Balancing the needs of a multi-generational blended family with your own wishes can be a complicated task, especially when it comes to estate planning. With a majority of Americans not only marrying once, but twice, three or even four times during their lives, it is a challenge that will come to many.
Even when blended family members get along, estate planning can be complicated. The potential for acrimony among family members can be so great that some people choose to avoid addressing the issue of who will inherit what altogether. However, as any estate planning attorney will tell you, having no plan is not a good plan.

Overall, an effective estate plan for a blended family will ensure that:

Any ex-spouses do not inherit;
Your own children are protected;
Your current spouse is provided for;
Any estate taxes are minimized

Estate plans are as individualistic as the families they cover, so it is always advisable to consult with an expert before finalizing your plan. Although there are a plethora of online resources and books on the subject, estate planning for the blended family does not make a good do-it-yourself project.
A Personal Family Lawyer can provide you with the individual attention you need to create an estate plan for your blended family. If you’d like to learn more about estate planning for blended families, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

This article is a service of Sahmra A Stevenson, Esq., Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

As you’ve surely heard by now, we’re in the midst of great economic shifts. The collapse of the crypto market, the roller coaster that is the stock market, rising interest rates, dropping home values, and inflation through the roof—it’s enough to make you sick. And it can make you sick, unless you take the actions we are sharing here.

During every economic shift, whether it’s the Great Depression, the last Great Recession, or even during the pandemic, some people get rich, while others lose everything. Whether your family got rich, lost it all, or just hung on by their toes, you can learn from what happened and create the exact future reality you want for yourself and the people you love.

But to do that, you need to get into action now. In service to that, here are 3 steps you can take right away to change your family’s future and ensure you have the stability you need to sail through the economic shifts in the best way possible.

On that note, whether you’ll be passing on wealth or inheriting it, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the massive loss that will occur if you wait to start the estate planning conversation. Whether you have a little or a lot, not getting clear on what you do have (or will receive) can cause major upsets that can cost you far more than just money. 

01 – Get into conversation and connection  

The first step to ensure your family benefits from the current and coming economic shifts, regardless of what happens, is to get into conversation and connection with the people you depend on, the people who depend on you, or who you will depend on, if something happens to you or your assets.

With the economic realities that are upon us, we can no longer go it alone, expecting everything to just work out because the stock market is on the rise and there’s plenty of savings cushion in the bank. Instead, this is the time to bring your family together and talk about what there is, where it is, and how it’s being managed (and will be managed) in the event there is a black swan event, such as the pandemic or a major stock-market crash.

If you are afraid to have these conversations because you think your family might not do well with knowing what you have, because you think they can’t handle knowing what you have (or don’t have), or because there has been upset in the past when talking about family financial resources, that’s a sign that it’s more important than ever to get into conversation and connection as soon as possible.

If you’ve attempted to have these conversations with your loved ones in the past and it hasn’t gone well, reach out and ask for our help. We’ve got processes and systems in place to support you to have these delicate conversations with your parents, kids, or siblings, with far more ease than you trying to do everything all on your own.

And if you don’t have living parents, kids, siblings, or a spouse, it’s even more important that you start these conversations. You can begin by identifying who you need to have these conversations with. We work with many single people and unmarried couples to help them navigate and talk about what can be a confusing and uncertain future, and we can help you, too.

If talking about assets and the allocation of family resources is easy for your family, that’s great—it’s time to take it to the next level by following the rest of the steps outlined here. Once you get into conversation with the right people based on your family dynamics, the next step is to get comfortable enough to “open the kimono.” This involves creating an inventory that lists all of the assets you own, where they are located, and how the people you love can find them in the event you become unable to share those details yourself.

02 – Open the kimono: Create your “Family Wealth Inventory”

Whether you’ve created a formal set of estate planning documents already or not, it’s time to create (or update) an inventory of your assets. In our experience, most estate plans don’t do a very good job of keeping assets organized. When a loved one becomes incapacitated or dies, this is actually one of the biggest sources of expense, heartache, and pain—no one knows what there is, where it is, or how to find it.

One of the greatest gifts you can give the people you love is what we call a “Family Wealth Inventory,” and it’s something we create for all of our clients as part of their estate plan. We will not only create this inventory for you, but we have systems to keep it consistently updated year in and year out, as your life, assets, and the law change over time.

During a major economic shift, creating, updating and revising your Family Wealth Inventory is critical, and doing that with the people you love is your number-one mission. As we see it, family wealth isn’t just about your financial wealth, it’s about your whole family wealth, including your intellectual, spiritual, and human assets. In fact, these non-financial, intangible assets are usually what we all care about most, and yet they are so often overlooked in estate planning.

