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Protect Your Family From Wealth’s Dark Side With a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust

When you create your estate plan, the idea that one of your adult children would ever use their inheritance to bankroll a cult is probably something you’d never dream of, much less anticipate.

Yet that’s exactly what 40-year-old Clare Bronfman, heiress to the multi-billion-dollar Seagram’s fortune, did with hers. In the end, with her inheritance—and the power that came with it—she was led her down a dark path that seems almost too outlandish to be true.

In May, Clare pled guilty to felony charges of harboring an illegal alien and fraudulent use of a deceased person’s identity as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. The charges stem from her role as an executive board member of Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um), a group that prosecutors described as a “deeply manipulative pyramid scheme” that forced some of its members to endure slave-like conditions and even have sex with the group’s leader and founder, Keith Raniere. Had she gone to trial for her involvement with Nxivm, Clare would have faced up to 25 years in prison. But given her plea, she’ll likely serve just over two years. Her sentencing is scheduled for July 25.

Following Clare’s plea, Raniere, 58, was found guilty in June on seven felony counts, including racketeering and sex trafficking. He faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced on September 25. His conviction comes following a six-week trial that exposed the world to Nxivm’s sordid inner workings and put wealth’s dark side on full display.

Unforeseen threats
Clare’s sad story highlights just how risky it can be to leave money outright to your children. Indeed, bestowing significant wealth upon your children or grandchildren can turn out to be a blessing—or it can just as easily be a curse.

Fortunately, there are proactive estate planning solutions designed to safeguard your adult children from such scenarios. And these planning protections aren’t just for the extraordinarily rich like Clare’s family—inheriting even relatively modest amounts of wealth can lead to similar issues. Regardless of your asset profile, we can help you put the proper planning vehicles in place to help prevent your heirs from falling prey to wealth’s darkest temptations—or even losing their inheritance to simple mistakes. Indeed, the planning strategies we describe here can safeguard your child’s inheritance from being depleted out by other, less devious events, such as a divorce, a catastrophic medical expense, or even a simple accident. You just never know what life has in store for your heirs, and our planning protections can ensure their inheritance is protected from practically all potential threats—even those you could never possibly imagine.

From self-help to self-sabotage
Clare joined Nxivm, which was billed as a life-coaching program, in 2002 at age 23. She reportedly joined the group in hopes that its mentoring might help her fulfill her dream of making the U.S. Olympic equestrian team. In large part due to her substantial financial contributions, Clare quickly rose to the top ranks of the organization and became increasingly close with Raniere.

According to a recent Forbes article, Raniere took advantage of Clare’s estranged relationship with her elderly father, Edgar Bronfman Sr., and emotionally manipulated her into believing that her family’s money was “evil and that she had to purify it by spending it on ethical things like Nxivm.” To help convince her, Raniere constantly reminded Clare that the Seagram’s fortune was made selling alcohol, and that her grandfather, Samuel Bronfman, earned millions by conveniently setting up his Canadian whiskey distillery directly on the U.S.-Canada border during Prohibition.

Under the spell of Raniere’s devious manipulation, Clare reportedly came to view her financial support of Nxivm as a way to make up for her family’s past. All total, Clare is said to have poured roughly $150 million into Nxivm. Much of the money was spent on funding Raniere’s failed investment schemes in real estate and commodities. Another big chunk of Clare’s inheritance was spent suing Nxivm’s detractors. During her time with the group, Clare reportedly hired nearly 60 lawyers and spent approximately $50 million on lawsuits against journalists, ex-girlfriends of Raniere, and others who were critical of the group.

Big money can cause big problems
While we don’t know the exact age Clare came into her money or just how much of it she had access to, her total inheritance was valued at an estimated $200 million. The inheritance was reportedly held in a trust but given that she funneled roughly three-fourths of that sum into Nxivm in just more than 15 years, it’s likely her money was disbursed outright with little or no direction on how it could be used.

Though her case is extreme, Clare is certainly not the first wealthy person to be negatively impacted by inheriting too much money at a young age—nor will she be the last. Similar cases occur quite often, and no matter how well adjusted your children or grandchildren may seem, there’s just no way to accurately predict how their inheritance will affect them.

One unique planning vehicle designed to prevent the potential perils of outright distributions is a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust (LAPT). These trusts last for the lifetime of their respective beneficiaries and provide them with a unique and priceless gift. With an LAPT, for instance, the beneficiary can use and invest the trust assets, yet at the same time, the trust offers airtight asset protection from unexpected life events, such as divorce or serious debt, which have the potential to wipe out their inheritance.

Exercise your discretion

When drafted properly, an LAPT can be used to educate your beneficiary on how to handle their inheritance. This is done by allowing the beneficiary to become a co-trustee with someone you’ve named at a specific age or stage of life, and then the beneficiary can become the sole trustee later in life, once he or she has been properly educated and are ready to take over.

The LAPT is discretionary, which means that the trust would not only protect your heir from outside threats, like creditors and ex-spouses, but also from their own mistakes. The trustee you name holds the trust’s assets upon your death. This gives the person you choose the power to distribute its assets to the beneficiary at their discretion, rather than requiring him or her to release the assets in more structured ways, such as in staggered distributions at certain ages.

