Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Is Something Missing from Your Estate Plan? How to Keep 'Digital Assets' in the Family

TechIn this modern day, people can often be confused on what digital assets are. Not all of them fit into a neat little box, because some may have merely sentimental value while others may indeed have real financial value. Those with financial value can include Bitcoin, blogs that earn income, reward points for credit cards or airlines, etc. Digital assets that only have sentimental value include social media accounts (except for maybe the Kardashians), email accounts, and digital photographs.

To make sure that the important files or accounts are passed on to your heirs, you need to make an inventory. Then consider using a "password manager" on your computer or cell phone for these accounts. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, there are several different cloud based wallets to store them.

Now, spouses and heirs cannot simply log on to your social media accounts if they know the login and password; federal privacy laws prohibit this. But Google and Facebook have settings where you can establish and name a person that will take over and oversee your account after your passing. As technology continues to find its way into different aspects of our lives, incorporating digital assets into your estate plan has become yet another way to leave behind a legacy that reflects a life well lived.

See Kevin Duncan, Is Something Missing from Your Estate Plan? How to Keep 'Digital Assets' in the Family, Fiduciary Trust, May 30, 2019.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

For more information, see here.

May 30, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Washington Becomes the First State to Legalize Composting of Humans

DirtWashington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill this Tuesday that legalizes human composting, but the law will not go into effect until May of next year. Human composting speeds up the process in which dead bodies turn into soil. Human composting will be the third option for citizens, combined with traditional burials and cremations.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Jamie Pedersen, said it is an environmentally friendly way of disposing of human remains and that it gives citizens more "freedom to determine for themselves how they'd like their body to be disposed of." The option also will be cheaper, estimating that composting will cost $5,500 compared to burials at $8,000 to $25,000 and cremations ranging up to $6,000.

According to Katrina Spade, the CEO of the human composting company Recompose, a "body is covered in natural materials, like straw or woods chips, and over the process of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil." The family of the deceased will then received the soil that remains, and will be up to them how they use the soil.

Recently, Luke Perry's family had his body undergo a similar process by burying him in a "mushroom suit."

See Faith Karimi & Amir Vera, Washington Becomes the First State to Legalize Composting of Humans, CNN, May 22, 2019.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

May 23, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Facebook Will be Overrun by Dead People Within 50 years, Researchers Say

FbAccording to new research from the Oxford Internet Institute, by 2070 the number of users on that are dead could outnumber the amount of living people using Facebook. The Institute predicts that at least 1.4 billion Facebook users will die before 2100, with the dead outnumbering the living in about 50 years. This could have serious implications for the manner in which the social media network stores our digital profiles.

The lead author of the study, Carl Ohman, said that, "These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions surrounding who has the right to this data, how should it be managed in the best interests of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past." Though Facebook is a for-profit firm, co-author David Watson says that there are also major public policy concerns. "Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behavior and culture been assembled in one place. Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history...It is also important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history."

Many parts of the world is seeing a decline in new and continuing users of Facebook, either because of privacy concerns with the digital data as a whole or are turning to other social media applications. The study's predictions are based on data from the United Nations, which provided researchers with the expected number of deaths and total populations of each country in the world distributed by age, along with Facebook data from the company's Audience Insights feature.

See Christopher Carbone, Facebook Will be Overrun by Dead People Within 50 years, Researchers Say, Fox News, April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Hot Tech Solutions to Keep Older Adults Safe From Financial Abuse

ElderlawThe estimates of elder financial abuse losses very depending on the source, but they range from $3 to $40 billion per year. The National Adult Protective Services Association estimates that 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others. Sadly, the Association also reports that only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse are reported to the authorities, and that 1 in 10 cases are so devastating that the victim must turn to Medicaid because their savings were annihilated.

A company called SilverBills is attempting to keep vulnerable older adults safe from financial abuse with an application assisting in paying their bills. The founder was a practicing attorney, Marci Lobel-Esrig, that witnessed first-hand the large number of elders that were taken of advantage of, especially by the Bernie Madoff scandal. The app is concierge bill pay service with a subscription model in which, after signing a contract, an older person’s bills are managed by the company. They currently have a partnership with the New York Department for the Aging, which allows them to offer their service free to those who qualify.

Another company assisting older citizens in EverSafe, which monitors bank accounts, savings and investment accounts, credit cards and credit information. It also works on a subscription basis and offers a free trial.After establishing a baseline from historical financial behavior, they can identify erratic activity, anomalies like unusual withdrawals, missing deposits, and changes in spending patterns. A third company entering this protection sphere is TrueLink, which offers prepaid Visas that can be partnered with trusted family members or even attorneys, guardians, fiduciaries, care managers, home care providers, and daily money managers.

