Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Digital Assets Pose New Challenges

Digital Assets Pose New Challenges

Your heirs may find themselves at the mercy of thieves if digital assets are not protected. When I first heard a speaker talk about managing digital assets, I dismissed it as “I don’t really have any of those…” It that is your outlook on digital assets, think again: its almost impossible today to not have a significant digital footprint. Your heirs may find themselves facing some problems that are difficult to solve, if your digital assets are not organized, according to the White Mountain Independent in “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?” Among the problems, is the chance of hackers trying to obtain your assets. Here is a list of your personal accounts that may be online: Financial accounts: banking, brokerage, bill-paying utilities; Virtual property: credit card points, frequent flyer miles, cryptocurrency; Business accounts: eBay, Amazon, Etsy; stock photo accounts; Email accounts: Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo; Social network: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram; and Online digital storage: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud. Those are many assets to protect. Where do you start? First, create an inventory. Use the categories above or create your own. However, you should make it organized. Think about using a password storage program, like Lastpass or Nortons. They are inexpensive and incredibly handy. Make sure the password to that is very good. Document your wishes for how you want your digital assets to be managed. If you don’t specify this, you may be leaving a wide-open arena for long legal battles. Your heirs and beneficiaries may never gain access to them. Hackers might go after them and use your identity. Your heirs may also have to engage in an expensive and protracted battle with a social media giant with costs eating into their inheritance. Provide for managing digital assets on your Power of Attorney and Will. This is a relatively new area, but you can provide power to your attorney in fact and will for management of such assets. Not all states recognize this position, so you’ll want to speak with a local estate planning attorney to find out what the laws are in your state. Maryland has the Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which provides powers for the executor in this regard. You will also need to go through all of your online accounts and learn what each platform requires, in the instance of the account owner’s death. Review your plans, especially as you add new digital assets. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances, including your digital accounts. Reference: White Mountain Independent (Oct. 26, 2018) “Is your ‘digital estate’ in order?”

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Gifting to Charity

Getting the Best Results from Charity Giving

End of the year is the busiest time for charities. As the holidays near and the New Year approaches, people often think of charitable giving. Charities certainly do. There are ways to have your donations get the best results, according to the Lebanon Democrat in “A few thoughts on charitable giving, taxes.” Here are a few ways that your generosity can maximize the benefit you and your charity of choice: Bundle your itemized deductions, if possible. If you can time the payment of qualifying deductible expenses, including charitable donations, do so in alternate years. This increases the chances that you’ll be able to itemize your deductions. You may want to notify the charity that you are giving this year is a larger gift, because it will be covering a two-year period. Select the right assets to contribute to a charity. For outright gifts made in your lifetime, consider using highly appreciated assets, like stocks. This will allow you to bypass owing capital gains taxes on the appreciation and claim the entire value of the assets, as a charitable contribution. If you make a donation using this method to fund an income-returning gift or a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust, you delay the recognition of the capital gain. In most cases, you can pay this in smaller amounts, over a period of years. What if you want to make a gift that also generates income? Use a charitable gift annuity or a charitable remainder trust. These gifts typically require significantly higher values, so you may be able to itemize in the year they are funded. However, only a portion of the contribution is deductible. That is because the donor receives income for life or for a certain amount of time. These gifts are usually funded with stock, cash or real estate. Taxpayers who are 70½ years old or older and required to take minimum distributions from retirement accounts, may have distributions made directly from their account to a qualified charity. If this transaction is done properly, the amount of the distribution is not added to taxable income. You will not receive a charitable deduction using this method, but you can lower your taxable income for the year and give your charity of choice a much-needed donation. Lastly, consider adding bequests and beneficiary designations in your end-of-life planning. Part of your legacy can include charitable gifts. There are a few ways to do this: designate a percentage of your estate to be donated to charity, specify a charitable organization as the full or partial beneficiary of a life insurance policy, an investment or bank account or any account that transfers by designation or leave a dollar amount or property to a charity. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can include charitable giving. Reference: Lebanon Democrat (Nov. 21, 2018) “A few thoughts on charitable giving, taxes”

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Money in Trust

Put Not Your Trust in Money, Put Your Money in Trust

“Put not your trust in money, put your money in trust”, per Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. is embraced by estate planning lawyers and shows that trusts are not a passing fad. Everyone needs an estate plan, and when you understand what a trust does, your plan should probably include one, at least conditionally. According to The New York Times in “Life After Death? Here’s Why You Should Have a Trust.” It turns out that many people who are not wealthy can also benefit from having a trust. I consider a trust essentially a box to manage assets. There are many different kinds of trusts which serve different purposes and can be effective now or at death. One is a revocable trust, which the owner can change. They are considered by many to be the “work horse” of modern estate planning. A revocable trust can avoid the need for a public probate court proceeding after the person dies, saving time and keeping money from being immediately available to heirs and executors alike. Such a trust is created and holds assets during your lifetime. Other considerations regarding revocable trusts: You should have any type of trust set up by an estate and trust attorney. A house, real property, bank or investment accounts can be placed into a trust. A revocable trust does not always end at the death of the original owner. However, just how long it may last, depends upon the laws of your state. People also use trusts to protect their assets from others or to assure the long-term care of someone who is disabled. You can have a professional manager, family member or friend as a trustee or co-trustee of a trust. Sometimes having a licensed professional who has federal reporting requirements can provide an extra layer of protection. They are not a public record, unlike your will. Trusts are also useful for times when people become incapacitated and need someone else to take care of their finances. Because many more people are living longer and the number of people with dementia is increasing, there are more situations where trusts are useful to the family and caregivers. A trust can also be created in your Last Will and Testament.  We rarely create a will without a trust. A trust created in a will is a “Testamentary Trusts” because it is within your Last Will and Testament, but it can manage assets in much the same way as a revocable trust would. The difference is mechanical: the Testamentary Trust receives asset often through a probate process, because wills work through probate. A Testamentary Trust can be a designated beneficiary of life insurance, retirement plans and annuities. Care should be taken in drafting and when doing so because of issues like stretching out IRA withdrawals. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include taking a close look at trusts. Reference: The New York Times (March 22, 2018) “Life After Death? Here’s

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