Your direction and guidance
Many of our clients choose to provide non-binding guidelines directing the trustee on how the client would choose to make distributions in up to 10 different scenarios, such as for the purchase of a home, a wedding, the start of a business, and/or travel. Some clients choose to provide guidelines around how they would make investment decisions, as well.

This ensures that future trustees will be aware of your values when determining whether to make distributions, as well as how to invest trust assets, rather than operating in a vacuum of information, which often leads to problems down the road. In many cases, the beneficiary may eventually become the trustee him or herself, and then resign and appoint an independent trustee, if needed, for asset-protection purposes.

Don’t take any chances
You might think that something as depraved as what happened to Clare Bronfman would never happen to your children or grandchildren—but don’t be so sure. It can, and does, happen to even the most successful and upstanding among us. Having too much money at a young age is a Pandora’s Box, so it’s best not to open it.

Yet even if your heirs never experience a threat as evil as Nxivm and Raniere, their inheritance is still vulnerable to more common threats like divorce, poor spending, and sudden accident or illness.

Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to see if a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is the right option for protecting your family wealth and loved ones from situations and circumstances (no matter what they may be), which are simply impossible to foresee. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

7 Processes to Complete With Your Parents Before They Die

In a recent Facebook post “Processes to go through with your parents before they die,” Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Critical Path Institute, outlined seven simple exercises to use with your parents that can offer significant healing and completion for their life and yours. 

While Daniel shared these processes in the context of the impending death of a parent, the reality is that your parents are heading toward death, even if there is no official diagnosis. And starting these processes when mortality isn’t immediately on the table is even better.

Help them make a timeline of their life
Create a timeline of all the big events in their life, starting with birth and their earliest memories up to the present. This is a great way to get to know them even better while you still can. Recalling their life through these stories can help them harvest the gifts, relive the good times, and identify any areas that still feel unresolved. There are apps for creating timelines, but it’s easily done with pen and paper. Create the timeline by writing “birth” on the far left of the page, and draw a horizontal line going towards “death” on the far right. Experiences are placed on the line chronologically in the order they occurred. Positive experiences are depicted as vertical lines going up from the horizontal line, and difficult experiences as lines going down. Write short descriptions to correspond with each experience.

One way to help prompt memories is to ask questions about different people, places, and things from their past: romantic relationships, jobs, and places they lived. Going through old photos, letters, and music can also trigger meaningful memories. When documenting their life events, the positive experiences can simply be recalled and enjoyed. For the negative ones, you can ask them what they learned from the experience and write that lesson in the description. In this way, you can find beauty and meaning in all of it.

Relationship healing
To foster healing in your personal relationship with them, focus on three areas:

Peacemaking: Forgive them for any way they hurt you and help them forgive themselves. Apologize for the ways you hurt them. You want to ensure that neither of you feels any residual pain (resentment, guilt, or remorse) in the relationship.
Appreciation and gratitude: Write them a letter detailing everything you learned from them and all the positive experiences you had together. Go deep within to discover all they did for you, really appreciate it, and use the letter to help them feel your appreciation. Pinpoint any of their virtues you hope to embody most in your life and share that commitment with them, so they know they’ll live on through you once they’re gone.
Reassurance: It’s common for parents to resist leaving you over concerns for your future well-being. Reassure them that you are alright, will be alright, and it’s okay for them to go. Using estate planning to help them get their affairs in order is a major part of this.

Family healing
If possible, help other family members go through the above healing process with your parents. Help your dying parent make peace with everyone in their life, even if some individuals can’t speak directly with them. Reassure them that you’ll help take care of those loved ones who are in the most need.

Wisdom gathering
Ask them for life advice on anything and everything you can think of. As the old African proverb says, “Every time an old person dies, a library burns,” so make sure to write down or record as much of their personal wisdom as possible.

Bucket list
To make the most of the time you have left, ask them if there’s anything they really want to experience before they go, and fulfill as many of these bucket-list items as you can.

Help them see how they touched the world
In addition to documenting the positive impact they’ve had on your life, help them inventory all of the meaningful ways they’ve touched the lives of others. You want them to clearly see all of the beauty and meaning their life has brought to the world.

Help them be at peace with passing
While the above steps can help bring them peace, if they experience any fear of death, do your best to help them move through that. When death comes, you want them to be ready to greet her as an old friend.

If they’re fond of a particular religion or spiritual practice, you can recite their favorite verses, hymns, and/or prayers. Or they might find comfort in hearing their most beloved poems or songs. Silent or guided meditation is often helpful as well. But sometimes, simply offering them your loving presence and holding their hand is enough.

We are exceedingly grateful to Daniel for sharing these practices. If you’d like to share them with friends or family, you can either share this article from us or share Daniel’s note directly here.

Preserving your family’s intangible assets
The life stories, lessons, and values that come from these final conversations can be among the most precious of all your family’s assets. And to make sure these gifts aren’t lost forever, we’ve developed our own process, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages, for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

Indeed, we consider such legacy planning so important, this service is included with every estate plan we create. Using a series of helpful questions and prompts similar to the exercises Daniel outlines, we’ll guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind.

What’s more, using Family Wealth Legacy Passages, you can ensure these life lessons are documented and preserved well before you and/or your loved ones are close to death. And because it’s an integral part of our planning services, you won’t have to do everything on your own—we’re here to support you the entire way.

