Digital Assets and Your Estate

Recently, I was going over a list from my attorney of the papers one should prepare for end of life, and I was smugly checking off the list:
checkmark Last Will and Testament
checkmark Power of Attorney
checkmark Personal property memorandum
checkmark Health proxy
checkmark Living Will
checkmark HIPAA release
   Digital assets plan

Digital assets? HuH?
Well, when I stopped to think about it, there is a lot of stuff there, and some of it would be important to family members and whoever is your Power of Attorney and Executor.  Nolo.com, a publisher of legal guides, defines digital assets as any electronic record you own, license or control, including any online account or digital file, whether on a device you own or in the cloud.  Nolo lists the following as digital assets Nolo.com list:

  • Email accounts
  • Social media
  • Subscriptions
  • Market place accounts such as Ebay, Etsy or Amazon
  • Interest-specific chat rooms or boards
  • Apps
  • Photos
  • Music, books, videos
  • File sharing storage such as GoogleDocs, Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive
  • Financial accounts such as checking, savings, investment
  • Gaming accounts
  • Online dating accounts
  • Medical records accounts
  • Insurance Accounts
  • Blogs and websites
  • Information, files and programs on phones, tablets or computers
  • Loyalty benefit programs offered by credit cards.

So, what we have here is information and software, and in some cases, cash and financial assets, and security of credit, all of which is wrapped in privacy concerns. And if you have a business, this list may be doubled for the business. What will happen to all this material when you are gone or no longer able to access it? The person you named as your financial power of attorney or your executor will need access.  That means passwords, pins and user names.  Since these can change, sometimes frequently, the strategy is to keep a list. The tech security folks tell you not to write down passwords, but that is not really possible.  Just keep that list up to date and in a secure place, and let the right people know where it is.  Do not put passwords in your will, which will become a public document upon probate filing.  You probably will change them many times before they are needed, anyway.

The legal status of a deceased person’s digital assets depends on the person’s residence state, and whether that state has enacted the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. This act allows executors and trustees access to the deceased person’s digital assets, and it overrides any individual website’s terms of service.  Check with your lawyer on the laws in your state.

Credit cards

Presumably, your executor will pay off your credit card balances and close the accounts. If there is no balance owing on a credit card, the card company will eventually close the account automatically; the same if there is no balance in a bank account.  You may have set up automatic charges to your credit card for recurring bill payments.  Your executor should be aware of those charges and make provision for the ones that will continue after your death.  For example, utility bills and fees to a homeowner association will continue until ownership of the home is transferred.

Some of those credit cards may have unused frequent flyer miles or rewards points balances.  Those are a cash asset.  On many cards, points can be applied to balances.  They may also be donated, but such donations are not tax deductible.  If you have a number of credit cards with rewards balances, you may wish to consolidate them now, by trading them on www.points.com.  That would make your executor’s job easier when the time comes.

Financial accounts

Depending on the way you have set up the accounts, either they will pass directly, or your executor will convert them to estate accounts, thus closing off any attached debit cards.  This should be done quickly to minimize the chance of fraudulent use. Also making your executor’s job easier is access to the passwords for your online accounts.  If it is only an online account or an out of state account, online access is essential. Forgotten or inaccessible funds will eventually revert to a state unclaimed funds account.

Websites and market-place accounts

If you have monetized your website, there will be a continuing income stream coming into one or more of your bank accounts. If it is from ads, that will end when the site is shut down.  If it is from the sale of media, such as merchandise, books, images, music or other downloadables, those are of value to your estate.  Determine if you want to continue to offer them for sale, and who will inherit them.  That person will need to be willing and able to maintain the site.  Sites that you don’t own, but on which you sell merchandise, are included in this category, sites such as Amazon Sellers, Ebay and Etsy.

This is a brief overview of this complex topic.  More in a later post.  Meanwhile, two websites with good resources are  Nolo.com  and  everplans.com. Most of all, consult a  lawyer with expertise in digital asset estate planning.


