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Feb. 23 2011 — 11:35 am | 171 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Digital Estates: The New Frontier

By BERNARD A. KROOKS

How much time do you spend on the Internet? Chances are that you make some of your most important decisions online – or at least in front of a computer – and that your “digital life” should be reflected in your estate plan.

It’s likely that you bank, invest, or shop electronically. You may have an e-commerce website or a blog. Then consider LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and online storage of family photos. Not to mention all those email accounts. In this age of increasingly paperless offices, do your heirs and business associates know where your important commercial documents are stored?

If your estate plan fails to consider your digital footprint, beneficiaries could face threats to their privacy and economic security, not to mention the loss of the material with sentimental value.

How big a problem?

Calculate the number of places that you digitally store valuable information and the various passwords you use to protect it. Don’t forget your smart phone and flash drive. Even if your heirs know where to look, they may not be able to gain access to your accounts. Many online companies lack policies for handling digital assets after someone’s death. And it’s even more complex if the owner becomes mentally incapacitated.

The estate planning community hasn’t kept pace with social changes. Legal precedents concerning paper documentation and real property do not apply to online activity and the subject has yet to capture the attention of many bar associations. In the meantime, what should responsible individuals do to ensure that their loved ones aren’t faced with total confusion in the midst of their mourning?

How to prepare

Your changing lifestyle should be reflected in your will and you should name a “Digital executor” who is comfortable with technology. That may mean he or she is not the same person authorized to manage the rest of your estate. Then you should store a printout or flash drive containing your key information with your attorney or in another secure location. The information, which should be updated regularly, should include: online accounts, including number, user id and password, names and locations of important digital files, instructions about handling files.

Should a website, social networking profile, or blog be closed down? Should some emails be saved? Directions for notifying online contacts (LinkedIn, Twitter, blog audience) of your death. The dilemma is that all this organization conflicts with security. We’re advised to change passwords often and never to write them down. Yet documenting them is necessary to ease the burden on your heirs. This could become a serious issue for the state planning community. Questions are likely to arise about where to store sensitive information, who has access, and client willingness to pay for the service.

Enter the online entrepreneurs

Sensing a business opportunity, a number of “digital afterlife” ventures have cropped up on the Web. Their services include storage of passwords, assigning of beneficiaries and instructions to heirs. Some of these startups position themselves as partners to estate planners, providing a secure repository for confidential information and advice on the intricacies of the online world. But the legal basis for naming beneficiaries online is questionable. If you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of inventorying your digital assets, you certainly want to ensure that your wishes will hold up in court – and that the service you’ve used is still in business.

Other big questions

I recently read about a fan who copied the entire contents of a deceased individual’s blog with the intention of ensuring its preservation. Family members were moved by the sentiment, but what if the intent had been less benign? What legal rights would the heirs have? Who actually “owns” the blog?

This and many other fundamental questions await consideration by both legislatures and courts, and some of the answers may vary by state. In the meantime, the safest course is to keep your beneficiaries informed and to watch for developments in this evolving body of law.

 


Feb. 16 2011 — 9:15 am | 1,161 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The Five Phases of Retirement Planning

By BERNARD A. KROOKS

Retirement has changed radically over the last several decades in America. Years ago, you expected to work most of your life for a single, large employer and you then count on a pension. “Retirement planning” meant figuring out how to use your free time. Today, in all likelihood you will be living in retirement on money you, yourself, saved. “Planning” means calculating rates of return and deciphering tax rules.

This change from institution-funded to self-funded retirement constitutes a dramatic shift of responsibility.

The section begins with an explanation of the stages along that continuum — the five phases of retirement planning and the key aspects of good planning to be carried out during each phase. Below is a summary.

PHASE I: Accumulation
This period begins when you enter the workforce and begin setting aside funds for later in your life, and ends when you actually retire. If your employer offers 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plans, have you signed up and are you contributing the maximum allowed? Did you know that the “new normal” requires retirement savings rates for most Americans to exceed 10 percent? If self-employed, are you shortchanging yourself on Social Security in order to reap tax deductions?