Legacy planning
Though estate planning is mainly viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, when done right, it also enables you to preserve and pass on your true legacy: your memories, values, and wisdom. And it can also be a source of overall healing in the family. With the right support, having these all-important final conversations doesn’t have to be intimidating or awkward at all.

In fact, with as your Personal Family Lawyer®, the entire estate planning process can put your life and family relationships into a much clearer focus and ultimately be an incredibly uplifting experience for everyone involved. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Seniors and Their Families Should Be Wary of Reverse Mortgages—Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the dangers of reverse mortgages for senior homeowners. Here, we’ll look at how these complex loans can negatively impact your family and estate plan. http://rantala.com/blog/2019/06/25/seniors-and-their-families-should-be-wary-of-reverse-mortgages/

For decades, reverse mortgages have been touted as an easy way for seniors to access extra money during retirement. Indeed, there was a time not too long ago when it was nearly impossible to watch TV without seeing at least one commercial extolling the benefits of these unique mortgages. 

Yet, reverse mortgages turned out to be a financial disaster for many senior homeowners and their families. Tens of thousands of retirees lost their homes to foreclosure after defaulting on what was promised to be a “risk-free” way to convert the equity in their homes into cash.

Moreover, reverse mortgages were aggressively marketed mainly to low-income homeowners, who possessed minimal financial assets outside of the equity in their homes—the very people most likely to default. And though the federal government has recently enacted new laws to better protect seniors, reverse mortgages are still being hyped as a safe way for retirees to obtain much-needed cash.

Last week, we talked about how reverse mortgages work and discussed the devastating effects they can have on senior homeowners and their spouses when things go wrong. Here, we’ll cover the potential risks reverse mortgages pose for your family and estate plan.

A reverse in value
When it comes to reverse mortgages, you must not only consider the negative effects such loans might have on you while you are living, but also how they could affect your estate and family when you die. Like any loan, a reverse mortgage is a debt that decreases the value of your estate. But unlike most loans, the balance of a reverse mortgage increases with time, rather than decreases.

With a traditional mortgage, you accrue equity and lower the balance of the loan with each payment you make. Upon your death, your estate receives the net equity from your home, minus the balance, if any, remaining on your mortgage. So, in most cases, the longer you hold a traditional mortgage (and the more payments you make), the more value your home will add to your estate.

But with a reverse mortgage, it’s the exact opposite.

With a reverse mortgage, you’re taking out a loan against the equity you already have in your home. Since you’re receiving payments from the lender, rather than making them, the equity you have in your home decreases over time, while your loan balance increases. Thus, the longer you hold a reverse mortgage, the less value your home is likely to add to your estate.

The effect on your family
If you take out a reverse mortgage, you can still leave your home to your family in your estate plan. However, you’ll not only leave your loved ones a less valuable asset, but they’ll also have to pay off the balance of the loan after you die, otherwise the lender will foreclose.

Whomever you select to inherit your home will typically get six months to pay off the reverse mortgage. And they should move as quickly as possible because until the loan is settled, interest on the balance and monthly insurance premiums will continue to eat into any remaining equity.

Unless your family has enough money on hand to fully pay off the reverse mortgage upon your death, they’ll probably end up having to sell the home. If so, the proceeds from the sale can be used to pay off the loan (including all fees and interest), and your family keeps any remaining equity. And this is the best-case scenario.

More trouble than they’re worth
While reverse mortgages are designed to stay within the equity value of your home, this only works as long as home values are rising. If home values crash, like they did during the recession, the balance of your reverse mortgage could end up exceeding the market value of your home.

The good news is reverse mortgages are “non-recourse” loans insured through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). This means your family won’t ever owe more than the home’s appraised value, and lenders can’t come after your family or estate to recoup their loss. If your reverse mortgage balance exceeds your home’s value at the time of your death, your family is only responsible for paying the lender 95% of the home’s appraised value.

For example, let’s say your home is appraised for $100,000, but the reverse mortgage balance is $200,000. To keep the home, your family would need to pay $95,000—95% of the $100,000 market value. Federal mortgage insurance covers the remaining amount. Lenders, however, still make back their money. If your home’s sale doesn’t meet the lender’s expenses, an FHA fund insuring the loan pays the difference. Not surprisingly, this fund is currently more than $13.6 billion in the red, which reflects just how risky reverse mortgages can be.

So in this scenario, your family would have to go through all of the hassle of selling the home and end up with nothing to show for it. In such a case, your home would be more of a burden than a benefit to whomever ends up inheriting it, which is the exact opposite of how your estate plan is supposed to work. Given this, unless there’s equity in the home, your family would have little incentive to sell the property and may want to simply hand it over to the lender to avoid the time and expense of foreclosure. Known as “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” your loved ones can do this by signing the home’s deed over to the lender.

Mitigating the damage
Obviously, the best course of action is to never take out a reverse mortgage in the first place, but if you already have a reverse mortgage on your home, it’s critical that your family knows about it. This is something that you must not hide from your loved ones. If you have a reverse mortgage, talk to your family now to discuss the available options.

Telling your family that you’ve taken out a reverse mortgage may be embarrassing, but if your family is unaware of the loan and you die or need to move into a nursing home, they’re in for a potentially awful surprise. Indeed, your adult children may be counting on your home’s equity to help cover the costs of your long-term care and/or funeral expenses, so they’ll need to know as soon as possible to make other arrangements.

