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How to Fix Errors in Your Credit Report

While some of those TV commercials for free credit-score report companies are pretty funny, having errors on your credit report is no laughing matter. Indeed, your credit score is one of the main factors determining your access to loans, credit cards, housing, and sometimes even jobs.

From late payments that were actually made on time and paid debts that are still listed in collections to fake accounts opened in your name by identity thieves, there are all kinds of errors that can end up in your report. What’s more, even if the mistakes were made by the banks, lenders, and/or credit bureaus, they have no obligation to fix them—unless you report them.

Given this, it’s vital to monitor your credit score regularly and take immediate action to have any errors corrected. Here, we’ll discuss a few of the most common mistakes found in credit reports and how to fix them.

Finding and fixing errors
The first step to ensure your credit report stays error-free is to obtain a copy of your report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can get free access to your reports and even helpful credit monitoring services from companies like CreditKarma.com.

Check each of the reports closely for errors. Some of the most common mistakes include:

Misspellings and other errors in your name, address, and/or Social Security number
Accounts that are mistakenly reported more than once
Loan inquiries you didn’t authorize
Payments inadvertently applied to the wrong account or noted as unpaid, when they were in fact paid
Old debts that have been paid off or should’ve been removed from your report after seven years
Fake accounts and debts created by identity thieves

Filing a dispute
If anything is inaccurate on your report, file a dispute with the credit bureaus as soon as possible. In fact, notifying these agencies is a prerequisite if you eventually decide to take legal action. Note that if a mistake appears on more than one report, you’ll need to file a dispute with each credit bureau involved.

To ensure your dispute has the best chances of success, follow these steps:

  • Use the appropriate forms: Each credit bureau has different processes for filing a dispute—whether via regular mail or online—so check the particular bureau’s website for instructions and forms. You can find sample letters showing how to dispute credit reports on the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites.
  • Be absolutely clear: Clearly identify each disputed item in your report, state the facts explaining why the information is incorrect, and request a deletion or correction. If you’ve found multiple errors, include an itemized list of each one.
  • Provide evidence: It’s not enough to just say there’s a mistake; you should substantiate your claim with proof. Collect all documents related to the account, including account statements, letters, emails, and legal correspondence. Include copies (never originals) of this paperwork and highlight or circle the relevant information.
  • Contact credit providers: In addition to the credit bureaus, the CFPB recommends you also contact the credit providers that supplied the incorrect information to the bureaus. Check with the company to learn how to file a dispute, and then send it the same documentation to them that you sent to the bureaus.
  • Review the results of the investigation: Credit bureaus typically get back to you within a month, but their response can take up to 45 days. The response will tell you if the disputed item was deleted, fixed, or remains the same. Disputes basically boil down to whether or not the creditor agrees with your claim, and what they say typically goes.

If you’re not happy with the result of the dispute or how the dispute was handled, you can file a complaint with the CFPB, which regulates the credit bureaus. They’ll forward your complaint to the credit provider and update you on the response they receive. If the credit provider insists the information is accurate, you can provide the bureaus with a statement summarizing your dispute and request they include it in your file, in future reports, and to anyone who received a copy of the old report in the recent past.

Legal action
Finally, if the investigation isn’t resolved to your satisfaction and the inaccurate information in your credit report is causing you harm, contact us to determine if taking legal action would be worthwhile. We can review the information, and if necessary, help you develop and litigate your case.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help get your credit in top shape by guiding you to put the proper legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems in place to secure your family’s financial future. Contact us 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.

Use Estate Planning to Enrich Your Family With More Than Just Material Wealth

In the weeks before her death from ovarian cancer, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal gave her husband Jason one of the most treasured gifts a person could receive. 

She penned the touching essay “You May Want to Marry My Husband” in the New York Times as a final love letter to him. The essay took the form of a heart-wrenching yet-humorous dating profile that encouraged him to begin dating again once she was gone. In her opening description of Jason, she writes: “He is an easy man to fall in love with. I did it in one day.”

What followed was an intimate list of attributes and anecdotes, highlighting what she loved most about Jason. It reads like a love story, encompassing 26 years of marriage, three grown children, and a bond that will last forever. She finished the essay on Valentine’s Day, concluding with:

“The most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”

Just 10 days after the essay was published in March 2017, Amy died at age 51.

Finding meaning again
Amy’s essay immediately went viral, and Jason received countless letters from women across the globe. Although he has yet to begin a new relationship, Jason said the outpouring of letters gave him “solace and even laughter” in the darkest days following his wife’s death.

Just over a year later, Jason wrote his own essay for the Times, “My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me,” in which he expressed how grateful he was for Amy’s words and recounted the lessons he’d learned about loss and grief since her passing.

He said his wife’s parting gift “continues to open doors for me, to affect my choices, to send me off into the world to make the most of it.” Jason has since given a TED Talk on his grieving process in hopes of helping others deal with loss, something he said he never would’ve done without Amy’s motivation.

Toward the end of his essay, Jason gave readers a bit of advice for how they can provide their loved ones with a similar gift:  “Talk with your mate, your children, and other loved ones about what you want for them when you are gone,” he wrote. “By doing this, you give them liberty to live a full life and eventually find meaning again.”

Preserving your intangible assets
This moving story highlights what could be the most valuable, yet often-overlooked aspect of estate planning. Planning isn’t just about preserving and passing on your financial wealth and property in the event of your death or incapacity. When done right, it equates to sharing your family’s stories, values, life lessons, and experiences, so your legacy carries on long after you are gone.

Indeed, as the Rosenthals demonstrate, these intangible assets can be among the most profound gifts you can give. Of course, not everyone has the talent or time to write a similarly moving essay or have it published in the New York Times, nor is that necessary.

