6,900 for an individual or $13,800 for a family. (This limit doesn’t apply to out-of-network services.)

How Does This Apply to Covid-19 Testing & Treatment?

The IRS recognizes that people with HDHP plans, where in general, all costs are paid out-of-pocket before medical benefits kick in, may be reluctant to seek care or be tested when ill.

To respond to the current Covid-19 emergency, the IRS on March 11 issued guidance in Notice 2020-15 stating (emphasis added)

“a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a high deductible health plan (HDHP) under section 223(c)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP. Therefore, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).”

In short, the IRS said that health plans that otherwise qualify as HDHPs will not lose that status merely because they cover the cost of testing for or treatment of COVID-19 before plan deductibles have been met. This also means that an individual with an HDHP that covers these costs may continue to contribute to a health savings account (HSA).

The IRS noted that, as in the past, any vaccination costs continue to count as preventive care and can be paid for by an HDHP. Testing and treatment for the virus can be covered under the umbrella of “preventive services.”

This Applies Only to Covid-19 Emergencies

The IRS cautions that this new policy statement only applies to Covid-19 emergencies:

“This guidance does not modify previous guidance with respect to the requirements to be an HDHP in any manner other than with respect to the relief for testing for and treatment of COVID-19.”

Check with Your Provider

If you are currently enrolled in a HDHP health insurance, be sure to check with your provider for details about your specific benefits coverage.

Resources: IRS Notice 2020-15, “HIGH DEDUCTIBLE HEALTH PLANS AND EXPENSES RELATED TO COVID-19,” https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-20-15.pdf

 

C19 UPDATE: Bookmark this Page from the IRS for Ongoing Coronavirus Updates

The IRS has established a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by the coronavirus. This page will be updated as new information is available. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus

For health information about the COVID-19 virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.coronavirus.gov

Other information about actions being taken by the U.S. government visit https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus and in Spanish at https://gobierno.usa.gov/coronavirus.

The Department of Treasury also has information available at Coronavirus: Resources, Updates, and What You Should Know https://home.treasury.gov/coronavirus

We will be posting updates on our blog and social media as more information is made available. You can visit our website here or Facebook page here.

Selling a Parent’s Home after They Pass

Family members who are overtaken with grief are often unable to move forward and make decisions. If a house was not being well maintained while the parent was ill or aging, it might fall into further disrepair. When siblings have emotional attachments to the family home, says the article “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process,” from The Washington Post, things can get even more complicated.

The difficulty of selling a parent’s home after their passing, depends to a large degree on what kind of advance planning has taken place. Much also depends on the heir’s ability to ask for help and working with the right professionals in handling the sale of the home and managing the estate. The earlier the process begins, the better.

Parents can take steps while they are still living to ward off unnecessary complications. It may be a difficult conversation but having it will make the process easier and allow the family time to focus on their emotions, rather than the sale of property. Here are a few pointers:

Make sure your parents have a will. Many Americans do not. A survey from Caring.com found that only 42% of American adults had a will and other estate planning documents.

Be prepared to spend some money. Before a home is sold, there may be costs associated with maintaining the property and fixing any overdue repairs. Save all receipts and estimates.

Secure the property immediately. That may mean having the locks changed as soon as possible. Once an heir (or someone who believes they are or should be an heir) moves in, getting them out adds another layer of complications.

Get real about the value of the property. Have a real estate agent run a competitive market analysis on the property and consider an appraisal from a licensed appraisal. Avoid any accusations of impropriety—don’t hire a friend or family member. This needs to be all business.

Designate a contact person, usually the executor, to keep the heirs updated on how the sale of the house is progressing.

The biggest roadblock to selling the family house is often the emotional attachment of the children. It’s hard to clean out a family home, with all of the mementos, large and small. The longer the process takes, the harder it is.

This is not the time for any major renovations. There may be some cosmetic repairs that will make the house more marketable, but substantial improvements won’t impact the sale price. Remove all family belongings and show the house either empty or with professional staging to show its possibilities. Clean carpets, paint, if needed and have the landscaping cleaned up.

Keep tax consequences in mind. Depending on where the property is, where the heirs live and how much money is being inherited, there can be estate, inheritance and income taxes.  It is usually best to sell an inherited property, as soon as the rights to it are received. When a property is inherited at death, the property value is “stepped up” to fair market value at the time of the owner’s death. That means that you can sell a property that was purchased in 1970 but not pay taxes on the value gained over those years.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about what will happen when the home needs to be sold. It may be better for parents to create a revocable trust in advance, which will direct the sale, allow a child to continue living in the home for a certain period of time, or instruct the one child who loves the home so much to buy it from the trust. Trusts are typically easier to administer after parents pass away and can be very helpful in preventing family fights.

Reference: The Washington Post (May 16, 2019) “With proper planning, selling a parent’s house can be a relatively painless process”

We are proud to sponsor the SLCO’s Aging Mastery Program.