And once you’ve spoken to your loved ones, everyone should meet with us to discuss how to best proceed in order to mitigate any potential fallout through proactive planning strategies. We can help you deal with the situation, but in order to do so, everyone must be fully informed of the circumstances.

A trusted advisor
The vast majority of seniors should simply avoid reverse mortgages all together. If you’re in desperate need of extra money during retirement, there are numerous safer options to consider. Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® and/or your financial advisor to discuss what’s best for your situation.

And before you make any major life decision, especially one involving the family home, you should meet with us to discuss the potential impact on your loved ones’ future. You never know when one seemingly minor choice might end up causing all kinds of trouble for your family down the road. Contact your Personal Family Lawyer® today to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Seniors and Their Families Should Be Wary of Reverse Mortgages

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen ads touting the benefits of reverse mortgages. The spots typically feature famous actors like Henry “Fonzie” Winkler, Robert Wagner, and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson telling elderly homeowners how they can dramatically improve their retirement with a reverse mortgage. 

But what the ads don’t show is that reverse mortgages have actually caused heartbreak and financial devastation for thousands of elderly homeowners and their families. In fact, a USA TODAY review of government foreclosure data between 2013 and 2017 found that nearly 100,000 reverse mortgages failed during the years following the recession. As a result, thousands of elderly citizens ended up losing homes that had been in their families for generations. In other cases, adult children, who expected to inherit the family home, were forced to sell the property (often below market value) or sign it over to the lender a few months after their parent’s death.

To make matters worse, the hardest hit have been low-income homeowners, targeted by shady lenders who dramatically under-emphasized the risks of the loans and oversold their benefits. In particular, USA TODAY found that reverse mortgages were six times more likely to end in foreclosure in predominantly black neighborhoods than in neighborhoods that are 80% white.

While the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have recently enacted new laws to better protect seniors, reverse mortgages are still heavily marketed as an easy way to access extra money in retirement. Given this, seniors and their families should exercise extreme caution when considering reverse mortgages—and in most cases, avoid them entirely.

How they work
A reverse mortgage is a complex loan that allows homeowners 62 and older to convert some of the equity they have in their primary residence into cash. The amount of equity required to obtain a reverse mortgage depends on your age. Younger borrowers need about 60% equity in their homes to qualify, while those over 80 may need just 45%.

Once approved, you can receive the money in one of three ways: as a lump sum, as monthly installments, or as a line of credit. Because you receive payments from the lender, your home’s equity decreases over time, while the loan balance gets larger, thus the term “reverse” mortgage.

With a reverse mortgage, you no longer have to make monthly mortgage payments, and you can stay in your home as long as you keep up with property taxes, pay insurance premiums, and keep the home in good repair. Lenders make money through origination fees, mortgage insurance, and interest on the loan balance, all of which can exceed $10,000 to $15,000.

Although you often have to read the fine print to learn this, the reverse mortgage loan (plus interest and fees) becomes due and must be repaid in full when any of the following events occur:

  • Your death
  • You are out of the home for 12 consecutive months or more, such as in the case of needing nursing home care
  • You sell the home or transfer title
  • You default on the loan by failing to keep up with insurance premiums, property taxes, or by letting the home fall into disrepair

How things go wrong
While reverse mortgages may seem like a good deal (and they can be for those with ample financial resources) the surge in foreclosures occurred mainly among low-income homeowners—the very demographic most likely to default. These seniors were aggressively targeted by lenders after the recession, when money was tight and credit was less accessible.

Homeowners were attracted by flashy ads claiming reverse mortgages were a way to “eliminate monthly payments permanently,” with “a risk-free way of being able to access home equity.” Other ads promised “you can remain in your home as long as you wish” and “you can’t be forced to leave.” Other times, the sales pitches came directly to seniors’ doorsteps vial mailers, door hangers, and door-to-door salesmen.

Some consumer advocates believe the upswing in reverse mortgages was a result of predatory lenders, who simply switched from selling risky subprime mortgages to selling reverse mortgages after the real-estate crash. Whatever the case may be, those who fell prey to these tactics eventually defaulted on their loans for a variety of reasons.

Some people fell behind on their property taxes after their tax rates went up. Some took the lump sum payment, spent the money too quickly, and then left with nothing to live on. Others defaulted after having to move into a long-term care facility or after their finances were depleted by a medical emergency.

Some of the saddest cases involved spouses who were not listed on the reverse mortgage because they were too young to qualify when the loan was taken out by their older spouse. Younger spouses can be listed as co-borrowers, but they have to be at least 62. These widows and widowers were tragically forced from their homes upon their spouse’s death, after they were unable to pay back the balance of the loan.

New rules offer little help
In 2014, HUD developed new policies to better protect at least some surviving spouses. Under the rules, if a married couple with one spouse under age 62 wants to take out a reverse mortgage, they may list the underage spouse as a “non-borrowing spouse.”

If the older spouse dies, the non-borrowing spouse may remain in the home. But he or she cannot access the remaining loan balance and must continue to meet the loan requirements like paying property taxes and insurance premiums. While this may delay things, these surviving spouses are still likely to be foreclosed on down the road.

In 2011, the CFPB cracked down on some of the most misleading ads. All reverse mortgage advertisers are now required to disclose that the loans must be repaid after death or upon move-out. Additionally, the ads can no longer claim the loans are a “government benefit” or “risk free.”

