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What Happens to My Online Accounts After I Die?

By Emily Martin, Esq.

In today’s world, many people connect with friends and family via social media more than they do in “real life.” Additionally, online shopping has expanded vastly in the past several years, and most people have several online accounts they use regularly. While the Internet has allowed us to have more connections and to conduct business from the convenience of our home, there is often a concern about what will happen to these accounts after the owner dies. Of course, no one wants their online banking or shopping accounts to be used after they die. Additionally, most people would not want their social media accounts to go on as usual, but many people may wish to keep their page available to friends and family who wish to remember them in a special way.

Facebook has a feature that allows account holders to choose a Facebook friend to be a “legacy contact.” While your legacy contact cannot actually log into your account, change or delete past posts, or remove friends and read messages, this person will have the ability to post information on your behalf, respond to new friend requests, and update your profile picture. In order to turn over access to a legacy contact, the page must first be memorialized, meaning that the legacy contact must prove that the person has died by sending a death certificate or obituary. When you designate your legacy contact, you can direct that your account be deleted upon your death or that it be preserved as a place where loved ones can share memories about you. Similarly, Instagram will also allow an account to be memorialized.

While Twitter will not give anyone else access to your account after you pass away, it will accept requests to deactivate the user’s account from either an immediate family member or the executor of your estate.

Additionally, Google allows people to assign beneficiaries of their Google accounts. If you fail to log into Gmail, Google Maps, GoogleDrive, YouTube, or other Google apps for a set amount of time (between three and 18 months), the Inactive Account Manager will send you a text message and an email. If you don’t respond, Google will send your data to a trusted contact, who will then be directed to delete your account or manage your Google services as you have directed.

On the other hand, Yahoo will not grant access to a deceased user’s account without a specific request letter from the personal representative of their estate. The same is true of PayPal, which has a quite complicated process required to close a user’s PayPal account.

In this age, technology and social media are often our main means of communication. It is important to make sure you know what will happen to your online accounts after you pass away. If you have an estate plan in place, it is a good idea to include with your original estate planning documents a listing of all of your online accounts and what your username and password is for those accounts. This will allow your loved ones to be able to manage those accounts for you if you become incapacitated or pass away. If you use specific accounts, be sure to find out what actions are available to your loved ones after you pass away.

Ask Kit Kat: Lone Wolf

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the wolf who lives at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, VA?

Kit Kat: Well, the male wolf who inhabits the Virginia Living Museum (VLM) in Newport News, VA is a red wolf who is 12 years old. Until a few weeks ago, he had a female red wolf companion who was 11 years old. Unfortunately, she died, and he is now alone. Their species is endangered, and there are only a few hundred left. They are protected under the federal red wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP). Red wolves are the only wolf species native to the southeastern United States. They have a short coat, and are smaller than other wolf species. At present, their range is limited to Albemarle Peninsula in North Carolina. It is hard to re-introduce them to the wild, because people mistake them for coyotes, and sometimes they are considered a nuisance.

The male red wolf was born at the museum in Newport News in April 2007. He was one of 6 pups and was known as the most submissive in the litter. That is probably why he bonded so well with his female companion. His mother and siblings were eventually moved to other SSP facilities. His father remained with him until his death in January 2019. Not wanting him to be alone, VLM located a female for him from Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, and she arrived in the spring (2019). They got along well, and they even dug a den together. However, it was evident from the start that she had health issues—digenerative disc disease in her lower back. In late September (2019), she suddenly declined, and had to be put down. VLM is now looking for another female for their male. At his age, he is unlikely to father any pups, but VLM doesn’t want him to be alone for his remaining years. Red wolves are social creatures, and like to live with others of their kind. Let’s hope VLM finds him a companion very soon. (Matt Jones, “A lone wolf once more,” The Virginian-Pilot, October 11, 2019, p 1 & 4)

Posted on Monday, October 28th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Impeaching Wills

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro, CELA

We often hear from family members who are unhappy with the terms of a loved one’s current Will. The issue is often laced with problematic family dynamics where multiple people claim undue influence or lack of capacity. This intricate web of issues can lead to expensive litigation.