We are proud to continue supporting the Salt Lake County Aging Mastery Program. We want to thank Judith Madsen for inviting us to present at the River’s Bend and Tenth East Senior Centers for another year.

Each year, we have the pleasure of meeting the wonderful people that have signed up for and attend the program. The program covers many subjects to help seniors learn how to manage their finances, health, scams, and the legal challenges they may face in the future.

Calvin presented on Advanced Planning. The presentation included wills, trusts, power of attorney, and medical directives. We often present at county and city senior centers and you may find upcoming events on our events page or by signing up for the newsletter or blog. Click here to join the newsletter and the blog.

If you are interested in learning more about the Aging Mastery Program or to sign up for it, please reach out to us or contact Judith Madsen at jhmadsen@slco.org. Click here to read more about the Aging Mastery Program.

Social Security Scams Keep Going

It seems like scammers have become more aggressive and a frightening tone has gotten more than one otherwise sensible person embroiled in them. Crooks are calling and telling people that their Social Security numbers have been suspended, and that they need the number and the person’s bank account information to issue a refund, says KKTV’s report “Social Security officials hope to combat scam.”

In addition to the aggressive angry voice, is the fact that the caller ID has been “spoofed” or made to appear that the person is actually calling from the Social Security Administration or another government agency.

Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, advises people to be very cautious and not to provide anyone with information like their Social Security number or bank account information to unknown people, either on the phone or over the Internet.

The SSA has launched a public service campaign warning about these calls, in the hope that consumers will realize that the SSA never makes threatening phone calls and never asks for gift cards in payment. The campaign is being run in conjunction with the Office of the Inspector General.

The scamming calls are nationwide. The message is clear: if you get this kind of a phone call, hang up.

While the SSA does occasionally call people, it’s usually someone who is working with the agency on an on-going matter, so that the call and the agent making the call is not a stranger.

Berryhill advises people that if they are contacted by someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration or the Office of the Inspector General, they should get the person’s name, their phone number and then hang up. If the same person calls again, hang up. It is more than likely to be a thief.

Contact the local Social Security office and find out if a call has been made to you. Never provide a caller with your Social Security number.

Some of the crooks are able to get information about people, including part of their Social Security numbers, and they call stating that they are asking only to verify the entire Social Security number. Again, if someone from Social Security was really calling, they would have that information and would not need it to be verified.

Reference: KKTV (March 22, 2019) “Social Security officials hope to combat scam”

Photo Reference: 37664183_s

The Dark Side of Reverse Mortgages for Seniors
reverse mortgage

The Dark Side of Reverse Mortgages for Seniors

It sounds great, even if you know that the reverse mortgages are known to be a little on the pricey side. However, unexpected circumstances can make this last-chance-to-save-your-retirement strategy backfire in a big way. Just ask Evelyn Boice, who is still wearing the same clothing that she brought to babysit her grandchildren last February. The Union Leader shares her story in the article “Silver Linings: Reverse mortgages for seniors–Lifestyle Maintenance or money pit?”

It seems that a flood at Evelyn’s retirement home caused by burst pipes led to a financial disaster. She’s 83 and didn’t expect to spend her last years living in an apartment attached to her daughter’s home. She’s got a chair, a TV, a bed and a kitchen stool. Everything she owned was destroyed in the flood.

She does have a lot of notebooks—stacks of confusing and incomplete financial statements loaded with indecipherable charges, including a $35 charge every time she calls the reverse mortgage company for help. She’s got threatening letters about being in default, while she waits for the mortgage lender to release an insurance check for $48,651 that she would use to salvage what’s left of her home.

When she called the insurance company, she heard an awful comment from someone at the office: “Why doesn’t she just hurry up and die?”

Boice took out a reverse mortgage in 2007 and used $50,000 of a $200,000 loan to make emergency repairs after Hurricane Wilma struck her home, blowing out windows and doors. However, the danger comes, when homeowners don’t have enough money to live on and maintain their homes, make essential repairs or pay for insurance and property taxes. That’s non-negotiable with a reverse mortgage. Any kind of default can lead to a cascade of new expenses for appraisals, property inspections and legal work to protect the lender. The lender has all the power and all the fine print.

Her case is an extreme example of what can go wrong. In 12 years, an unbelievable amount of paperwork has accumulated. One document shows that she owes $265,000, a number that keeps increasing. The monthly interest charges range from $100 to more than $1,000, and lump sums of more than $2,500, reflecting property taxes.

Boice is getting some help from the Claremont office of New Hampshire Legal Assistance. They are helping her work through the issue, but it may only come in the form of tax deferment or reductions.

Before taking out a reverse mortgage, seniors should look at all available options. They should also have an attorney review the contract from the reverse mortgage company. One small mistake can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Reference: Union Leader (Feb. 2, 2019) “Silver Linings: Reverse mortgages for seniors–Lifestyle Maintenance or money pit?”

Suggested Key Terms: Reverse Mortgages, Seniors, Interest Rates, Fine Print, Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, HECMs