In spite of these new restrictions, the number of ads for reverse mortgages hasn’t seemed to decline in any significant way, with more seniors and their families likely to fall for them.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the dangers of reverse mortgages, focusing on how these loans can negatively affect your family and estate plan.

Please don’t make critical decisions that impact your family’s future without a trusted advisor to guide you. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can support you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

The Real Cost To Your Family: Relying On A Will Alone

Whenever the topic of estate planning comes up, people invariably mention creating a will. And with good reason—having a will is a foundational aspect of your estate plan. However, a will is only one small part of effective planning. In fact, if your plan consists of a will alone, you’re guaranteeing your family will have to go to court when you die. There’s a saying in the lawyer world of estate planning: “Where there’s a will, there’s a probate.” And it’s no laughing matter. 

In our view, a primary goal of estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. Yet with only a will in place, your plan can fall woefully short of that goal, leaving your loved ones—and yourself, if you become incapacitated —susceptible to getting stuck in an unnecessary, expensive, time-consuming, and public court process.

Here’s why having just a will is not enough:

A will offers no protection against incapacity
A will helps ensure your assets are properly distributed when you die. But it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs. Should you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs, which can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic.

Your family must still go to court
While you may think having a will allows your loved ones to inherit your assets without court intervention, this is not true. For your assets to be legally transferred to your beneficiaries, your will must first pass through the court process called probate. The probate process can be an extremely distressing for your loved ones. The proceedings can drag out over months or even years, and in most instances, your family will have to hire an attorney, generating hefty legal bills that can quickly drain your estate.

Moreover, probate is public, so anyone can find out the value and contents of your estate. They can also learn what and how much your family members inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scammers. And if you think you can just pass on your assets using beneficiary designations to avoid all of this… well, that’s just asking for trouble. In fact, we plan to write a whole separate article on that topic in a future installment of this series.

A will doesn’t protect against creditors, lawsuits, or poor decisions
Passing on your assets using a will leaves those assets vulnerable to several potential threats. If your will distributes your assets to your beneficiaries outright, those assets are not only subject to claims made by a beneficiary’s creditors, they are also vulnerable to lawsuits and divorce settlements the beneficiary may be involved in. And if assets left via a will pass to beneficiaries without any conditions, those assets are susceptible to the beneficiary’s own poor judgment. For instance, a sudden windfall of cash could cause serious problems for someone with poor money-management abilities and/or addiction issues.

Not all assets are covered by a will
Some assets can’t even be included in a will. For example, a will only covers assets or property owned solely in your name. It does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does a will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as a life insurance policy or retirement account.

Don’t let your plan fall short
Though a will is an integral part of your estate plan, a will is almost never enough by itself. Instead, wills are often combined with other planning vehicles, such as living trusts, to provide a level of protection devoid of any gaps or blind spots. And here’s the thing: If your plan is incomplete, it’s your family that suffers, having to clean it all up after you are gone.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will empower you to feel confident that you have the right  combination of planning solutions for your family’s unique circumstances. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today to get started.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Avoid These 2 Common Causes For Dispute Over Your Estate Plan—Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed one of the most frequent causes for dispute over your estate plan. Here, we’ll look at another leading cause for dispute and offer strategies for its prevention. http://rantala.com/blog/2019/06/04/avoid-these-2-common-causes-for-dispute-over-your-estate-plan-part-1/

No matter how well you think you know your family, you can never predict how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated.

Family dynamics are complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times, but when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. And when access to money is involved, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.

 

No one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but we see it all the time. This is especially true for those who rely on do-it-yourself estate planning documents found online.

The good news is you can dramatically reduce the odds of such conflict by enlisting the support of an experienced lawyer like us to assist you in creating your estate plan. Even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate the complex emotional dynamics that make up your life and family, but we can.

Last week, we discussed one of the most common reasons for dispute, poor fiduciary selection, which involves selecting the wrong trustee, executor, or guardian for your kids. Today, we focus on another leading catalyst for conflict: contests to the validity of your will and/or trust.  http://rantala.com/blog/2019/06/04/avoid-these-2-common-causes-for-dispute-over-your-estate-plan-part-1/

 Contesting the validity of wills and trusts

The validity of your will and/or trust can be contested in court for a few different reasons. If such a contest is successful, the court declares your will or trust invalid, which effectively means the document(s) never existed in the first place. Obviously, this would likely be disastrous for everyone involved, especially your intended beneficiaries.

However, just because someone disagrees with what he or she received in your will or trust doesn’t mean that person can contest it. Whether or not the individual agrees with the terms of your plan is irrelevant; it is your plan after all. Rather, he or she must prove that your plan is invalid (and should be thrown out) based on one or more of the following legal grounds:

  • The document was improperly executed (signed, witnessed, and/or notarized) as required by state law.
  • You did not have the necessary mental capacity at the time you created the document to understand what you were doing.
  • Someone unduly influenced or coerced you into creating or changing the document.
  • The document was procured by fraud.

Furthermore, only those individuals with “legal standing” can contest your will or trust. Just because someone was intimately involved in your life, even if they’re a blood relative, doesn’t automatically mean they can legally contest your plan.