PHASE II: Pre-Retirement

This phase occurs during the final years of the accumulation phase and should begin when you reach 50 years old or are 15 years away from retiring, whichever happens first. Now is the time to get your plan in place, making sure your finances are lined up correctly for retirement day so nothing will be left to chance. If you work for a company with a benefits specialist, arrange an appointment to become informed about the various ways you can convert your employer retirement savings into a stream of income or an IRA. Consider using a tool known as “scenario planning.” Start learning about Social Security and your options for beginning to receive retirement benefits. Familiarize yourself with the basics of Medicare.

PHASE III: Early-Retirement

This phase lasts from the day you retire until you are 70 years old. (For those who do not plan to retire until well into their 70s, some tasks in this phase may occur later.) A key purpose of this phase is to create a clear communication channel with your family so information can be shared, questions asked and answered, and decisions made in a calm, supportive way. It’s also the time to assess how well your finances are working now that you are using your retirement savings. Fine-tune your income and expense projections, taking into consideration how you will meet minimum distribution requirements from your tax-deferred accounts.

PHASE IV: Mid-Retirement
This phase begins at age 70 and lasts as long as you are able-bodied and high-functioning. Despite your good health, begin looking at what steps you would like your family to take should your condition decline significantly. In most cases your ability to make all your own decisions, care for yourself, engage with the world on your terms, and manage your affairs does not vanish in a split second. It takes courage to dive into a conversation about giving up and transferring control.

PHASE V: Late-Retirement
This phase begins when your health has taken a turn for the worse and there is little likelihood of it being fully restored. You require significant help to function day to day. The hope is that by this point all the planning done in prior years makes this transition as manageable and life-affirming as possible.

For more on retirement planning, visit www.littmankrooks.com or www.elderlawnewyork.com.

Last Thursday night I was treated to The Russian National Ballet Theatre’s Giselle. Performed on the large stage of the Lycian Centre in Sugar Loaf, the story of the ballet is set in a Rhineland Village and tells of a peasant girl, Giselle, who falls in love with a Count and of a hunter who is crazy for her. The magic of the perfect unison and flawless technique of the Corps de Ballet was a considerable match for the excellent Giselle, performed by Ekaterina Egorova, who literally flew through the air and across the stage with the grace of a Giselle. The young ballerinas in the audience were transfixed as were we all. The costumes were to die for.

Are you having difficulty getting the pension or 401(k) plan funds you worked years to earn? Five pension counseling projects, funded through the U. S. Administration on Aging and serving plan participants and their beneficiaries in 22 states, can help!

The retirement system’s complexity and unresponsiveness can overwhelm the most tenacious retirees when they try to obtain the pensions they have earned. Companies change their names, merge or go bankrupt. They terminate, freeze and under-fund pensions. In some instances companies deny that employees worked for them, or they miscalculate pension benefits. Death or divorce can add difficulty in securing pension benefits. Solving these problems is the work of the pension counseling projects.

Since their inception in 1992, the pension counseling projects have obtained pension benefits valued at more than $75 million for workers and retirees who have earned them.

In most cases pension counseling projects confront a seemingly never-ending succession of brick walls to obtain what a retiree clearly appears to be entitled to. For example, a 62-year-old man from Connecticut worked for a large communications company for nearly 21 years, more than enough time to meet the legal requirements for vesting. He called the Pension Action Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, utterly frustrated that after trying for more than a year, he was unable to get his pension.

First, company officials told him that they had no record of his employment. After he provided proof of his employment, they told him he must have worked in a position that was not covered by the pension plan. When he asked what that position was and why it was not covered, they said that they didn’t know because they had no records. The same baffling statements were initially repeated to the Pension Action Center.

Obtaining the legal documents that governed the plan proved that there was no basis for the statements. The documents specifically provided that “all employees” were pension plan participants and would accrue benefits under the plan. The Action Center filed a formal claim on the man’s behalf, pointing out the plan provisions and documenting his lengthy employment. After months of follow-up phone calls and letters, a favorable decision was received. The man received a monthly pension of more than $600 for his lifetime with an estimated value of more than $144,000.

Helping this man to get the benefits he had earned was gratifying, but the effort it took would anger and frustrate anyone who did not have the knowledge and persistence to finally win. That is what the pension counseling projects provide.