As an attorney, the most important factor when creating a Will for a client is obtaining their goals and objectives. There are a number of reasons why dispositions under a Will may treat one or more persons more favorably than another, and there may be a number of reasons why one or more persons are disinherited. The reasons are personal to each family and at the end of the day, it is for the client to determine.

The unfortunate part of an attorney’s role is that we are unable to monitor the client’s daily interactions. As a result, while we can assess whether a client has testamentary capacity to create the will, we often will lack knowledge regarding the conversations the client has had with various family members so as to determine the degree of undue influence such persons may have over the client. While we try to uncover such influences, the conversations outside the attorney’s office are unknown and therefore claims of undue influence are prevalent.

In some cases, in particular cases of undue influence, litigation is appropriate. The issue, however, is the timing of such a claim. Since a will operates at the time of someone’s death, the will is revocable by the maker, and the contest of a will cannot be brought until the maker of the will has died. Any attempt to impeach a will prior to death would be barred by the court.

Ask Kit Kat: Motivating Your Dog

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the best way to train your dog? What do the experts say?

Kit Kat: Well, the experts have chimed in, and it’s good to know that good old common sense is alive and well. By that, I mean, what the average person would probably guess is the best motivator for training one’s dog is true—it’s food! But now it’s based on research. According to the American Kennel Club, “Using treats during training is the best way to guarantee that your dog will repeat the behavior you want.” Other methods can work—like spending time with your dog or talking to him/her in soothing tones–but none works faster than food. Erica Feuerbacher, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech, echoes this statement when she says, “They’ll work harder and respond faster for food than social interaction.”

This finding should not be a surprise. Would you as a human keep toiling away at your job if you weren’t paid? The same thing applies to dogs. Food is their payment for doing what you ask of them. Other findings by Dr. Feuerbacher reveal that praising a dog is no better than ignoring them. They stay beside you for the same amount of time in both situations.

So, it appears that food is a strong motivator for training dogs. Fear is also a motivator, but that has negative, and potentially long-lasting side effects. Dr. Feuerbacher also says that, if you find your dog doesn’t respond to a food treat, it may be that your dog is overfed. If you are going to use food as a training tool, make sure you figure in those calories in his/her daily diet. Also, she says, vary the type of treat. Just like humans, they appreciate variety. “Break out the spray cheese or liverwurst—people may need to be creative.”

Good luck—dog lovers! You now have a proven way to make your companion happy and responsive to your requests! (Linda Lombardi, “Food rewards: Way to a dog’s heart IS through its stomach,” The Virginian-Pilot (Daily Break), Oct. 3, 2019, p. 11)

Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Is That Really Enough to Retire?

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA CAP

A recent study by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs research found that almost 40% of Americans feel confident in their retirement savings. This appears to be a positive statistic given that 10,000 Americans reach 65, traditional retirement age, every day. However, some experts argue that the confidence may be faulty, or, may have an overall negative impact, because it may result in people being less disciplined in planning for retirement.

While almost every working American plans to retire, very few have actually considered what retirement looks like, both financially and psychologically. The freedom to go where one wants at their leisure, without having to check in with an employer, seems liberating. However, for adults who have spent their entire lives getting up and going to work every day, retirement leaves them with a tremendous amount of free time. Gradually, that free time is filled with something other than work. Hobbies such as travel, gardening, painting, photography, etc. will eventually fill up all that spare time. Yet, many fail to budget for the fact that those all have a cost. So, while many believe they will expend less in retirement than they did during working years, the reality is that spending often doesn’t decrease in retirement.

In addition, very few retirees will have guaranteed income in retirement, other than Social Security. In 2019, the average Social Security Retirement check is only $1,461. Average household spending in retirement is approximately $3,900 a month which leaves a deficit of $2,439 per month or $29,268 per year. The factors which affect how long a person lives in retirement vary greatly based on gender, age at retirement, longevity, and overall health; however, 20 years in retirement is a reasonable assumption. Based on a shortfall of $29,268 per year, a minimum of $585,360 would be needed.