Listening to the Silence Part 2

Debra Lambo M.A.  LCSW
Guest Blogger

When I turned 60 I asked myself how I wanted to live the “bonus years” of my life, a time in which I am still healthy, have financial security which offers an opportunity and freedom in which to choose how do I want to live? I wondered are there other people out there that are asking themselves the same question.

Mary Catherine Bateson’s book Composing a Further Life, An Age of Active Wisdom, proposed that the boomer generation needed consciousness raising groups like those that women that formed in the 60’s and 70’s in order to “free themselves from limiting stereotypes of who they were and what they wanted out of life.”  Would such a process help to break out of old stereotypes about aging and help us create lives that reflect how we want to be in the world?  What is life asking of me at this stage of life  and how do I want to respond?

My response to this mandate was to start a group called In Search of Active Wisdom: Consciousness Raising for Adulthood ll. The group would meet at the local Senior Center for four weeks.  Our search for answers would not to be found with one of the many gurus who are proposing solutions.  A solution wasn’t what we needed, since it wasn’t a problem that we had. Instead the group would use the wisdom to be found in poetry, psychology, Op-Ed writers, and mostly in the dialogue we had with each other. Using the group discussion to reflect on the readings and our own life experiences. The readings and discussion helped challenge us to move out of old established habits of mind and allow us to imagine alternative ways of thinking and possibly living,  during this stage of life.  There were no promises made to find more happiness, satisfaction, or spiritual growth.  What such a process did offer was a time and space in which we would live with questions, an opportunity to loosen tightly held beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Our Active Wisdom group has been meeting for four years and is more about our questions than acquiring more information.  Using a process of reading, reflecting and dialogue, we explore together new ways of being and living during this phase of life.

Research by Keith Oatley and Maja Dojkic at University of Toronto (NYTimes, Dec. 21, 2014)[1] shows that reading can transform us.  The more artistic the writing, more powerful it is in getting us to think of about ourselves anew. If we are seeking new ways of being at this stage life, a time when many of us may find ourselves living with freedom that that was not available in the past,  what do we do with it?  Is the current paradigm of aging well, with its emphasis on health and financial security the only possibility for “happiness,” another promise held out by current models of the good life?  Can we imagine something other than what is available through our culture?  Holding a space and time to re-imagine life after 60 creates the possibility to continue the human potential movement that  many boomers were a part of in their youth.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/opinion/sunday/how-writing-transforms-us.html


Follow-up on Elder Orphans Article

Next Avenue has posted a very good article by Carol Marak headlined Choosing a Health Care Proxy When You’re An ‘Elder Orphan’. Carol runs the Elder Orphan Facebook page.  She points out that most of us don’t consider our long-term care needs until we see someone else struggling with the issues of decline and dependency.  Planning for retirement is not the same as planning for aging.

Also, health care proxies are not just for the end of life, or when we are incapacitated. This person is also your advocate ‘in the middle’, especially if you should develop a chronic condition.   Your proxy person should be someone you trust, someone who knows your values, your goals, your religious beliefs, your end of life decisions.  He or she should also have, in her words, ”the attitude of a pit bull — to not give up or give in because the person meets resistance” – your resistance to decisions that might be difficult to accept.

Additionally, having one health care proxy, while essential, is not enough.  You need a whole support network – people who can check in, do some driving, errands, provide companionship, provide personal help.  It is not too soon to start putting that network in place.  Also, it will need tending.  Friends do come and go – they move away, become involved with their own families and life issues. To have a friend is to be a friend to them and support them while you are able.

 

You can read the full article at http://www.nextavenue.org/choosing-health-proxy-elder-orphan/


More Life Long Learning Opportunities

I recently watched the Age Without Borders Virtual Summit. One of the sessions was about Life Long Learning and the diverse, worldwide opportunities for keeping an active state of mind as we age.

