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Annual Professional Executor Checklist
When you name me as your professional executor or trustee, we have an annual “check-in” call or email to make sure I’m up to date on your plan and wishes.
We’ll review below what we chat about during our annual check-in.
But first, why annually? As your executor and potential witness if your will is contested, it’s useful for me to be familiar not just with a snapshot of your wishes upon your death, but the trajectory of your wishes.
For example, it helps me to track that year after year your niece was gaining your favor. Maybe she only made phone calls in the beginning, then she sent Christmas cards to you, and ultimately, she finally started visiting you. At each annual check-in, you talk about her more and more. On the flip side, if every year you report the same thing about your niece and she contests your will, then I’ll know what that relationship was like if I have to testify in court.
1. Are you alive?
If you answer our check in call each year, then we’ll know you're alive! Of course, we care more than whether you are dead or alive. We’ll ask about your health and check to see if there are any signs of capacity issues. For example, are you becoming frailer each year? Perhaps you might need a trust or other sort of estate planning advice.
2. Does your plan still reflect your wishes?
Does your plan still reflect who you want as your beneficiaries? Are any of your beneficiaries dead or incapacitated since we chatted last? Perhaps there is now someone you would like to cut out of your will or maybe a beneficiary is no longer worthy of an outright inheritance. Maybe your nephew is now a drug addict or gambling addict, and you need to put his share into a trust because you still want to give him something, just not all at once. Maybe one of your beneficiaries is now in a nursing home, and you want to make sure her share is protected (not counted as an available asset).
3. Have your assets changed?
Have you bought or sold anything major? As your professional executor, I need to collect and distribute your property after your death. It would definitely help me to know that your summer home in the Poconos has been sold or maybe you bought a big piece of land in Montana.
Also, are you significantly richer or poorer than when we last checked in? Did your crypto crash or your Bitcoin pop? There is a cost-benefit analysis involved, and the size of your estate plays a big role in that.
4. Do your assets still have correct titles and beneficiaries?
If you have a trust, you probably want a good number of assets to be no longer owned by you personally, but rather owned by the trust. Is that trust paperwork in place with the bank?
Even if you don’t have a trust, do you have beneficiaries on your accounts? Have you named who automatically gets your 401(k), life insurance, IRA, brokerage account, etc.? It’s important to make sure the correct person is named. Is your old girlfriend from ten years ago still listed as the beneficiary?
As a caveat, we generally don’t recommend structuring your estate plan with beneficiary designations. There are many problems with that approach, and you can check out this link to learn more. If you do have beneficiary designations, we’ll make sure the designations are at least reasonably accurate.
5. Are we still a good match?
The last thing we’ll check is if you and I are still a good match. Do we still like each other, and do we still trust each other? Am I still young and fresh and up to date on estate administration? Or maybe when I am older, you’ll want a younger professional executor. I mean, you should have an executor who is likely to survive you! Does my style of doing things match the way you want things done?
There is no right or wrong answer.
The check-in is usually a 15- or 20-minute phone call, or even a few emails back and forth. The check-in helps us keep in touch over the years and gives me a better picture of your wishes each time.
Your Bitcoin Estate Planning New Year Resolutions 2022
If you hold bitcoin, 2022 may be the time to make your New Year resolutions to get your Bitcoin estate planning in order.
Everyone approaches crypto differently: Entry level people will probably be on exchanges; more intermediary users may have their own software or hardware wallets. Hardcore bitcoiners probably have hardware wallets, cold storage and maybe even paper wallets – most likely in a multisig structure.
Have you named beneficiary designations?
Newer bitcoiners most likely hold their crypto on exchanges (Kraken, Binance, Coinbase, etc.). The most important question is: does your exchange allow beneficiary designations? This means filling out a form which says that, upon your death, your account should go to a certain person. (This is similar to naming a beneficiary on your IRA or life insurance). Some exchanges appear to be slowly adopting beneficiary designations. Having a beneficiary is a great way to make sure that someone knows that you own crypto!