In addition to a shortfall based on average spending, there are other factors which affect retirement savings. An active lifestyle will result in an increased deficit. In addition, market conditions will have a major impact on savings. However, nothing will affect retirement savings more than a need for long-term health care. Someone who has reached age 65 has a 70% chance of needing long-term care. On average, women need approximately 3.7 years of long-term care, while men average 2.2 years. The national average cost of nursing care in a semi-private room is $88,348. For a couple who both need long-term care, this would result in a need for an additional $521,253 bringing the need to fund retirement and long-term care to a total of $1,106,613.

Therefore, in today’s dollars, the average retired couple will need over $1 million to retire. However, a 2017 Government Accounting Office study showed that Americans between the age of 55 and 64 only have around $107,000 in retirement. For those who are close to retirement and who haven’t amassed a million or more in savings, there are still planning options available. Long- term care insurance may be an option to ensure payment of a long-term care stay. For some, a part- time job is the answer to monthly shortfalls. For others, a simple investment review and account rebalancing may be the answer.

So, while 40% of Americans feel confident in their retirement savings, the reality is much different. Saving for retirement requires advanced planning and discipline; however, with advanced thinking, planning for a comfortable retirement is achievable.

Ask Kit Kat: Rescuing Wildlife Babies

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how rehabbers rescue and care for wildlife babies, so that they can eventually return to the wild?

Kit Kat: Well, the people who care for these little critters are indeed miracle workers. They tend to all sorts of wildlife—like baby badgers, bobcat kittens, and gray fox kits—but not in such a way that these babies lose their wild instincts. For example, The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, CA trains their staff to avoid imprinting. That is when wild animals become accustomed to humans which prevents their successful return to the wild. So staff follow strict routines, so that the babies do not associate humans with comfort. Talking to the babies is limited, and they try not to cuddle them too much during exams with the vet. In the case of a baby badger, they supplied his enclosure with dirt and branches—things he would need to build a den. They also buried some of his food, so he’d have to learn to dig for it.

Most sanctuaries can house certain animals long-term, but as much as possible, they try to return them to the wild. Especially in the case of bobcats and coyotes, which are difficult to maintain in enclosures as adults, they try very hard to help the animals maintain their wild instincts. Staff want them to be wary of people when they are released, because most people who would see such an animal approaching them, would be scared and possibly harm the animal, as a precaution.

It is wonderful that sanctuaries exist. Those operated by Humane Society of the US affiliates are the one in CA mentioned above, one in Oakland, OR, one in Murchison, TX, and one in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We owe them our sincere thanks! (Kelly L. Williams, “Hands-off Help,” All Animals, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 13)

Posted on Wednesday, October 9th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.

Financial Education VS. Financial Psychology: Which One Has a Greater Impact on Financial Behavior?

By Jennifer Rossettini, CFP®

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, financial education efforts aim to provide financial information to help people “take control of their circumstances, improve their quality of life, and ensure a more stable future for themselves and their family.”[i]  Financial psychology uses a variety of techniques designed to facilitate “emotional activation” to help clients make better choices.  Emotion activation involves eliciting either a positive or negative emotion through the use of outside stimulation.  Which approach do you think has a greater impact on financial behavior? Education or Psychology?

A study published by the Journal of Financial Planning[ii] sought to answer that question by studying the effects of both approaches on an individual’s savings behavior.  Participants in the study were divided into two different sessions: (1) a session that employed traditional instruction in personal finance; and (2) a session that used financial therapy methods and a personal nostalgic item to maximize emotional engagement. In the first session, known as the financial education session, the participants were shown a power point presentation on the financial planning process, statistics regarding the unpreparedness of American households to fund retirement, the time value of money, healthy savings goals, and the different savings vehicles.  In the second session, known as the sentimental savings session, participants were asked to bring a sentimental item or a photograph of one, and participated in exercises designed to help them recall how and where they received their sentimental item, identify the feelings and values attached to their sentimental item, identify their top savings goals, and identify how similar feelings and values linked to the sentimental item can be applied to enhance their motivation to save.  Savings behaviors were measured prior to the sessions and at a three-week follow-up.