Several sessions dealt with the University for the Third Age. There are local U3A’s in countries all over the world, offering a wide range of local leader-led courses. There is also a website, offering online courses to anyone U3Aonline.org.au.  This is a membership organization.  For an annual membership of about $20 USD, you can take as many independent study courses as you want in that year.  (Since this is an Australian-based organization, the fees on the website are quoted AUS).  There is no equivalent in the US for leader-led courses, but Road Scholar has a page on its website listing Lifelong Learning Institutes in the US.  You can search by zip code for one near you.   http://www.lli.roadscholar.org/find-an-lli-near-you.

The March 2017 issue of AARP Bulletin has an article on online courses (Get Enrolled, page 37.)  They list several additional sites for online lifelong learning courses.

Big Think is defined on Wikipedia as a Web portal that features interviews, multimedia presentations, and roundtable discussions with speakers from a range of fields.  Big Think has also been described as a YouTube for ideas.  The Big Think website offers short articles and videos with a team of experts.  There is also a subscription channel called Edge for businesses.  I did a search for material on retirement, and Big Think listed 264 articles and 82 videos, although many of them had a very limited connection to retirement.  However, there was some very good material from experts such as Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, and the economist Paul Krugman. These are free.

The Great Courses.  These have been around since 1990, offering CD’s and DVD’s of college level course lectures.  Now, Great Courses have gone digital, with a subscription streaming service through their Great Courses Plus website.  You may find, however, a selection of Great Courses at your local library, either CD’s or DVD or streamed.  I am currently watching an online course on The History of the Ancient World on Hoopla, through my local library, however I am limited to five lectures a month. There are a few individual lectures on Youtube.com, plus previews of some courses.

Open Yale University.  These college level lecture courses are free, but no college credit is offered.  Actual Yale professors were taped in class and posted on youtube.  I did note one course that resides on Coursera.  These courses start at specified times, they don’t seem to be available on demand.

EdX  was mentioned in my first article.  It is a MOOC offering college level courses from schools and institutions around the world.  Some are self paced, others start at specific times.  They are free.

 

 


Brain Foods for Brain Health

The Age Without Borders Virtual Summit is running this week, and one of the presentations was by Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo, Professor of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine and president of the Brain Health and Wellness Center. Dr. Lombardo’s subject was “Brain Foods to Help Save Our Brains and Our Bodies,” and she presented recent research on the subject in a very meaningful way.

Her key point was that nutrition and hydration is one of the eleven domains of brain health, and it is a domain that we can totally control.  We decide what we are going to eat or not eat, and how much.  And eating for brain health has the added bonus of preventing negative outcomes in other parts of the body, including heart and coronary artery disease and diabetes.

While many of the foods she listed as being brain healthy were no surprise – veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds – several were surprising, spices and herbs, for one. Spices are strong antioxidants, reducing inflammation which leads to disease.  Cinnamon especially is an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, and helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol.  Another surprise was eggs.  We have been told to limit egg consumption to one egg per week, because egg yolks are high in cholesterol.  Dr. Lombardo cited research which showed that consuming cholesterol in foods does not deposit it in our arteries.  Additionally, our bodies actually need a certain level of cholesterol for digestion and the control of blood sugar levels.

On the negative side was red meat – beef, pork and lamb.  In addition to its saturated fat content, red meat seems to be detrimental in other ways which are not well understood at present.    Limit consumption of red meat to once or twice a month.

Dr. Lombardo had her strongest words for sugar, not cholesterol.  Sugar, she said, is “The pathway to Alzheimer’s Disease.”  It is sugar that deposits the plaque in our arteries and leads to the tangles in the brain that cause memory loss and Alzheimer’s.  Excess sugar consumption shrinks the hippocampus, that part of the brain that is associated with memory and emotions.  This is true even in teenagers.

Sugar is in everything these days.  Read the labels on processed food packages to see how much sugar has been added.  Better yet, avoid processed foods altogether.  Soda is especially evil.  Even so-called ‘lite’ or low sugar foods made with artificial sweeteners are a risk to our health.  The only sweetener recommended is Stevia.