See Sara Zeff Geber, Hot Tech Solutions to Keep Older Adults Safe From Financial Abuse, Forbes, April 23, 2019.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 25, 2019 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Property Management, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bitcoin Surges as Cryptocurrency Market Suddenly Springs to Life

CryptoEarlier this week saw a surge in the price of the most popular form of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, increasing its stock to the highest level since November of last year. Traders were at odds to figure out exactly what caused the increased interest, but it appeared that the demand leapt forward after the price breached the $4,200 level.

The price of Bitcoin had been calm for the last three months, though sudden swings are nothing new to the stock, especially considering last year's 74% crash. “The Bitcoin market and crypto market in general continues to be small relative to the rest of the markets -- and emotional,” said Jehan Chu, managing partner at blockchain investment and advisory firm Kenetic Capital. “It’s still very much subject to waves of enthusiasm.

George Harrap, chief executive officer at Bitspark, said his contacts in the Bitcoin community have yet to identify a catalyst for the sudden jump. The cryptocurrency’s susceptibility to wild price swings has made it popular among speculators, who are eager for a return to the glory days of 2017 when Bitcoin surged more than 1,400%.  This extreme volatility is a reason why the virtual currency has yet to reach its hoped-for potential in the global medium of exchange.

See Eric Lam, Bitcoin Surges as Cryptocurrency Market Suddenly Springs to Life, Bloomberg, April 2, 2019.

April 4, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Article on Blockchain Wills

BlockchainBridget J. Crawford recently published an Article entitled, Blockchain Wills, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

Blockchain technology has the potential to radically alter the way that people have executed wills for centuries. This Article makes two principal claims – one descriptive and the other normative. Descriptively, the Article suggests that traditional wills formalities have been relaxed to the point that they no longer serve the cautionary, protective, evidentiary and channeling functions that scholars have used to justify strict compliance with wills formalities. Widespread use of digital technology in everyday communications has led to several notable cases in which individuals have attempted to execute wills electronically. These wills have had a mixed reception. Three states currently recognize electronic wills and the Uniform Law Commission is drafting a model Electronic Wills Act This Article identifies some of the weaknesses in existing state statutes and the model law and considers how technology can address those problems.

This Article explores how blockchain, the open-source technology underlying cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, could be harnessed to create a distributed ledger of wills that would maintain a reliable record of a testator’s desires for the post-mortem distribution of estate assets. These blockchain instrument easily could qualify as wills under existing substantial compliance doctrine or the Uniform Probate Code’s harmless error rule. Blockchain wills would serve the true purpose of wills formalities – which is to authenticate a document as the one executed by the testator with the intention of having it serve as the binding directive for the distribution of her property. By uniting blockchain technology with the innovations of the best aspects of electronic wills legislation, a blockchain will could serve as a reliable, authentic and secure record of a decedent’s last wishes for disposition of her property.

This Article’s account has important implications for the legal profession. As financial institutions and governments have moved to develop blockchain-based solutions for the delivery of services, lawyers have lagged behind. In some legal circles, attorneys have become interested in “smart contracts” and the possibility of using blockchain to create a more accurate record of real property deeds. But most lawyers have not yet invested the requisite time and energy needed to understand how blockchain works and to develop systems that would use the technology effectively. By demonstrating how blockchain could make wills cheaper to prepare and less susceptible to tampering, this Article also points to multiple other uses for blockchain in the legal profession, including authentication of chain of ownership, record-keeping and drafting of all kinds. Even though lawyers have been slow to harness blockchain’s potential, the technology holds the promise to transform the practice of law into a form that will be unrecognizable to today’s lawyers.

April 3, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

New Study Shows an Eye Scan Can Detect Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

EyeThe Duke Eye Center have discovered that the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye of patients with Alzheimer's are altered through the help of a new, non-invasive device. The researchers also revealed that they can distinguish between people with Alzheimer’s and those with only mild cognitive impairment. The study, published online in Ophthalmology Retina, a journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, brings forth a quick and inexpensive way to detect the disease in its early stages.

The imaging used in the research is called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA). It enables physicians to see blood vessels in the back of the eye that are smaller than a strand of hair. Researchers have focused several studies on the retina because it is an extension of the brain and shares many similarities with it, and thus the changes within the retina may mirror the changes within the brain in Alzheimer's sufferers.