Probably not surprisingly, the study found that participants in the sentimental savings session reported significantly greater improvements in their financial behaviors three weeks following the session.  While participants in the financial education session reported a 22 percent increase in their savings rate, participants in the sentimental savings session reported a 73 percent increase.  These findings make a strong case for the role of emotionality (specifically sentimentality) in savings behavior.  “Logical awareness of the advantages of saving and ways to do so effectively clearly play a role, but providing opportunities for people to access and experience the emotional advantages of saving seems to motivate behavior much more profoundly.”[iii]

If you have a strong desire to change your financial behaviors, perhaps choosing a financial professional who embraces financial psychology would be a wise move.  In conversations with these professionals, be prepared to describe your financial planning goals in significant visual detail.  Instead of talking about “retirement” as your goal, be ready to answer questions like, “How old do you see yourself being?” “Where do you picture yourself living?” “Who are you with?” “What do you see yourself doing?” “How does it feel?”[iv]  Healthier financial decision making will take some additional work, but it would appear to be worth your while.


[ii] Klontz, Bradley T., Faith Zabek, Colby Taylor, Alexander Bivens, Edward Horwitz, Paul T. Klontz, Derek Tharp, and Meghaan Lurtz. 2019. “The Sentimental Savings Study: Using Financial Psychology to Increase Personal Savings” Journal of Financial Planning 32 (10): 44-55.

[iii]Id. at 53.

[iv]Id. at 54.

Ask Kit Kat: Fighting Dogs Redeemed

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation and how they are faring today?

Kit Kat: Well, this is a tremendous story with a happy ending. 47 pit bulls were rescued 12 years ago when NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s fighting/betting operation was discovered in Suffolk, Virginia. I’m sad to say, but that is one town over from where I live in Chesapeake, VA. Nevertheless, tremendous good has come from this tragedy. Previously, fighting dogs would have been euthanized when they’d be discovered as adults. But this time, it was different. Animal welfare experts decided to try an experiment, and see if dogs brutalized by being made to fight, could transition to normal lives. The experts were astounded when they realized, such dogs could transition successfully to normal living arrangements. Animal welfare has been profoundly altered as a result. Now when a fighting group is discovered, the dogs are evaluated individually to determine their suitability for home placement. Frank Battista of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary says, “While Michael Vick was a deplorable person in a lot of ways, the fact that he was the one that got caught was a really big boom for this whole topic and for these animals. It just catapulted it into the public eye.”

The Washington Post looked into how each of the 47 dogs recovered from Vick were doing today. They found they were spread across a large geographic area ranging from Rhode Island to California. Some of the dogs are still struggling with trauma, but they were either living in homes or in sanctuaries or are deceased. Best Friends Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah took 22 of the most difficult cases. Each of the dogs were given a name to begin the humanizing process. A few will be described. Layla, who died in June of this year, lived with a family successfully, but when she ate, she had to have her collar removed, because the clanging of her tag on the food bowl, brought back bad memories. Shadow, also placed with a family, is a loving companion, but he is terrified of ladders. His family doesn’t think he ever did actual fighting, but he associates the ladder where fighting did occur on the 2nd floor of a shed. A ladder was the way up to the 2nd floor.

Today’s Vick’s property in Suffolk is a sanctuary for chained and penned dogs. It is called “Dogs Deserve Better.” The sheds from past dog-fighting days are preserved, and there are trees planted for each dog that was rescued. It is a peaceful place that attests to the resiliency of all beings, both large and small. (Emily Giambalvo, “A second chance,” The Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2019)

Posted on Monday, October 7th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.
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Ask Kit Kat: Pet advice and wisdom as Kit Kat sees it.