These are only a few of her recommendations.  Check her website for a Memory Preservation Nutrition Program plus resources, recipes and research supporting a healthy brain.  The Brain Health and Wellness Center’s website is  http://brainwellness.com/  It is a good source for brain healthy recipes,  information about brain health, and the research behind it. For specific recommendations, see the Consumer Nutrition Tips page:  http://brainwellness.com/nutrition/consumer-nutrition-tips-advice/


Elder Orphans

I have the makings of an elder orphan.  That is a term now used to describe older adults who have no support system – no families or friends left as they age, at least, none in the immediate area who can and are willing to be caregivers or provide support in other ways.   I have no family, but I do have a lot of friends.  I am not alone in this respect.  Almost half of all women over 75 lived alone in 2015, and that percentage increases as we age.   Nearly 23 percent of people over 65 are — or risk becoming — elder orphans, according to a study done by New York geriatrician Maria Torroella Carney.

Here is a story about one of them:  A woman of my acquaintance, an elder orphan, was living in her home with round-the-clock aides.  She had a fall, and was admitted to the hospital.  The hospital at discharge said she was no longer able to live in her home, and they discharged her to an assisted living facility.  She is extremely unhappy about this and resisting all efforts to help her adjust to the new environment.  While she has no family, she does have the support of some people from her church who are trying to help her.    There are other stories in the news of older people found dead or ailing in their homes, often full of clutter, and no one knew they were even there.  As a colleague of mine sighed about one of them “a social worker’s worst nightmare.”

What can we do to ensure that we will be able to live out our lives with dignity and as much independence as we can muster when no family is there to step in when we start to fall apart?    We need to create The Plan, and to do that, we must face the reality that we will age, and if we live long enough, we will need care.  These are not pleasant topics, but, as they say in business, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Having a plan is no guarantee that things will work out as you projected, but at least, you will have a starting point.

That starting point is the paperwork.  As I have written before, we need to be sure our wants and desires are made know to those who would care for us.  And, we need to have people in place, including someone with Power of Attorney to handle our financial matters and a Health Care Proxy to make medical decisions when we cannot.  If you have not named a health care proxy and you become incapacitated, it may be a court-appointed guardian who determines your care, and you may not like the result.  In many states, there is little or no oversight of guardians, which can lead to disaster.

Having these two people in place isn’t enough, though.   We elder orphans need a whole social support network – people who can advocate for us on a day-to-day basis in the hospital or at doctors’ appointments, and help out with the daily stuff we can’t do.  (Be sure to sign HIPPA[1] forms for anyone who might be advocating for you, and give them to your doctors and hospital).  Building and maintaining a social support network is probably the most important thing we can do for ourselves.  That means getting out and getting involved with people in our communities.  The woman mentioned above has social support from her church.  Other avenues are neighbors, senior centers, local clubs and libraries.  But most of all, we need to face the hard questions and deal with them.  Wishful thinking is not a plan.

[1] Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996


On Flunking Retirement

I recently ran across an article by Mark Walton on Why We’re Flunking Retirement.  Now, it has been my position that you cannot ‘flunk retirement’.  If one thing does not make you happy, providing meaning to your life, you can try something else – or two or three something elses.  You are not building a career here, and can take your time to find out what works for you.  And over time that can, and probably will, change. There are any number of opportunities out there waiting for you to discover them.

Mr. Walton’s article caught my eye, however, because he cited Peter Drucker, the Father of Modern Management.  Peter Drucker’s writings were required reading for us MBA students at New York University, and as a food service manager, I found much that resonated with what I saw in my own organization.

Drucker coined the term Knowledge Worker, one whose body did not wear out from physical labor, and who reached retirement age with a brain that was still working.  For the knowledge worker, a retirement of leisure, referred to as The Golden Years, was not satisfying.  These people need a new way of retiring, one that challenges the mind.

In Drucker’s 33rd major book, “Management Challenges of the 21st Century,” published in 1999, he proposed that the greatest management challenge of the 21st century will be managing oneself.  To do this, we need to know our strengths, identify our values, and know where we belong – the result of the first two points.  From that, we can approach the question of what is my contribution.  Where and how can I make a difference?  This leads many into new careers or volunteer activity in the nonprofit sector. Success is defined as making a difference in the world, or some corner of it, not achieving the top job or the highest salary.