The study consisted of using OCTA to study the retinas in 70 eyes of 39 Alzheimer’s patients with 72 eyes of 37 people with mild cognitive impairment, as well as 254 eyes of 133 cognitively healthy people. The researchers found that those with Alzheimer's had loss of small retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye and that a specific layer of the retina was thinner when compared to people with mild cognitive impairment and healthy people.

See New Study Shows an Eye Scan Can Detect Signs of Alzheimer's Disease, Science Blog, March 11, 2019.

March 31, 2019 in Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Article on Online Tools under RUFADAA: The Next Evolution in Estate Planning or a Flash in the Pan?

ToolsJustin H. Brown and Ross E. Bruch recently published an Article entitled, Online Tools under RUFADAA: The Next Evolution in Estate Planning or a Flash in the Pan?, Probate and Property Magazine, Vol. 33 No. 2, March/April 2019. Provided below is an introduction to the Article.

Over the past five years, the estate planning process for digital assets has dramatically transformed. Much of this transformation is the result of the United Law Commission's introduction of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) in September 2015, which a majority of US states and territories have adopted with some variations. RUFADAA, like its predecessor, UFADAA, was drafted with the intent to unify and clarify states laws with respect to a fiduciary's ability to access an individual's digital assets and electronic communications. However, unlike UFADAA, which presumed a decedent's consent for the decedent's personal representative to access her digital assets, RUFADAA places the burden on the decedent to provide express consent through the decedent's will or another mechanism. Under RUFADAA, an individual may use an "online tool," which is an account-specific feature that an online custodian (e.g., Apple, Google, Yahoo) may offer that enable its users to provide directions for disclosure or nondisclosure of digital assets to a designated person. Online tools are account-specific - in other words, using Google's online tool will not dictate how information held in the decedent's Apple account should be shared. Any assets that are not addressed with an online tool are subject to the terms of a testator's estate planning documents. When digital assets are not addressed by an online tool or an estate planning document, a providers terms of service agreement will dictate access and disclosure of a decedent's digital assets and electronic information.

March 21, 2019 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

CLE on Tax Treatment of Crytpocurrencies: What You Need to Know

CLEThe American Law Institute is holding a webcast entitled, Tax Treatment of Crytpocurrencies: What You Need to Know, on Friday, April 5th, 2019 from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Provided below is a description of the event.

Why You Should Attend
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding cryptocurrency as digital currency platforms gain acceptance for business transactions. There’s also an equal amount of confusion around how to treat cryptocurrencies for federal income tax purposes. Although the IRS has offered some guidance treating some cryptocurrencies as property, the buying, selling, and trading of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, for investment can still raise a lot of questions. The increasing use of digital money has resulted in new ways to acquire and use cryptocurrency, which raises further challenges. Legal counsel, tax advisers, and compliance professionals must fully understand the tax obligations to meet these compliance challenges.

What You Will Learn
Even though the IRS classifies all cryptocurrencies as property, there is still widespread uncertainty over the more complex factors when determining tax liability. Join us for this 60-minute webcast that focuses on the taxable events of cryptocurrencies and compliant reporting issues, including:

• Virtual currency tax compliance issues
• IRS Notice 2014-21: What is and isn’t addressed
• Tax treatment of Forks and Airdrops
• Token offerings and SAFTs
• Reporting obligations

All registrants will receive a set of downloadable course materials to accompany the program.

Who Should Attend
This program is for any lawyer or accountant who is looking for a deeper understand of the tax obligations for cryptocurrencies.

March 20, 2019 in Conferences & CLE, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 8, 2019

Facebook Plans to Turn Your Profile into ‘Virtual Grave’ When You Die

FbSocial media giant Facebook is adding a feature to profiles of those who have passed on that will allow guests to their page to leave comments on a "tribute" section. These memorialized profiles will be an electronic memorial for their deceased account holders.

Depending on the privacy settings of a memorialized account, Facebook friends can still write on the wall of its Timeline or comment on any posts the account holder made before they died. Facebook also has "legacy contacts," which are designated users that can manage the account after the originator has died. Legacy contacts will have the power now to control the tributes section including the ability to decide which other users can see and post tributes, delete posts and tributes, change who can view the page in its entirety, or even change tags of other users.

The ability to change pages into memorial pages started in 2009. The number of Facebook accounts belonging to deceased users continues to grow and will soon outnumber the amount of living users. Facebook has over two billion users but it is thought more than 10,000 of them die everyday.

See Charlotte Edwards, Facebook Plans to Turn Your Profile into ‘Virtual Grave’ When You Die, Fox News, March 6, 2019.

March 8, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)