Those with the potential for legal standing generally fall into two categories: 1) Family members who would inherit, or inherit more, under state law if you never created the document. 2) Beneficiaries (family, friends, and charities) named or given a larger bequest in a previous version of the document.

Solution: There are times when family members might contest your will and/or trust over legitimate concerns, such as if they believe you were tricked or coerced into changing your plan by an unscrupulous caregiver. However, that’s not what we’re addressing here.

Here, we’re addressing—and seeking to prevent—contests that are attempts by disgruntled family members and/or would-be beneficiaries seeking to improve the benefit they received through your plan. We’re also seeking to prevent contests that are a result of disputes between members of blended families, particularly those that arise between spouses and children from a previous marriage.

First off, working with an experienced lawyer like us is of paramount importance if you have one or more family members who are unhappy—or who may be unhappy—with how they are treated in your plan. This need is especially critical if you’re seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another.

Some of the leading reasons for such unhappiness include having a plan that benefits some children more than others, as well as when your plan benefits friends, unmarried domestic partners, and/or other individuals instead of, or in addition to, your family. Conflict is also likely when you name a third-party trustee to manage an adult beneficiary’s inheritance because he or she is likely to be negatively affected by the sudden windfall of money.

In these cases, it’s vital to make sure your plan is properly created and maintained to ensure these individuals will not have any legal ground to contest your will or trust. One way you can do this is to include clear language that you are making the choices laid out in your plan of your own free will, so no one will be able to challenge your wishes by claiming your incapacity or duress.

Beyond having a sound plan in place, it’s also crucial that you clearly communicate your intentions to everyone affected by your will or trust while you’re still alive, rather than having them learn about it when you’re no longer around. Indeed, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can help facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Outside of contests originated by disgruntled loved ones, the potential for your will or trust to cause dispute is significantly increased if you have a blended family. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests.

To reduce the likelihood of dispute, it’s crucial that your plan contain clear and unambiguous terms spelling out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the rights and responsibilities of executors and/or trustees. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended.

If you have a blended family, it’s also essential that you meet with all affected parties while you’re still alive (and of sound mind) to clearly explain your wishes in person. Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future with your spouse and children is key to avoiding disagreements over your true wishes for them.

Prevent disputes before they happen

The best way to deal with estate planning disputes is to do everything possible to make sure they never occur in the first place. This means working with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put planning strategies in place aimed at anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict. Moreover, it means constantly reviewing and updating your plan to keep pace with your changing circumstances and family dynamics.

Whether the potential dispute arises from disgruntled heirs, sibling rivalries, or the conflicting interests of members of your blended family, your Personal Family Lawyer® is specifically trained to predict and prevent such conflicts. Meet with us today to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Avoid These 2 Common Causes For Dispute Over Your Estate Plan—Part 1

No matter how well you think you know your loved ones, it’s impossible to predict exactly how they’ll behave when you die or if you become incapacitated. Of course, no one wants to believe their family would ever end up battling one another in court over inheritance issues or a loved one’s life-saving medical treatment, but the fact is, we see it all the time.

Family dynamics are extremely complicated and prone to conflict during even the best of times. And when tragedy strikes a key member of the household, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. When access to money is on the line, the potential for discord is exponentially increased.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced lawyer like us when creating your estate plan and never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online. Unfortunately, even the best set of documents will be unable to anticipate and navigate complex emotional matters like this, but we can. By becoming aware of some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations through effective planning. Though it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise around your plan, the following 2 things are among the most common catalysts for conflict.

Poor fiduciary selection

Many estate planning disputes occur when a person you’ve chosen to handle your affairs following your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to execute those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things, is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty. The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution: Given the potentially immense responsibilities involved, you need to be extremely careful when selecting your fiduciaries, and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals, and be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go awry, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

We can assist you with selecting the most qualified fiduciaries; drafting the most precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all your planning documents; as well as ensuring that your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. In this way, the individuals you select to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series discussing common causes for dispute over estate planning.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Have a ‘Blended Family’? Learn From Tom Petty’s Mistakes: His Daughters and Widow Are Now Locked In Bitter Battle Over His Estate

This week Tom Petty’s daughters escalated the battle over their late father’s estate by filing a lawsuit against Petty’s second wife that seeks $5 million in damages. In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released. 

Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.

Alex Weingarten, an attorney for Petty’s daughters, issued a statement to Rolling Stone magazine, asserting that Perry’s widow is not abiding by Petty’s wishes for his two children. “Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests,” he said.

In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic, including sending angry emails to various managers, record label reps, and even members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.

Since Petty’s death, two compilations of his music have been released, including “An American Treasure” in 2018 and “The Best of Everything” in 2019. Both albums reportedly involved intense conflict between Petty’s widow and daughters, over “marketing, promotional, and artistic considerations.”

In reply to the new lawsuit, Dana’s attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement claiming the suit is without merit and could potentially harm Petty’s legacy. “This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate,” he said. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”

Destructive disputes
The fight over Petty’s music demonstrates a sad but true fact about celebrity estate planning. When famous artists leave behind extremely valuable—yet highly complex—assets like music rights, contentious court disputes often erupt among heirs, even with planning in place.

The potential for such disputes is significantly increased for blended families like Petty’s. If you’re in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there is always a risk for conflict, as your children and spouse’s interests often aren’t aligned. In such cases, it’s essential to plan well in advance to reduce the possibility for conflict and confusion.

