Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Clock That Uses An Algorithm To Predict When People Will Die

Death clockA group of scientists have recently teamed up with the insurance industry to create an algorithm which can help them predict when customers will expire.  This four year study being launched by the University of East Anglia will use a huge database of medical data to help determine life expectancy and any long-term illnesses people might have.  “The four-year project is being funded by a £800,000 grant from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) and is using experts from insurance giant Aviva.”  As people continue to live longer lifespans insurance companies will need to continue developing new formulas and algorithms that can help them make more accurate predictions about their customers.  This research can also have practical benefits for figuring out how certain medicines or lifestyles can improve longevity and how people should be planning for retirement.

See Sarah Knapton, Scientists and insurers develop ‘death clock’ to predict when customers will die, The Telegraph, March 31, 2016.

March 31, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michigan Joins Ranks Of States To Pass Digital Asset Access Law

ComputerThe issue of who can access digital accounts and assets after the death of the owner has been in the news recently since most states did not have any statutes on point which leaves estates to the mercy of user agreements. But Michigan has joined the ranks of states taking action on the issue with new legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The bill allows a user to use online tools to dictate who may or may not have access to their online content which can be changed at any time. In addition, wills, trusts, and power of attorneys may set the parameters of who may access an online asset and what level of control may be exercised over it. However, the online tool will control over a will so those using it should keep that in mind when seeking to make changes to the access that was granted in a different document. A copy of the new statute can be found here.

See Alexandra Bahou, New Michigan law lets you designate a person to control your digital assets after death, WXYZ, March 30, 2016.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 31, 2016 in Current Affairs, New Legislation, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Growing Concerns About IRS Data Breaches

IRSAs more people file their taxes online there is a growing concern about IRS data breaches. “In early 2015, hackers used the IRS’s “Get Transcript” application to access approximately 334,000 accounts and retrieve millions of taxpayer transcripts from prior years.” Hackers have also been known to use personal data and malware to generate e-filing PIN numbers. The IRS is an attractive target for online hackers because it stores financial and personal information about hundreds of millions of citizens. Lawmakers are talking about the need for more cybersecurity funding so that the IRS can better safeguard the information that it stores. This article provides information about ways individuals can better protect their own financial information. It is important to be skeptical and diligent about monitoring credit reports for unusual activity. People need to be on guard about protecting their own personal information from identity thieves.

See Lauren Williams, The Inevitable: Death, Taxes, and Breaches, Accounting Today, March 23, 2016.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

March 24, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Article On The Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act In Texas

Estate planningAbbey L. Cohen (J.D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) recently published an article entitled, Damage Control: The Adoption Of The Uniform Fiduciary Access To Digital Assets Act In Texas, Texas Tech University School of Law, Estate Planning & Community Property Law Journal, Vol. 8 Book 1, Fall (2015). Provided below is an abstract of the article:

In estate planning, digital asset management (DAM) is changing. While this technological shift has proven to be very advantageous in many aspects of our day-to-day lives, the current laws have not addressed some of the resulting consequences and legal issues. On a daily basis, we collect an abundance of electronic data in our smartphones, computers, and online accounts. These types of digital properties have personal, emotional, and social value to all who use them. Considering how an online photo album can store years of precious memories, how a Facebook account can record an individual’s significant life events and personal thoughts, and how a computer may keep the transcript of a great American novel is important. But what happens to all of these digital assets when we die?

March 22, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article On Revisiting Permissible Solutions For Electronic Wills In Texas

Estate planningJasmine Banks (J.D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) recently published an article entitled, Turning A Won’t Into A Will: Revisiting Permissible Solutions For Electronic Wills In Texas, Texas Tech University School of Law, Estate Planning & Community Property Law Journal, Vol. 8 Book 1, Fall (2015). Provided below is an abstract of the article:

    Statistics show that the majority of individuals who will read this do not have a will; as many as 61% of individuals die intestate. The reasons for foregoing the creation of a will include: “I haven’t gotten around to it,” “It’s not urgent,” or “I don’t have a lawyer.” Today’s technology has shaped society into one that allows individuals to conduct daily tasks from one electronic device. In an era when one can use an iPad to create grocery lists or a camera phone to record videos for YouTube, there is no reason for an individual not to have a will. Wills are extremely important; lack of a will can cause an individual’s property to distribute to unintended individuals or, even worse, escheat to the state. In times when an individual may unexpectedly meet their demise, one cannot afford not to have a will. Estate planning, specifically will formation and execution, is not exempt from these changes in technology, and courts often must decide how to adapt current laws to existing technology. How can the law ensure efficient estate planning in any area if, at the time of the individual’s death, his or her assets cannot be distributed due to an incorrect will?