One of the best ways to maximize your family’s intellectual, spiritual, and human assets is for your loved ones to get into relationship around your family’s financial resources. Begin by creating (or updating) your Family Wealth Inventory, and share it with your loved ones, so you can discuss how to best allocate (or re-allocate) those resources. Having this conversation can help ensure your family’s intellectual, spiritual, and human wealth continues to grow, even as we move through these uncertain economic times.

If you don’t have a Family Wealth Inventory yet, contact us and ask about our Personal Resource Map. This free, online resource-mapping tool will help you start creating your asset inventory right now, without the need for a lawyer. From there, meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. During this meeting, we’ll look at what you have, where it is, and who will take care of it if you can’t, so we can create a plan that’s right for you and your family, whether we have a recession, depression, inflation, or whatever else may come our way.

03 – Consider reallocating your resources

Once you’ve created your Family Wealth Inventory, which allows you to see all of your assets in one place and consider the needs of your family, regardless of the economic climate, you may decide to reallocate your resources. For example, now might be the time to invest in multigenerational housing that will allow you and your kids to live together for many years or allow you to care for aging parents, while still maintaining privacy. Or you may decide that it’s time to create that homestead you’ve been talking about building, or launch that business you’ve been wanting to start. And it could be that now is the time to do all of that with the people you love.

When we meet with you for a Family Wealth Planning Session, we’ll help you look at whether your resources are being held in ways that will support you to reach your short and long-term goals. Then, we can either help you reallocate your resources to achieve those goals, or refer you to professionals we trust to help you reallocate. The worst thing you can do right now is not look at your family resources because you are afraid to see what’s there or you want to keep your head buried in the sand.

Times are changing, and the best time to look at what you have, so you can consider the future you want to create and intentionally allocate (or re-allocate) your resources is right now. Those who do so will thrive. Those who don’t will fall behind and wish they had done something different once it’s too late.

04 – Update your plan

Once you look at what you have, where it is, and how you want it allocated, the next issue to decide on is who would take care of it all if you cannot. Leaving the management of your affairs to chance or to out-of-date estate planning documents is the worst thing you can do for yourself and those you love.

In an upcoming article, we’ll cover the Great Wealth Transfer that’s happening, detailing how between $30 and $80 trillion of wealth will be transferred between the generations over the next few decades, and how you can best prepare for that transfer.

In the meantime, start by updating the estate planning you already have in place to handle your assets in the event of your incapacity or death. If you don’t have any plan at all, the state has one for you, and it almost certainly isn’t what you would want to have happen. And if you do have an estate plan in place, it’s likely out of date, or possibly wasn’t even created properly to begin with.

No matter what you have—or don’t have—we can help. 

Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future

Regardless of how much, or how little, wealth you own, now is the time to look at what you have, talk to your parents about what they have, and talk to your kids about what they’ll need to take care of you. And if you don’t have living parents or kids, talk to your siblings or close friends. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our Life & Legacy Planning Process is designed to guide you to look at all of these things with ease and talk to the right people based on your family dynamics and assets, as affordably and effectively as possible.

Every plan we create has built-in support for your life and legacy, which can greatly facilitate your ability to make wise legal and financial decisions throughout your lifetime and beyond. That’s why we call our services Life and Legacy Planning, not just estate planning.

By working with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you can rest assured that no matter what happens with the ongoing and future economic shifts, your family wealth will offer the maximum benefit for your loved ones. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today to start having these critical conversations to ensure you and your family will thrive through the recession and any other calamity that may occur.

This article is a service of Sahmra A Stevenson, Esq. Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

If you earn a good living now, but you worry about not having enough money for a future time when you cannot work due to illness or injury, disability insurance is your answer. However, you need to make sure you are getting an insurance policy that will meet your needs and not waste your money. This article covers 7 issues to consider when purchasing disability insurance.

Disability Insurance: Issues to consider 

The answers to these 7 questions can give you the best chance of finding a policy that is well-suited for your particular situation.

01 – What is disability insurance?

Disability insurance pays benefits when you are unable to work because you are sick or injured. Most policies pay a benefit that replaces a percentage of your income. But disability insurance is not the same as health insurance—it will not cover your medical bills. 

Instead, disability benefits replace a percentage of the income you lose due to your inability to work, so you can cover your basic financial needs, such as paying bills, covering daily living expenses, and providing for your family, until you can return to work. To begin your search for disability insurance, first you need to get clear about your minimum financial needs, or what we call your “minimum to thrive” number, should you become unable to work.

If you don’t currently know what your “minimum to thrive” number is, contact us for help calculating this number, and we can refer you to tools or an advisor who can support you.

02 – Should I get disability coverage? 

If you are the breadwinner in your family and your income would stop if you become ill or injured and could not work, you should look into disability insurance. According to U.S. government’s statistics, one in four 20-year-olds become disabled before reaching retirement age. Statistics like this make it all the more important that you consider protecting yourself and your family with disability coverage.