If beneficiary designations are allowed, are yours up to date? Does it reflect your current wishes, or is it still in the name of your girlfriend from ten years ago? This would not make your current spouse very happy; believe me – we've seen it before! No need to leave those emotional messes for your grieving family.
It’s very important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date on all accounts, not just your crypto.
Check your letter of instruction and devices
Intermediate bitcoiners usually have multiple accounts and hardware wallets/devices. These bitcoiners have self-custody, which means they have more control over their bitcoin than if they were using an exchange.
If you have self-custody, check whether you have a basic letter of instruction. This letter tells your heirs/family that you have cryptocurrency, where the accounts are held, and where any wallets are located. If you have software wallet, let your heirs know the name of the software wallet or app. They might think Kraken is just a video game on your phone! Be sure to continually update your letter of instruction because the wallets you have this year may be different from a year ago.
If you haven’t touched your wallets or nodes in a while (which is totally normal for “cold storage”), there is a chance that those versions and firmware are not up to date. The latest security standards may not be in place. Less savvy heirs/family may be stressed about locating and accessing your bitcoin. It will be much harder for them if they find out they have to run updates before they can proceed.
A lot of hardware wallets rely on batteries. Check in every once in a while, to make sure the batteries are able to power up.
Does your multisig still work?
I am not a hardcore user, so bear with me on this one. Advanced bitcoiners may have a multisig recovery and inheritance plan. That means that there is no single key to access their hoard of bitcoin; there are layers of protection. For example, you will need 2 out of 3 keys, etc. in order to access the account.
As discussed above, make sure you have updated versions of everything and that everything still works. Imagine how hard it is for someone new to crypto to wrap their head around “multisig,” “hardware wallet signature,” etc.
Another important thing to do is make sure all of your signers are alive. For example, you have a 2 of 5 multisig. You have at least 3 of the keys, your spouse has one, and your cousin has another. That way, if anything happens to you, your spouse and cousin can put their keys together with yours and be able to access the account. But, is your cousin still alive and able to perform his duties? Is he still a valid keyholder? Does he still have his key, and does it still work? You can’t just check your own keys; you have to check everyone’s, because otherwise it’s pointless.
Multisig is new to me, so I am not sure how to confirm that a multisig actually works. Do you really need to do an
Solo Ager Annual Estate Plan Review
As we know, Solo Ager estate plans are a bit trickier than other estate plans. We recommend that our clients take a look at their estate plan every 4 to 5 years. However, for Solos Agers, we suggest a light annual review.
1. Your Executor
The first thing you should review is whether your executor is still alive. This is important for Solo Agers because they often have non-traditional executors. Solo Agers often hire a professional executor like me because they don’t have family members who they feel comfortable appointing. This professional executor is probably not someone they keep in touch with on a daily basis.
Is your executor still living nearby? Perhaps if the executor has moved far away, it’s not practical to have them named in your will any longer.
Are you still confident your executor will fulfill his or her duties to your liking? Perhaps the executor is someone who is developing close relationships with relatives that you are planning to disinherit. Maybe your executor is getting older and declining. Maybe your assets have become more technologically advanced, and your executor isn’t familiar with the types of accounts you have (bitcoin, for example).
2. Who inherits
Again, you want to make sure that the beneficiaries of your will and/or trust are still alive. It sounds depressing to have to think about such things, but a 5-to-10-minute review of your documents could prevent a headache for your executor when you pass.
Are your beneficiaries still worthy of inheriting your money? Sometimes family members slowly stop keeping in touch with their aging relatives. As a Solo Ager, you may want to evaluate whether those people are still worthy of receiving your estate. Does it still make you feel good that you’re leaving your money to them?
You may have set up a trust for a beneficiary, or you may have chosen to give them their share outright. It’s best to re-evaluate to see if that choice is still appropriate for that beneficiary. For example, you may have chosen an outright distribution to someone who has since started having drinking problems or gambling issues. Perhaps you’ve left money to someone who needs asset protection. Now, a trust or some other planning tool may be better. On the other side, you may have put a minor beneficiary’s share in a trust, and now he or she is an adult who can handle money.