March 22, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Article On Protecting Digital Assets After Death

Pen and PaperRachel Pinch (J.D Candidate, Wayne State University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Protecting digital assets after death: issues to consider in planning for your digital estate, 60 Wayne L. Rev. 545-565 (2015). Provided below is an excerpt from the article:

 This Note will discuss the importance of and issues within planning for digital assets after death. Part II will begin with an explanation of digital assets and terms of service agreements and highlight various barriers to estate planning for digital assets. Part II will also discuss current state and federal laws related to digital estate planning. Additionally, Part II will include a discussion of the implications of issues with digital estate planning, including actual cases. Part III of this Note will examine the inadequacies of current law, discuss possible changes for terms of service agreements, and enumerate steps for individuals to take in order to best protect their digital assets postmortem.

March 14, 2016 in Articles, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Two New States Adopt Digital Asset Access Bill

ComputerOne of the major issues to emerge in estate planning over the last few years is access to digital accounts by heirs or executors after death or incapacitation of the owner. Currently, the terms of service dictate access to an account with no one policy being dominant as some services allowing complete access under certain circumstances to sites that refuse access to anyone but the owner. But Oregon and Wyoming have joined a handful of other states in adopting legislation that will dictate who can access and control digital assets. The two states passed a version of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Accounts Act which makes it easier for estate administrators to gain access to online assets even when no instructions were left behind. However, additional planning is required by providing a list of assets since, even in those states that have passed fiduciary access laws, a planner needs to know what accounts exist before they can even seek to gain control. As digital assets proliferate, this is an issue that will only grow in importance so always make sure that a client understands the steps that need to be taken to protect their online property.

See Linn Foster Freedman, Oregon and Wyoming enact model digital assets law, Data Privacy and Security Insider, March 9, 2016.

 

March 11, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Is A Popular Method Of Digital Privacy Protection Hurting?

ComputerAs many people have experienced, some online accounts require frequent password changes. Hypothetically, these frequent changes will protect the account but new research from University of North Carolina seems to indicate otherwise. Researchers used deactivated student and teacher accounts that had been subject to frequent changes as well as info about the passwords previously used. What they discovered is that users who are forced to change a password on a regular basis often times used a pattern based on old ones which means that a hacker could more easily guess the new code. In addition, the study found that those who used simple passwords were more likely to continue using simple variants rather than making alterations that make it more secure. This study is yet another that shows the ease with which many hackers can gain access to account. As more people have valuable online assets it is imperative they are protected. This extends to estate planning so when creating passwords always make sure that they will be hard to guess and never reveal it unless absolutely necessary.

See Lorrie Cranor, Time to rethink mandatory password changes, Federal Trade Commission, March 2, 2016.

March 9, 2016 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Is The Liability Of A Fiduciary When An Account Is Hacked?

ComputerAn unfortunate reality of modern life is that all manner of personal and confidential information can be accessed by digital thieves. This includes financial information which can be used to gain access to assets such as retirement plans. Which leads to the question; what are the responsibilities of a retirement plan fiduciary to prevent cyber attack?  ERISA does not explicitly offer an answer since the law was crafted well before the rise of the internet but general duties to act with prudence likely means that at least some preventative measures be taken. Thorough vetting of third party administrators and other with access to accounts should be a priority since many breaches are the result of deliberate action by those with access. In addition, simple steps like properly updating computer security software and properly protecting passwords can tremendously increase security. While no specific set of preventative measure is required by law, it is always a good idea to use a cornucopia of measures to ensure that there will never be a need to test what the legally minimum responsibility might be.

See Danielle Andrus, Are Retirement Plan Fiduciaries Required to Prevent Cyberattacks?, Think Advisor, March 7, 2016.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 9, 2016 in Technology, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 29, 2016

How Longer Lifespans Will Impact Retirement

RetirementAs medical technology continues to advance people are living much longer lifespans. New developments in stem cell technology as well as other healthcare advances might actually reverse the aging process in many people. In 20 or 30 years the average person might be able to expect to live a much longer life than what the average person today can expect. This is going to have a major impact on retirement planning in the future. In today’s world people usually expect to retire and live out their golden years when they are about 65-67 years old. When people are living much longer lives in the future people may have to plan on working well past the age of 65. The whole idea of retirement might have to be changed, people are going to need to plan ahead to be able to afford to live for a long time after they reach retirement age.

See Laura Entis, What Does Retirement Mean When Aging May Soon Be a Thing of the Past?, Entrepreneur, February 29, 2016.

February 29, 2016 in Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)