The pension counseling projects offer a unique and confidential service that is free of charge for individuals who need help. If either you, your company or pension plan is within a project’s service area, you may contact your project for help. Here are the pension counseling projects and the states they cover:

Mid-Atlantic Pension Rights Project
New York Pension Rights Office — (800) 355-7714

Serving New York and New Jersey
New England Pension Rights Project
Pension Action Center — (888) 425-6067

Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont

Upper Mid-West Pension Rights Project
Minnesota Pension Rights Office — (866) 783-5021

Serving Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota

Iowa Pension Rights Office — (800) 992-8161

Serving Iowa

Western States Pension Rights Project
California Pension Rights Project — (916) 551-2140

Serving California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii

Mid-America Pension Rights Project
Michigan Pension Rights Office — (866) 735-7737

Serving Michigan, Tennessee and parts of Pennsylvania

Ohio Pension Rights Office — (866) 735-7737

Serving Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania

According to our new governor, our school districts have $1.5 billion in reserves and unspent federal funds that should offset his $1.5 billion education cuts. Wonder what our school superintendents and school board presidents have to say about that? 

Cuomo also sugests cutting salaries of those administrators who earn more than $150,000 in salaries and benefits.  He called them “high priced school administrators” and says that it will affect 2,000 people running our schools.

This is a hard time for many of us and I feel that  New York has to stand on its own feet. Not the sand that is crumbling beneath our New York State Legislature.  This is a time for open debate. Not yelling but a discussion that brings results.

Congratulations to Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids and Friends for their big win last night! “Tomorrow’s Children,” a CD by Pete Seeger with The Rivertown Kids and Friends, featuring former students from J.V. Forrestal Elementary School in Beacon, won the Grammy for Best Musical Album For Children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were lucky to interview Mr. Seeger in our  December 2010 issue and we send out our warmest wishes to him and these talented students.

Lorraine Hughes, Certified Herbalist

When we think about increasing our energy, sadly, us westerners will usually reach for something caffeinated.  Lorraine Hughes, a Certified Herbalist from Wappingers Falls has a different approach, one that is rooted in Chinese teachings thousands of years old.  Lorraine says “cultivating our life force increases our vitality.  How we nourish ourselves is always the root of who we are and how energetic we can be without depleting our essence.”  You are what you eat indeed.

Lorraine, who is the owner operator of Empowered By Nature, further explains that most people look outside themselves for the cause of their disease, when in fact they fail to recognize that only they have the power to initiate wellness.

Qi-Gong, also a discipline taught by Lorraine, is an essential modality of Chinese medicine used to assist our quest for balance of mind, body, and spirit.  Her next Qi-Gong classes will be held on Feb 19th, March 5th and 19th at the Inner Light Health Spa, located at 4158 Albany Post Road in Hyde Park.  For more information or to schedule a consultation visit her website here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. A 2009 survey by the American Heart Association indicates that a woman in the United States suffers a heart attack every minute.

In fact, women are twice as likely as men to experience nausea, vomiting, or indigestion during their heart attack. Because many women are unaware of the symptoms of a heart attack, they do not react properly and seek immediate help. Women are also more likely than men to have other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure and, therefore, the need for timely medical response becomes even more crucial.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Women’s Health has created a national public education campaign, “Make the Call. Don’t Miss a Beat” to educate women and their families about heart attack symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Unusually heavy pressure on the chest
  • Sharp upper body pain in the neck, back, and jaw
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Unusual or unexplained fatigue (tiredness)
  • Unfamiliar dizziness or light-headedness
  • Unexplained nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) or vomiting

For more information about women’s health, visit www.womenshealth.gov/heartattack.

Littman Krooks LLP offers legal services in several areas of law, including elder law, estate planning, veterans’ benefits, special needs planning, special education advocacy, and corporate and securities. The firm’s offices are located at 399 Knollwood Rd,. White Plains, New York; 655 Third Avenue, New York, New York; and 300 Westage Business Center Drive, Fishkill, New York. For more information about Littman Krooks LLP, visit www.littmankrooks.com.

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