03 – What’s the difference between short and long-term disability insurance?

There are two primary types of disability insurance: short-term and long-term. Short-term disability insurance typically lasts between 3 to 6 months, and sometimes up to a year or more. These policies generally cover about 60% to 80% of your monthly gross income, and the premiums you pay generally range from 1% to 3% of your annual income. One major upside to short-term policies is that payouts usually happen within two weeks, which can be a lifesaver in an emergency.

Long-term disability insurance can pay benefits for a few years or until your disability ends, even if that’s when you retire. Most long-term  policies cover 40% to 60% of your monthly gross income, but policies that pay up to 70% do exist. Long-term disability policies also cost 1% to 3% of your yearly income, but based on the benefits, they tend to be more cost-effective in the long run.

That said, it can take up to 6 months to see a payout from a long-term policy, which may not be a realistic option if you need money immediately to cover your living expenses. Therefore, we recommend covering your short-term financial needs with emergency savings of 6 months, and then getting a long-term policy to cover your longer term needs.  

04 – What does ‘portability’ mean?

If you purchase your disability insurance through your workplace, ask if you can keep that insurance if you leave the company. If your insurance is non-portable, your coverage will end when you leave the job. Having a portable policy means that you will be covered no matter where you work. 

Although many disability policies purchased through an employer are not portable, it’s definitely something you should look into. If portability is important to you, consider purchasing disability insurance on your own, rather than through your employer.

05 – What are the renewal options for disability policies?

A “guaranteed renewal” policy allows you to renew, without making any changes to your coverage, but your premium can fluctuate. A “non-cancelable” policy means your coverage and your premiums cannot be changed, assuming you pay your premiums on time. Also, be sure to find out if premiums are waived during a qualified disability.

Given these considerations, the best policies will be non-cancelable and guaranteed renewable. Obviously, such policies will cost more, so consider what’s best for you, and if you need help making your decision, we’re happy to recommend a trusted insurance agent and then talk through the options with you.

06 – How do cost of living benefits work?

Cost of living benefits are not included in most policies, but adding this rider is definitely something to consider. Cost of living benefits are designed to provide financial stability by offering an increasing benefit to keep pace with an increased cost of living, which is especially important right now, when we are experiencing unprecedented levels of inflation.

When choosing cost of living benefits, consider choosing policies that increase on a compounding basis. Compound interest is earned on the principal and the interest. This additional rider can help your benefits keep pace through inflation, even after your disability ends.

07 – Do I need a ‘future increase’ rider?

A future increase rider is another option to consider adding to your disability coverage. It’s worth looking into particularly if you think your income may increase significantly over time. With this rider, you are able to increase the monthly benefit of your policy, regardless of your health status. 

Without it, your policy will not change to protect your future income, and your benefits will pay out according to your income when you first obtained coverage. That said, many insurance companies will limit the total supplementary coverage that can be implemented each year with a future increase rider, so even if you have this option in place, the benefits might not fully reflect your future salary.

Get help choosing your coverage

When shopping for a policy, it’s best to work with an insurance agent who can survey many different companies to help you choose the right policy for your budget, age, health, and other factors. And remember, you must have the policy in place before something happens—if you’re already sick or injured, you can’t buy disability insurance to make up for lost income. 

One of the ways we support our clients is by discussing matters like this with you during your Family Wealth Planning Session, or at your annual or 3-year review meetings after you’ve completed your Life & Legacy Plan with us. If you do not have an insurance agent you are already working with, we can connect you with an agent we trust, and then provide objective counsel to help you decide on the best coverage for you and the people you love.

If you are not already a client, contact us today to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session. If you are, and you are ready for a review of your legal and financial choices, contact us for a plan review. We look forward to supporting your next step in Life & Legacy Planning.

This article is a service of Sahmra A Stevenson Esq., Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

How To Manage Your Digital Accounts After Your Death—Part 3

If you have preferences about what happens to your digital footprint after your death, you need to take action. Otherwise, your online legacy will be determined for you—and not by you. If you have any online accounts, such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple, or Amazon, you have a digital legacy, and that legacy is yours to preserve or lose. 

Following your death, unless you’ve planned ahead, some of your online accounts will survive indefinitely, while others automatically expire after a period of inactivity, and still others have specific processes that let you give family and friends the ability to access and posthumously manage your accounts.

In part one and two of this series, we covered the processes that Facebook,  Google, Instagram, Twitter, and Apple offer to manage your digital accounts following your death. Here in part three, we’ll conclude this series by covering the most effective methods for including digital assets in your estate plan.

Part I

Part II

5 Steps For Including Digital Assets In Your Estate Plan

If you’re like most people, you likely own numerous digital assets, some of which may have significant monetary value, and others which have purely sentimental value. You may even have some digital assets that you’d prefer your family not access at all when you pass away.