Many Solo Agers prefer to leave some money to charities. Take time to review if your charity of choice still exists and if it is still worthy of inheriting your money. Perhaps the charity was very efficient in serving the original cause, but now a change of management style has resulted in less money going toward the charitable cause itself.
Does the charity still align with your values? Have your passions or interest changed? Maybe when you created your will, you were really into pets, and you left a large share to the ASPCA. Maybe now your passion is something else that you’d rather leave your money to.
3. Your Guardian
You may not have a guardian in your estate plan. But, are you satisfied with what happens if you lose capacity? If you don’t have a trust or other mechanism in place, are you happy with the idea of a court-appointed guardian? You may have listened to our prior podcast in which we reviewed the Netflix move, “I Care a Lot.” The movie is obviously a dramatization, but it shows how bad it can be when the system takes over someone who doesn’t really need a guardian.
It’s best to have a plan in place now before the court decides it’s a good idea to appoint a stranger as your guardian. If you are unfamiliar with court-appointed strangers, we suggest you check our podcast on the topic.
In conclusion, an annual light review of your documents can go a long way in making sure your plan is strong. To learn about estate planning tips for Solo Agers, please check out my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan,” available on Amazon.
Free copy of "The Solo Ager Estate Pl
How to Collect MTA COVID19 Death Benefit
Did you know that heirs of Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) workers who died of COVID19 may receive a $500,000 death benefit?
When I first heard of this, I thought it was a scam. But, yes, this is real! We’ve helped families collect this benefit. Here’s how:
Who qualifies for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?
Any MTA employee who died of COVID19 qualifies. The MTA has already paid out over $62,000,000, which means at least 140 employees have passed away from COVID 19.
How to apply for the MTA COVID19 death benefit?
An heir can’t just apply as family member of the decedent (we’ve been hired by families that have tried). You must set up an estate and get a court-appointed executor or administrator. That court-appointed person is who must apply. An administrator is appointed for an estate without a will, and an executor is appointed for an estate with a will.
Be sure to choose wisely who you want to fill that role, because once that person is appointed, they need to know how to work with the MTA to get the claim pushed through.
It’s not easy like submitting a life insurance claim. This kind of death benefit claim is new. Anytime you are dealing with something new involving a bureaucracy, you need some force of will to get it done. From personal experience, getting the MTA death benefit can be a long, drawn-out process involving numerous emails and long hold times on the phone. But, with the right team pushing through, we have had successful outcomes for our clients.
When will the MTA COVID19 death benefit end?
As of this writing, it is currently extended through December 21, 2021. It could last longer, but we don’t know yet.
If you lost a loved one who was an MTA employee, you should apply for this benefit as soon as you have opened the estate. Sooner is better than later. Why? Because the MTA seems to be tightening the qualifications, making it harder to qualify. For example, an unvaccinated employee is no longer eligible. The MTA is also taking a closer look at the cause of death (did the employee die directly from COVID 19, or something else?).
Be aware: getting a court-appointed executor or administrator currently takes a few months or longer. So, start now. If you call us today to open an estate, it could be early spring before the court appoints a representative for the estate. The courts are very backed up and short-staffed.
This was a very specific blog about a specific benefit, but it is important to know about it if you think you may qualify.
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What Happens to Your Crypto on Exchanges When You Die
One of our listeners recently asked what happens to your crypto on exchanges when you die. How will his spouse or kids get his crypto when he dies? Our listener has roughly $500,000 in Solana, Ethereum, Bitcoin, Shiba inu, and Doge, held on exchanges: Coinbase, Crypto.com, and EToro.
Inheriting from crypto exchanges is similar to banks
Just like a bank or brokerage, you submit death certificate, letters form the court appointing the estate’s representative, claim forms, etc. Then the exchange will process the claim – sometimes slowly. Sometimes they won’t know what they are doing, and you’ll have to lead them by the nose. (This happens even with traditional banks and brokerages). Sometimes the customer service representative tells you that you need certain forms, and you spend a couple of weeks preparing the forms. Then after submitting the forms, another representative tells you to submit something different. This is all too common.