Petty did the right thing by creating a trust to control his music catalog, but the lawsuit centers around the terms of his trust and how those terms divide control of his assets. While it’s unclear exactly what the trust stipulates, it appears the terms giving the daughters “equal participation” with his widow in decisions over Petty’s catalog are somewhat ambiguous. The daughters contend the terms amount to three equal votes, but his widow obviously disagrees.

Reduce conflict with clear terms and communication
It’s critical that your trust contain clear and unambiguous terms that spell out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the exact rights and responsibilities of the trustee. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended when setting up the trust.

What’s more, you should also communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you’re still alive, rather than relying on a written document that only becomes operative when you die or should you become incapacitated.  Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future can go a long way in preventing disagreements over what you “really” wanted.

For the love of your family
While such conflicts frequently erupt among families of the rich and famous like Petty, they can occur over anyone’s estate, regardless of its value. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can not only help you draft clear terms for all of your planning documents, but also facilitate family meetings, where you can explain your wishes to your loved ones in person and answer any questions they may have.

Doing both of these things can dramatically reduce the chances of conflict over your estate and bring your family closer at the same time. And if you have a blended family (meaning children from a prior marriage), we have more ideas about how you can head off future conflict at the pass with proper planning now. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

4 Ways Wise Planning Can Protect Your Family’s Assets

While most people assume only the uber wealthy need to worry about asset protection, those with less wealth and fewer assets may be at even greater risk. For example, if you’re a multi-millionaire, a $50,000 judgment against you might not be that big of a burden. But for a family with a modest income, home, and savings, it could be catastrophic. 

Asset protection planning isn’t something you can put off until something happens. Like all planning, to be effective, you must have asset protection strategies in place well before something happens. Plus, your asset protection plan isn’t a one-and-done deal: It must be regularly updated to accommodate changes to your family structure and asset profile.

There are numerous planning strategies available for asset protection, but three of the most common include the following:

Insurance
Purchasing different forms of insurance—health, auto, watercraft, and homeowner’s—should always be the first line of defense to protect your assets. Whether you’re ultimately found at fault or not, if you’re ever sued, defending yourself in court can be extremely costly. Insurance is designed not only to help you pay damages if a lawsuit against you is successful, but the insurance company is also responsible for hiring you a lawyer and paying his or her attorney’s fees to defend you in court, whether you lose or win. However, insurance policies come with various amounts of coverage, which can be exceeded by large judgments, so you should also seriously consider buying umbrella insurance. Should your underlying insurance policy max out, an “umbrella” policy will help cover any remaining damages and legal expenses. We can evaluate your current policies and advise you about the types and amounts of insurance you should have for maximum asset protection.

Statutory exemptions
Another way to protect your family’s assets is by taking full advantage of federal and state laws that make certain types of assets “exempt” from creditor claims and judgements. Depending on your state, the availability and amount of protection offered by such exemptions can vary. For example, many states offer a homestead exemption, which protects a certain amount—or even the full value—of the equity you have in your primary residence from creditors. If your state provides a generous homestead exemption, paying down your mortgage could protect funds that are otherwise vulnerable. Similarly, federal and state laws classify many retirement plans, such as 401ks and IRAs, as exempt assets, while some states also offer significant, or complete, exemptions for life insurance policies and annuities, as well. Even though exemptions won’t offer you total protection, they can provide significant shelter for certain assets. Plus, using statutory exemptions is something that can be accomplished without investing anything—all that’s required is for you to understand how best to structure your investments to take advantage of these exemptions. Meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session to learn what kinds and amounts of exemptions are available in your location.

Business entities
Owning a business can be an incredible wealth-generating asset for your family, but it can also be a serious liability. Indeed, without the proper protection, your personal assets are extremely vulnerable if your company ever runs into trouble. For example, if your business is currently a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you are personally liable for any debts or lawsuits incurred by your business. Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) or S corporation is typically the best way to go for many small businesses. When properly set up and maintained, both entities create an impenetrable barrier between your personal assets and your business activities. Creditors, clients, and other potentially litigious individuals can go after assets owned by your company, but not your personal assets. If you own any kind of business, even just a side gig to earn extra income, you should seriously consider creating a protective entity to ensure any liabilities incurred by your company won’t affect your personal assets. We can help you select, put in place, and maintain the proper entity structure for your business operation.

Estate Planning
While each of the asset-protection scenarios shared above are “maybes,” there is one certainty in life—death. It’s coming for all of us. And your death, or an incapacity before it, is the biggest risk to your family’s assets. Planning in advance for what is certain to come is a gift to the people you love the most. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to get it handled, and we’ve made it easy for you to do that.

You work way too hard to leave your assets at risk. Call your Personal Family Lawyer® to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session, and let’s get this taken care of now. During your Family Wealth Planning Session, you’ll become educated, informed, and empowered to know you’ve made the right decisions, at the most affordable cost, for the people you love.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

3 Warning Signs of a Financial Scam

Nobody likes to admit they’ve fallen for a financial scam, but the fact is, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in one. This is especially true in today’s all-digital world, where practically every shred of data related to your personal and financial background can be found online. 