What Drucker proposed has become the Encore movement, spearheaded by Encore.org, an organization dedicated to building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.  Encore looks to harness the experience and skills of boomers to address the problems of the modern world and create a better future for generations to come.  You can read what others are doing in their encore careers at encore.org.

Dr. Drucker, by the way, remains a role model for aging.  He was writing, teaching and consulting up until his death at age 95.

Mark Walton is Chairman of the Second Half Institute which offers courses to people who are approaching the second half of their lives.


Do you have a pill list?

A few posts back, I reported on Dr. James Firman’s keynote at the Positive Aging conference in August.  Dr. Firman is the President and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). In his talk, gave us Seven Keys To A Brighter Future.  One of them concerned letting others know what we want – taking responsibility for our own well-being, including managing chronic conditions.

A friend of mine, age 89, had a stroke a while ago.  By sheer luck, she was found in time by a neighbor who then called 911. (My friend lived alone, and has no family).  The EMS took my friend to a trauma center in the next town.  When I could not get her by phone for several days, I went over to her apartment.  I could see her walker standing in the living room, so I figured she must be in the hospital, and I started calling hospitals in the area. I eventually found out where she was.

The reason I am telling this story is this:  My friend had no experience with that health care system – no medical records there.  They did not know anything about her – past diagnoses, medications, even who her physicians were or who was her health proxy.  She was incapable of telling them anything.   Nevertheless, they did major surgery to remove a clot from her brain.

I started thinking: What if that were me. . . I have a health proxy and stated preferences concerning how I want to be treated.  I have carried a list of my medications and supplements with me for some time, mostly so I don’t have to be bothered remembering the assorted names and doses.  Given my friend’s experience, I took another look at my ‘pill list’, and I expanded it with everything I could think of that might be important in an emergency.  Recently I saw a new doctor. Instead of going through a lengthy medical history, and possibly getting something wrong or missing something important, I handed her my expanded pill list.  She was rather astounded, and very appreciative.  I am confident that she got correct and complete information. I now encourage all my friends to put together such a list and carry it with them.  Some are reluctant – Oh, that’s a lot of work and it isn’t necessary.  I say, you never know when you might need it. You could be hit tomorrow by a low flying elephant on Route One!  My friend did not expect to have a stroke.

Here is what I think should be on that list:

  • Name, address, birth date
  • Diagnosis of any current conditions
  • Blood type
  • Vaccinations with dates
  • History of surgeries
  • Medications, also any medications you are allergic to
  • Supplements
  • Diet including any food allergies
  • Primary doctor with contact information
  • Specialist doctors you see regularly with contact information
  • Your health proxy with contact information

One friend of mine doesn’t go to doctors, and doesn’t take any medications.  She is 81.  It seems to me that it would be helpful for her to have a paper in her purse saying so.  If she ever does have a medical emergency, at least the EMS crew would know they have nothing to go on.  Even if one has no information to put on a ‘pill list’, simply having one  that says so would be responsible behavior, as Dr. Firman advocates. At any rate, it is taking control of our medical conditions to the extent that we are able. The more we can keep on top of our own medical information and condition, the better the level of care the health professionals can provide for us.

I am interested in hearing what you think.  Is there other information that should be on the ‘pill list’?

Carol


Getting Your Affairs In Order

Getting Your Affairs In Order

In a recent post, I reported on Dr. James Firman’s keynote address at the Positive Aging Conference.  One of his Seven Keys to a Brighter Future included taking responsibility for managing ourselves as we age – our health, our lives and our affairs.  This included having our paperwork in order and telling people what we want when we can no longer manage on our own.  This week the National Institute on Aging, a division of the NIH, issued a very good article on Getting Your Affairs in Order. A link to that article is included at the end of this blog.  While many people have the basics – a will, power of attorney and health care proxy, they don’t go far enough.  I am amazed at the number of people who don’t even have the basics, or who have not updated them for a long time.  Family circumstances change and your preferences may change as well, so you need to keep these documents current.