To ensure these assets are managed in exactly the way you want, take the following five steps to include this digital property in your estate plan. While many of these tasks you can do yourself, you’ll definitely want to consult with us, your local Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure your estate plan is properly prepared and works exactly as you intend.

01 – Create A Detailed Asset Inventory, With Access Instructions

Start by creating a list of all digital assets you currently own. Then, for each asset, provide detailed information about where the asset is stored and how it can be accessed, including all of the relevant login information and passwords. If you have numerous different accounts, password manager programs, such as LastPass, can simplify this effort.

If you own cryptocurrency, it’s essential that you prepare detailed instructions about how to access it, and ensure that one or more people you trust are aware that you own crypto and know how to find your instructions. Additionally, accessing cryptocurrency often requires complex user identification data and private keys. 

Moreover, to effectively manage these assets.the person you choose to control your crypto after your death will need to know how to use a variety of digital tools, such as online wallets, digital exchanges, and other programs. Given this,  leaving a detailed “How To” guide can be an ideal way to ensure your loved ones can access your digital currency with minimal hassle. 

After you’ve created your inventory and access instructions, store these documents in a secure location, with your other estate planning documents, and ensure your fiduciary (executor or trustee) and lawyer know how to access these documents should something happen to you. Finally, back up any digital assets stored in the cloud to a computer, flash drive, or other physical device to make them easier to manage. And remember to update your digital asset inventory regularly to account for any new digital property you acquire or accounts you close.

02 – Add Your Digital Assets To Your Estate Plan 

The next step is adding your digital assets to your estate plan. As with other assets, you’ll typically pass your digital property to your loved ones through either a will or a revocable living trust. Meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer®, to determine which estate planning vehicles are best suited for your particular assets and situation.

From there, specify in your will or trust the person, or persons, you want to inherit each asset, and include detailed instructions for how you’d like each asset managed after your death, if that’s something you’re interested in. On the other hand, some assets might have no value to your family or be something you don’t want them to inherit or even access, so you should specify that those accounts be closed or deleted by your fiduciary.

One thing you should NEVER do is provide the account information, logins, or passwords in your planning documents, where others might read them. This is especially true for wills, which become part of the public record upon your death. 

For maximum security, keep this sensitive information in a secure place, and let your fiduciary know how to find and use it. To make securing and managing your digital assets easier, consider using a digital management service, such as Directive Communication Systems, instead of trying to do everything yourself.

It’s also a good idea to include terms in your estate plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant if necessary, especially if your fiduciary doesn’t have much technical experience, or if you have particularly valuable digital property. Having a consultant available can enhance your fiduciary’s ability to manage and troubleshoot any challenges that come up.

Alternatively, you can designate a separate co-fiduciary just to manage your digital assets. Known as a digital executor, this individual is specifically tasked with managing your digital assets upon your death. If you have a lot of digital property or you own highly encrypted digital assets, like cryptocurrency, this option can be an optimal solution for safeguarding your online property.

03 – Limit Access

Your estate plan also needs to include instructions for your fiduciary about the specific level of access you want him or her to have. For example, do you want your executor or trustee to be able to read all your emails, texts, and social media posts before deleting them or passing them to your heirs? 

If there are any assets you want to limit and/or restrict access to, we can help you add the necessary terms to your estate plan to ensure your wishes will be honored and your privacy protected.

04 – Include Relevant Hardware

Your estate plan should also include provisions for passing on any physical devices—smartphones, computers, tablets, flash drives—on which your digital assets are stored. Having this equipment will make it easier for your fiduciary to manage your online assets. And since the data contained on such hardware can be wiped clean, you can even leave this gear to someone other than the person who inherits the data stored on the devices.

05 – Check Service Providers’ Access Authorization Tools

Review the terms and conditions for each of your online accounts and web-based service providers for how they handle your data after death. As discussed in the first two parts of this series, some platforms have features allowing you to give your family and friends the ability to access, manage, and delete your accounts after your death.

If such functions are offered, use them to document the individual(s) you want to access and manage these accounts. Just make certain those you named to inherit your digital assets using the providers’ tools match the beneficiaries named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will probably give priority access to the person named with its tool, not your estate plan.

Adapt Your Estate Plan To The Evolving Digital Universe

As technology continues to evolve, it’s essential to adapt your estate plan to keep pace with these changes. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have the knowledge and experience to not only properly include your traditional assets in your estate plan, but all of your digital assets as well.

Indeed, we are keenly aware of just how valuable your digital property can be, and our Life & Legacy Planning Process is designed to ensure all of your assets—digital or otherwise—are protected, preserved, and passed on seamlessly to your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity. Furthermore, we can ensure you have the maximum level of privacy, and you stay in full compliance with the latest laws governing the ever-changing digital universe. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Sahmra A. Stevenson, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.