While no one is forcing you to use the Internet to manage your financial accounts, purchase goods and services, or communicate with the outside world, these days it’s nearly impossible to live your life without the web. This net-based existence can feel somewhat unnerving for those of us who came of age while the tech revolution was already underway, but for the elderly, who lived the vast majority of their lives offline, it can be absolutely overwhelming.

Given their lack of tech experience, coupled with the fact that many of them are undergoing varying levels of cognitive decline and sometimes live lonely, isolated lives, scammers view seniors as easy targets. And many of today’s con artists are so sophisticated, even the most intelligent and educated can be duped.

To protect your aging loved ones (and yourself) from such predators, it’s critical to know the warning signs of financial exploitation. The following are three big red flags to watch for:

Unexpected requests
If a family member or friend contacts you out of the blue asking for money, especially via email or text, you should be wary. If the request comes from an unfamiliar email address or phone number, you should be extremely wary. While such requests aren’t totally unheard of, never send money unless you can verify the individual’s identity.

A popular con, known as the Grandparent Scam, involves someone calling and pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. The caller then asks you to wire the money or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.

No matter how urgent the caller may sound, you should always verify their identity. One of the easiest ways to do this is by having the person call you back on his or her phone. Or if the individual’s phone is dead or lost, you can ask them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet. If they refuse, seem unusually aggressive, or act odd, do not send money.

Outside of relatives and friends, scammers often pretend to be from the IRS or another government agency, demanding immediate payment of back taxes or some other debt. They might even threaten you with arrest, ruined credit, or additional fines if you fail to comply. And if they don’t directly ask for money, they sometimes ask for verification of your personal information or direct you to visit a phishing website that secretly puts data-collecting viruses on your computer.

Regardless if it’s done by phone, email, social media, or text, no government agency collects money this way. Moreover, legitimate organizations will be more than happy to verify they are who they claim to be, and will never demand on-the-spot payment. No matter if it’s a government agency, a financial institution, law enforcement, an attorney, or a private business, you should always be allowed to verify the legitimacy of the request and consult with a trusted advisor like us before making any financial transaction.

Unsolicited money-making ventures
Whether through a savvy business deal or by winning the lottery, we all fantasize about striking it rich. And if you’re retired on a fixed income, this fantasy can be all-the-more alluring. Scammers know this and will use your dreams of easy money to trick you into investing in a too-good-to-be-true venture that promises big bucks for little or no effort.

There are endless variations on this popular con, from wealthy foreign nationals needing assistance transferring money to more legitimate-sounding business deals offering huge payoffs with no risk. These messages sometimes appear as if they were sent to you accidentally, making it feel like fortune has finally favored you—just like you always dreamed it would.

But in reality, strangers don’t just randomly offer other strangers incredible money-making opportunities. What kind of trustworthy business person would seek to partner with someone they’ve never met? And if it’s such a great investment, why not recruit someone they know or simply do it themselves? Indeed, any unsolicited money-making venture you receive online from a person you don’t know is almost certainly a scam.

Many such scams originate in foreign countries with people who aren’t fluent in English, so messages with incorrect spelling, poor grammar, and/or unusual phrasing are often a dead giveaway. Other tip-offs include messages containing the following (or very similar) language:

You’ve won one of several valuable prizes.

You’ve been specially selected for this one-time offer.

You’ll get a free bonus if you buy our product.

You’ve won money in a foreign lottery.

This investment is low risk and offers a higher return than anything else.

Our product is free, but we need to put shipping and handling charges on your credit card.

Advance payments or fees are required to clear the promised funds or complete the offer.

Requests for personal information
Whenever someone unfamiliar asks you for personal information like a credit card number, Social Security number, or your mother’s maiden name, proceed with extreme caution. Ask them why they need this information. Request they verify their identity. Inquire about alternate methods of proceeding that do not require such private information.

Reputable sources will respect your privacy and be more than willing to provide you with identity verification, or at least offer an alternate way for you to proceed without the need for such personal data. For example, if you receive an email request for your credit card number, look up the organization’s phone number using a source other than what they provide in the email, and ask if you can call and give your information over the phone instead.

One such con has scammers call claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the number may even come up on your caller ID as the SSA. The caller says your Social Security number has been stolen, used in a crime, or suspended. To protect your funds, they direct you to withdraw the money in your bank account and transfer it to a gift card. The scammers then ask for the gift card PIN number for “safekeeping.” They also may try to get you to reveal your SS number by having you verify it over the phone.

However, the SSA does not suspend your Social Security number, nor will it ever direct you to withdraw money from your bank account. What’s more, any situation in which you’re told to buy gift cards and then give out the cards’ PIN number is undoubtedly a scam.

Today’s most sophisticated scammers don’t even need to ask you for your personal data: They can steal it simply by having you open an email attachment or visit a website that’s loaded with data-scraping bots. Don’t open email attachments from strangers—or even friends and family if the attachment seems unusual. Set all of your social media accounts to private so that your personal info isn’t public. And invest in anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to protect your computer from hacking.

Protect your loved ones from all possible threats
By becoming familiar with how such deceptions work and knowing what to look for, you and your loved ones will be far less likely to be conned. At the same time, you should also do everything you can to safeguard your family’s finances from other threats that have nothing to do with fraud.

Without comprehensive estate planning, your family’s wealth and assets are in real danger of being seriously depleted or lost in the event of your death or incapacity. Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to learn about the best planning strategies to put in place to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of no matter what happens to you.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.