Key points that the NIH article makes:

  • Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or list the information and location of papers in a notebook. If your papers are in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in a file at home. Check each year to see if there’s anything new to add.
  • Tell a trusted family member or friend where you put all your important papers. You don’t need to tell this friend or family member about your personal affairs, but someone should know where you keep your papers in case of an emergency. If you don’t have a relative or friend you trust, ask a lawyer to help.
  • Give permission in advance for your doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver as needed. There may be questions about your care, a bill, or a health insurance claim. Without your consent, your caregiver may not be able to get needed information. You can give your okay in advance to Medicare, a credit card company, your bank, or your doctor. You may need to sign and return a form.

I would add to the first point that if your papers are in a bank safe box, your executor will have to provide a death certificate, and possibly other identification in order to access the box.  Key papers need to be readily accessible, because getting proper documentation may take time.  My lawyer recommended that the original of my will be kept in her office so there is no question about its location and authenticity.

Also, there is a difference between the health care power of attorney which names the person to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to make them, and a living will says what you want and don’t want in the way of care. You need both documents. The names of these documents may differ in your state.

Another point:  Some financial institutions will not recognize your power of attorney, or will only recognize recently executed documents.  They have their own PofA form that needs to be completed and signed.  Check with your bank or brokerage house to see what their policy is.  If your PofA is not recognized, he or she will not be able to withdraw funds from your account to pay for your care.

It is not easy to confront these issues related to disability and death, but it is essential if you want your wishes to be known and followed.  You will also make it a lot easier for your power of attorney or executor to manage your affairs.  I urge you to read the NIH article at the link listed below.  There is a lot of information there and links to additional resources. You can also sign up to get regular emails from them.

Carol

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/getting-your-affairs-order


Men and Loneliness

In several previous posts, I talked about loneliness and its devastating impact on the physical and mental health of older adults.  And men seem to have a lot more difficulty than women on this score.  Perhaps that has to do with the loss of work contacts that comes with retirement. Those contacts  support our identity and our sense of meaning and purpose.  Many men have concentrated on their work, and have not had time to build and maintain friendships outside of the work place.  But once you leave the job, those friendships will fade, unless you have something in common with those people outside of the job.

In the movie Five Friends, the narrator quotes the American writer and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard, who said, “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.”  Why is it so difficult for men to maintain five real friendships?

There is growing research about masculinity, including men’s friendships.   Dr. Daniel Duane, writing in the Men’s Journal, says that men have different types of friendships:  Convenience friendships involve an exchange of helpful information.  Mentor friends are just that – tutors. The third type is the activity friendship – fellows who get together to do something together -fish, ski or go to a ball game, for example.  With men, these types of friendships fade when there is no longer a need for them.  Earlier research called this The Male Deficit Model, and attributed it to norms about masculinity.  A different type, which women do much better than men, is the intimate friendship –where parties feel safe in confiding feelings, giving and receiving social support.  For some men, the only person they can confide in is their spouse, who is also the primary organizer of the couple’s social life.

How does a retired man find new friends?  Here are some suggestions

  • What activities do you enjoy? Look in your area for groups that are engaged in those activities. Their meetings will be listed in your local paper.
  • Check out your local senior center or place of worship. They frequently have men’s groups.
  • Volunteering is a great way to engage in activities you like to do and meet new friends.
  • Meetup.com is a website listing groups all over the country. Type in your location and you will get a list of groups meeting near you.  You can also search for specific types of groups.
  • If you look around the local coffee shops or mall food courts, you may see a table full of older men having breakfast, lunch or just coffee, and involved in conversation about just about any topic. These are ROMEOs– Retired Old Men Eating Out; they form spontaneously or may be organized by a local organization.  Ask if you can join them.  IF you can’t find ROMEOs group in your area, start one.  AARP has an article on them at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends/info-01-2011/romeo_retired_men_club.html

So guys, get off the couch, turn off the TV and get out there with others.  It’s good for your health, not to mention your joy in life.