Do You Have A Digital Estate Plan?

Digital Estate PlanI’m sure you are comfortable that your estate plan is up to date. But have you reviewed your digital estate plan? What is a digital estate plan? It’s a plan for the disposition of all your  internet accounts once you are deceased.

Experts have estimated that the average adult with access to the internet has more than 25 internet accounts! In the past, we kept albums full of snapshots, vinyl records and shoeboxes full of correspondence. Now our photos are all on Flickr and IPhoto, our music is downloaded from ITunes and our correspondence is email via Yahoo or Google.

And probably more important than that, a lot of your bank and investment accounts may be entirely online.!

And what happens if you die? Who has access to these internet accounts? And if they want those accounts taken off the internet how do they do it? You may discover that it is more difficult than you think for family members to access your accounts or erase them from the internet.

The family of Ricky Rash, a 15 year old who committed suicide in 2011, discovered how difficult it was to recover information from their deceased son’s internet account. In an effort to understand why he had taken his own life, they requested but were refused access to his Facebook account. Facebook claimed that according to the Stored Communications Act of 1986 – the federal law that governs the protection of a person’s electronic data – even the account of a minor is protected from access by his parents or anyone else. Other sites and providers interpret the legislation this way, making access all but impossible.

Up until recently there were only five states that have taken any steps to help recover the internet data of a deceased person—Indiana, Idaho and Oklahoma legislation covers social media and blogging accounts, while Connecticut and Rhode Island legislation covers only email.

Delaware has become the first and only state in the US to enact a law that ensures families’ rights to access the digital assets of loved ones during incapacitation or after death.

What does this mean for you? It is critical that you create a digital estate plan. The listing of internet accounts needs to be more comprehensive than I originally recommended. Information must include:

  • the name of the account
  • the contents of the account
  • the URL address
  • username
  • password
  • instructions for the disposition of the account including the person to oversee such disposition.

I have created a new spreadsheet to gather this information. Email me at and I will send it to you.

There is a whole new industry that has been created to service your  digital estate including, a new digital estate planning service. Your clients can create an account and then enter their user names, passwords and wishes for each of their digital assets. They can specify an heir for each account; Passwordbox will provide heirs with information after the account holder’s death is verified.

There are also online memorial services to celebrate your life, including, and These services enable your clients to create their own memorials before they pass away. Facebook and Twitter also offer these services for family members.

The importance of having a digital estate plan will increase as more and more of our assets (and access to assets) are online. Gradually laws will evolve to give family members access to deceased loved ones’ accounts. It is important to prepare yourself for the disposition of their digital assets now so that family members will not be unpleasantly surprised when they attempt to uncover them.

If you want to explore digital estate planning in more detail read Evan Carroll’s excellent book Your Digital Afterlife or read “Death in the Digital Era: A Useful Guide” available from the

©2013 Robert Mauterstock

Have You Discussed Your Estate Plan With Your Children?

siblingsAs a financial advisor to families for over 30 years, one of the most difficult conversations I had with clients was convincing them to discuss their estate plans with their children. They would often tell me. “The kids will work it out after we are gone” This was a recipe for disaster, setting the children up for messy battles that could tear a family apart.

One of my clients worked for his father in his waste management company starting when he was in high school. His older and younger brother also worked with him to support his dad’s business. When Dad passed away, he stipulated in his will that the oldest brother would inherit the business expecting my client and his younger brother to go to work for him.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. My client felt like he had been cheated out of his future. He never spoke to his older brother again and started his own waste management business which became very successful.

It certainly seems easier to let our executors share with our family our intentions after we are gone. But it is a grave mistake. It is our responsibility to share with our children what our intentions and desires are before we die.

This is especially true if we own vacation real estate. One of my clients has a beautiful cottage on a lake in New Hampshire. His children and grandchildren have been going there since they were born. I asked him what his plans were for the cottage after he was gone. He replied, “ I don’t know. I will let the kids decide that”

I asked him what he thought would happen if two of his three children wanted to keep the cottage but the third couldn’t afford to support it. How would they decide what to do with his share? I informed him that this type of situation would do nothing but create friction within the family that could have horrendous ramifications. He needed to meet with his children and develop a strategy that they all could live with.