The result of this process is that your administrator or executor will have access to your crypto through the exchange account. However, it is still unclear whether an executor will collect the crypto in-kind (having the actual coins transferred to your executor) or if the crypto will be liquidated (cutting a check to the executor). My instinct is that it will be distributed in-kind. This matters, because receiving coins in-kind means the executor needs to know what to do with them.
Make sure your heirs know the crypto exists!
This process only works if your heirs or executor knows where to look for your crypto and submit the claim. Most exchanges/apps are not sending out 1099s or statements. Your heirs and executor won’t have many clues to work off of. There won’t be a piece of mail from Coinbase that tells your heirs to look for your account there. They may be able to hunt through your email to find information, if they can get to it.
The solution is to either mention your crypto to your executor and heirs or leave a memo that your crypto exists (and where to look for it).
Don’t bother listing crypto in your will. Just like personal property, it changes too frequently. Your holdings in 2021 will be totally different in 2023. You don’t want the costly and time-consuming task of changing your will every time your accounts change. Your best bet is leaving a memo or letter.
Though we usually discuss more broad crypto topics like wallets, hardware and software, this question was specific to exchanges. Even though I’d still like to write a book on cryptocurrency for estate planning, I am a leery of writing something that could be obsolete by the time I finish it. But we shall see…
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Who Should Have the Original Will?
So, you finally did it: you made and signed your will. Now, where do you store the original? We get this question a lot from Solo Agers, particularly those who have named me as executor in their wills.
Can you keep your will at home?
It’s not a good idea, even if you have a fireproof box or filing cabinet. The big drawback (at least in New York) is the legal presumption of intentional revocation. Meaning, if you lose the original (in absence of evidence), the court will assume that you intentionally destroyed it.
If you store it with the court, lawyer, or executor, they do not have the right to revoke your will. If your executor loses your will, they can still potentially probate a copy of your will.
Storing your will in a safe deposit box is a bad idea. Getting into someone’s safe deposit box after death can be a pain. That pain is compounded if the will that authorizes your executor to access the safe deposit box is in the safe deposit box!
Does probate court keep original will? Yes, there is a mechanism called “filing a will for safekeeping” in the New York courts. You go to your local county surrogate’s court and pay a fee of $45.00. They will keep it in the court’s vault.
The benefit of filing a will with the court is that it’s a centralized process. One of the first things we do when we probate an estate is to check with the court to see if they have the will.
However, there are two major cons: 1) A publicly filed will is a semi-public record. This doesn’t mean that anyone can walk in and look at it. Rather, suppose you make a new will years after you filed your first will with the court. Maybe you forgot you ever filed the first will, and now your executor is probating your subsequent will, which names different beneficiaries. Your executor may need to notify the beneficiaries of the first will. This is probably not the case if you didn’t file your will with the court. 2) Another drawback is: which court do you file it with? What if you file it in Manhattan, but then you move to Long Island? Probate occurs where you die. If the will isn’t stored in that court, then the benefit of checking the court for the will doesn’t exist anymore.
Do lawyers keep original wills?
Yes, some lawyers offer fireproof storage for wills, trusts, and other client documents. Most do not charge a fee for this. Not all lawyers offer to hold wills due to the risk involved. As mentioned above, if the lawyer loses your will, the executor should still be able to probate a copy.
Should I give my will to the executor?
Generally, the answer is no. However, a professional executor lawyer is set up to safely store your will. Most amateur executors (family, friends) are not set up and have the same issues as you for where to store it.
To find out more on this topic, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon.
Very practical podcast
Really great podcast and covers all the big topics that every grown up adult should be thinking about. My wife and I need to get a will ASAP!
Real answers to real life questions
Learned more from one episode than I could have in 10+ hrs of reading a book on the same topic! Love the straightforward and honest style too. Keep ‘em coming!!
Covers topics I feel I SHOULD know
Covers the finance topics that while I may not need or applies to me directly, but it was good to hear them cover some of these topics