Fortunately he agreed with me and had a family meeting that was very successful, making it very clear to the family how the cottage would be handled and avoiding any future conflict.

Will You Go to a Nursing Home?

images-1In a recent AARP study, nearly 75% of adults 45 and older said they strongly desire to stay in their current home as long as possible if they have a chronic illness or need long term care. Many baby boomers state that they would never cross the threshold of a traditional nursing home. But what happens if a spouse is not able to take care of you or you can no longer get around your home?

Many assisted living residences have replaced nursing homes to provide care to those who are chronically ill or have lost their mental capacity. But Increasing numbers of baby boomers will seek out new alternatives for independent living where care can be provided.

Intentional communities for philosophical, religious, and lifestyle groups are emerging. Wikipedia describes an intentional community as “a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle. They typically share responsibilities and resources.”

Alex Mawhinney ( , a developer of retirement communities for over 25 years, reports that “intentional elder neighborhoods are becoming the new paradigm for elder living.” He states that boomers will no longer be interested in “the older generation of elder living options that were available to our parents that follows this model:

  • Age in place — in a home not designed for aging in place, and eventually aging alone
  • Move in with children or other relatives
  • Move to an institution — and pay dearly for care delivered by strangers, under their rules and according to their schedules. The institution might be a nursing home, an assisted living facility, a rest home, a retirement hotel, or a continuing care retirement community with multiple levels of care.

There are SOTELs (service-oriented technically enhanced living—like an upscale Embassy Suites); ecovillages; senior cohousing; and the new lifestyle communities like those being developed by Canyon Ranch.These elder neighborhoods are taking many different forms.

The common traits of these new alternatives are that they are:

  • Human scaled (not large and impersonal)
  • Relationship-based
  • resident managed/centered, with an overlay of lifelong learning, later-life spirituality
  • giving back to the community

Dr. Bill Thomas, came up with an alternative that he describes as “Green Houses”  in the 1990s,  based on “a really radical idea: Let’s abolish the nursing home.”

Thomas, a geriatrician from upstate New York, had patients then who lived in nursing homes, and he realized “that the medicines I was prescribing were not treating the true source of suffering, which was loneliness.”

He also realized that traditional nursing homes were going to have to be replaced soon anyway. “Most of them were built in the 1960s and ’70s, and, you know, their time is done. So I got to asking the question: What comes next?”

What came next were the first Green House homes, which opened in Tupelo, Miss., in 2004. Now, with 148 Green House homes nationwide, there’s enough research to get an idea of how they’re working.

And they’re doing pretty well.

Each resident has their own private room. There are no strict schedules at Green House homes, so while many of the residents gather at the table for lunch, they can have their meals sent to their room. David Farrell, director of the Green House Project nationwide, explains that those private rooms aren’t a luxury — they’re safer than a traditional nursing home, where two or even three people might share a room and also share a bathroom with the two or three people in the room next door.

Research also shows that Green House residents maintain their independence longer than residents of traditional nursing homes, where hallways are long and schedules are tight. “So people really are kind of relegated to a wheelchair in order to efficiently move them around,” Farrell says, “and they quickly lose their ability to walk.”

This program of private rooms and personal service sounds like it could be much more expensive than the traditional nursing home, but Green House home costs have shown to be about the median for nursing homes nationally.

There are now about 150 more Green House homes in development, where residents will be able to enjoy the privacy of their own rooms or the company of the communal table. It’ll be their choice.

Have You Had the Money Conversation With Your Children?

imagesWhat is your relationship with money? Do you completely ignore it and let your spouse handle it? Or are you a saver, keeping track of every penny you are able to add to your savings account? Are you a risk taker, making big bets on the next big thing, or a risk avoider, not even sure if you can trust the banks to protect your money? Do you associate spending money and buying things with pleasure or pain?

Why do I ask you these questions? Because whether you know it or not, your relationship and attitude about money has influenced your children and how they relate to money. It is important to begin to understand this connection when you start talking to them about their finances and your own.

As she has done many times in the past, my daughter taught me an important lesson five years ago. She asked me, “Dad, you’re a financial planner, and every day you are talking to your clients about money. How come you have never talked to me about it?” I was stunned, speechless. I realized that I had never shared our financial goals with her and had never inquired about her own financial situation.

From that day forward we have had an annual financial planning meeting around the Christmas holiday. I share with her what our financial goals are and I ask her what her plans are for the next three to five years. It is a way for each of us to keep our intentions clear and it has been a wonderful tool in cementing our relationship.

At first I had difficulty sharing with her what our income was and how much we had saved for retirement, but after a while, it became much easier. After all, I really didn’t have anything to hide. In the same way I had to be careful not to judge her for the amount of credit card debt she had or the amount she had saved.

As each year has progressed, we have become more confident is sharing financial information with each other. She has become more willing to ask me questions about her future and get my input on the best course of action for her to take. And to my constant amazement, her financial situation has improved significantly each year. At this point her income is much higher and she has saved much more than I had at her age. A true miracle!

I believe it is very valuable to have this money conversation with each of your children every year. I suggest strongly that you set a specific date to have a financial meeting with them. Your daughter might expect the meeting on the first day of summer, your son on Father’s Day. In this way they will know and look forward to this event.

The first few times may seem uncomfortable, but eventually you will find that you feel much closer and are more honest with each other. You may even find that you have a clearer picture of your own financial goals.

Who is Your Alpha Child?

images-1The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.” This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents.

Take a look at your relationship with your own siblings. Who is the Alpha Child in your family? It may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.

It is valuable for you to identify who your Alpha Child is. Who is the child your other children respect? Who is the child that you ask for feedback? Who is the child that acts as a leader in the family?

Once you have identified your Alpha Child its important to have a conversation with him or her, preferably face to face. Share with her what your plans are and the preparations you have made for your retirement years. Discuss your long term care planning. What happens if you or your spouse need care? Will you stay in your home? Will you move? Who will take care of you?

Share your end of life planning with her. I suggest strongly that you fill out “The Five Wishes: available from before you do that. It is an extremely valuable tool to clarify your end of life wishes. I call it a living will with soul.

Ask you Alpha Child if he or she will help you organize a family meeting to discuss all of your retirement plans and concerns with the whole family. This meeting will have a life changing impact on your relationship with your children. It is most likely that you have never discussed these issues with your family before. Send me an email at:  ( )and I will forward to you “The Seven Steps to Have a Successful Family Meeting”

Preserving Your Legacy

Dad and StephThe last six months of my father’s life, I visited him every week in his rehab facility. He was desperately trying to get well enough to return home. Because of his Parkinson’s disease he could no longer swallow and as a result couldn’t eat normally. But he could talk. And we would talk for hours every time I visited him.

But most of our conversations were about insignificant things like sports teams, my job or the weather. We very rarely got into a real conversation. On one occasion I asked him what it was like growing up as the son of a minister. He told me that he had never gone to a department store to buy clothes. All his new clothes came from the barrel, where members of the congregation would toss clothes they didn’t want.

He shared that in the first eighteen years of his life, he had moved eleven times as my grandfather was transferred from church to church. But we never talked about his childhood again. And I never asked him about his experience as an Army engineer, landing at Omaha Beach on D Day.

Six months after my father passed away, my mother asked me a question. “Did you ever look at Dad’s scrapbook?” And she handed me a leather bound scrapbook filled with pictures, maps, newspaper stories, insignia and a letter signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. I was shocked. I had never known that this scrapbook existed.

For the last fifteen years I have leafed through that scrapbook hundreds of times, wishing that I had the opportunity to learn from him what his experience was like. But I will never get the chance. I share this with you because I want to emphasize the importance of sharing your stories and experiences with your children.

How did you and your spouse meet? What was it like growing up? What were your parents like? Where did you go to school? What was it like? Our children want to hear about these things. And we need to share them.

There are several ways to share your experiences and your life with your family. You can create an audio or video recording for them. You can write your personal biography. There is a national organization that can help you with this project. It is the Association of Personal Historians ( Through them you can find a professional in your area to help you. They will create a professional audio, video recording or book of your life with your input. 

In addition, Storycorps ( has created a smartphone app. which provides you with a series of questions to create an interview. A family member can ask you the questions and the answers will be recorded on your smart phone. If you desire this recording can be saved to a national archive at the Library of Congress. Storycorps started interviewing individuals in 2003. It was created to provide all Americans with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Over 40,000 people have conducted recorded interviews at their kiosks around the country. These are now saved to the Library of Congress.

                                                                         The Legacy Letter

But let’s assume you are not ready to go to those lengths yet to record your life. The best way to start is to write a Legacy Letter. It is as simple as answering a series of questions in a letter format.

In her very informative book The Wealth of Your Life, A Step-By-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will, Susan Turnbull suggests that creating the Legacy Letter is a five-step process. Here are her suggested steps:

  1. Identify whom you want to send the letter to. Do you want to send an intimate letter to just family or a more public document to be read by many people?
  2. Consider your intentions and opening lines. Start the letter with the brief statement of why you want to write the letter. “I am hoping to share many more wonderful years with you but I wanted to make sure that you know…..”
  3. Reflect and make notes. What is your theme? Is it an opportunity to express your love to those close to you? Do you want to share the values that have been important to you that you want to be remembered for? Do you want to pass on the wisdom that your experience has taught you? Do you want to pass on the family history to the next generation? Jot down your thoughts. You may choose to include some or all of these themes in your letter.
  4. Create an outline to structure the order in which you wish to make your points. Keep in mind your audience, your goals and the most important things you want to say.
  5. Create your letter (or record it). I strongly suggest that you create a video of your words as well as a written document. In the video your words will come to life if you share them with enthusiasm and conviction. In this era of smartphones and sophisticated technology it will be very simple to create a video record. You can even post it on Youtube or Facebook if you so desire.

High Tech Health Care for Boomers

images-1As I stated in my book “Passing the Torch, Critical Conversations with Your Adult Children” care for seniors will change dramatically as more and more baby boomers join the retiree ranks. Most boomers never want to go near a nursing home and are very adverse to ultimately living in a traditional assisted living residence.

Research has shown the boomers who will need long term care want to stay in their own homes. They don’t want to be shipped off to some institution. But the problem will be finding the people to provide the care for them at home. The pool of available family caregivers is decreasing as more families require two full time incomes to meet expenses. The daughter or daughter in law that you traditionally relied on to take care of mom or dad just can’t do it anymore. She is working full time as as well as taking care of her own family.

The alternative is to seek home care aides who work independently or through a home care agency. But these people are generally underpaid, not respected and aren’t rewarded for outstanding performance.

But now the high tech industry is stepping in to provide a better solution. Seth Sternberg, with the help of Marc Andreessen, Apple stores creator Ron Johnson, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and a long, long list of notable Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors has created a firm called “Honor”.

Honor will create an online marketplace. Caregivers will be able to list their qualifications, skills, hours they’re able to work and distances they’re willing travel. Seniors will specify the type of help they need, the hours they want and important personal details — that they only speak Mandarin, or that they have cats, or that they live in a multi-story unit. Honor will match caregivers and seniors accordingly, with final approval of the match in the hands of the seniors and their families.

Honor will also give seniors a custom-built, easy-to-use touchscreen appliance where they will be able to update caregivers on any changes in their needs or condition, so the caregivers will be better prepared when they walk in the door. The devices will also be used to record what services seniors received and for how long, and to allow them to rate the quality of care. Authorized relatives will have access to the information, so they’ll be able to monitor the situation.

The difficulty for Honor will be to recruit the right people to provide home care services and pay them a reasonable wage. Let’s face it, taking care of elderly, incapacitated people is not an easy job. Honor has brought in Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, a respected former labor organizer from the South Bay and CEO of an anti-poverty organization to begin recruiting workers in the San Francisco area. We will keep an eye on this program to see how it develops.