We recognize the enormous value these assets represent, along with the inherent challenge of documenting our life experiences. Given this, in our estate plans, we’ve built in a process, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages, for preserving and passing on your unique treasures and gifts.

Family Wealth Legacy Passages
Our Family Wealth Legacy Passages (included in all of our estate plans) guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and life lessons with those you leave behind.

We’ve developed a series of helpful questions and prompts to make the process of sharing your life experiences not only easy, but enjoyable. And this isn’t something you have to do on your own—which you know you wouldn’t get around to—as we do it with you as an integral part of your planning services.

In the end, your family’s most precious wealth is not money, but the memories you make, the values you instill, and the lessons you hand down. And left to chance, these assets are likely to be lost forever.

If you want to pass down a truly meaningful legacy, one that can provide the kind of inspiration Amy’s letter did for Jason, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. Our customized estate planning services will preserve and pass on not only your financial wealth, but your most treasured family values as well. Start by scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we’ll discuss what kind of assets you have, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

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 Deadly Sins of Retirement Planning

Retirement planning is one of life’s most important financial goals. Indeed, funding retirement is one of the primary reasons many people put money aside in the first place. Yet many of us put more effort into planning for our vacations than we do to prepare for a time when we may no longer earn an income.

Whether you’ve put off planning for retirement altogether or failed to create a truly comprehensive plan, you’re putting yourself at risk for a future of poverty, penny pinching, and dependence. The stakes could hardly be higher. When preparing for your final years, it’s not enough to simply hope for the best. You should treat retirement planning as if your life depended on it—because it does. To this end, even well-thought-out plans can contain fatal flaws you might not be aware of until it’s too late.

Have you committed any of the following three deadly sins of retirement planning? 


Not having an actual plan
Even if you’ve been diligent about saving for retirement, without a detailed, goal-oriented plan, you’ll have no clear idea whether your savings strategies are working adequately or not. And such plans aren’t just about calculating a retirement savings number, funding your 401(k), and then setting things on auto-pilot.  Once you know how much you’ll need for retirement, you have to plan for exactly how you’ll accumulate that money and monitor your success. The plan should include clear-cut methods for increasing income, reducing spending, maximizing tax savings, and managing investments when and where needed. What’s more, you should regularly review and update your asset allocation, investment performance, and savings goals to ensure you’re still on track to hit your target figure. With each new decade of your life (at least), you should adjust your savings strategies to match the specific needs of your new income level and age. The plan should also take into consideration unforeseen contingencies, such as downturns in the economy, health emergencies, layoffs, and inflation. Failing to plan, as they say, is planning to fail.

 

Not maximizing the use of tax-saving retirement accounts
One way or another, the money you put aside for retirement is going to be taxed. However, by investing in tax-saving retirement accounts, you can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you’ll pay. Depending on your employment and financial situation, there are numerous different plans available. From traditional IRAs and 401(k)s to Roth IRAs and SEP Plans, you should consider using one or more of these investment vehicles to ensure you achieve the most tax savings possible.  What’s more, many employers will match your contributions to these accounts, which is basically free money. If your employer offers matching funds, you should not only use these accounts, but contribute the maximum amount allowed—and do so as early as possible. Since figuring out which of these plans will offer the most tax savings can be tricky—and because tax laws are constantly changing—you should consult with us and a professional financial advisor to find the one(s) best suited for your particular situation. Paying taxes is unavoidable, but there’s no reason you should pay any more than you absolutely have to.

Underestimating health-care costs
One of the most frequent mistakes people make when planning for retirement is assuming that things will always stay the same. Whether it’s tax laws, inflation, market conditions, or marital status, if you don’t carefully consider how your circumstances might change with time, you’re putting yourself and your savings at serious risk. While many such contingencies are mere possibilities, the one thing that’s certain to change with time is your body and mind. It’s an inescapable fact that our health naturally declines with age, so one of the riskiest things you can do is not plan for increased health-care expenses. With many employers eliminating retiree health-care coverage, Medicare premiums rising, and the extremely volatile nature of health insurance law, planning for your future health-care expenses is critical. It’s even more important seeing that we’re now living longer than ever before. Plus, these considerations are assuming that you don’t fall victim to a catastrophic illness or accident. The natural aging process is expensive enough to manage, but a serious health-care emergency can wipe out even the most financially well off.

But with so many unknowns, how can you possibly prepare for every possible scenario?
The truth is, you can’t. That said, you should take advantage of every available precaution within your means. This might mean delaying retirement, purchasing supplemental insurance, investing in long-term care insurance, opening a Health Savings Account, or some combination of these options. We can advise you on precautions that are right for you and your family.

Start preparing for retirement now
The best way to maximize your retirement funding is to start planning (and saving) as soon as possible. In fact, your retirement savings can be exponentially increased simply by starting to plan at an early age.

No matter your age, income, or asset value, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you put the legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems (LIFT) in place to ensure you’re prepared for a thriving future. Contact us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today to get started. We’ll review what you have in place now, what you need, introduce you to advisors you can trust, and ensure you and your family are well-protected and planned for, no matter what.

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.

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part of this series discussing the hidden dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. In part two, we cover one of the greatest risks posed by DIY documents. http://rantala.com/blog/2018/10/16/when-something-is-not-better-than-nothing-part-1/ 

You might think you can save time and money by using do-it-yourself estate planning documents you find online. You’re probably anxious to check estate planning off your life’s to-do list, and these forms offer a seemingly quick and inexpensive way to handle this important task. You may even realize such generic plans aren’t as high quality as those drafted with an attorney’s help, but with your hectic schedule, a DIY will is just way more convenient. Besides, having “something” in place is better than having nothing, right?

Unfortunately, this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing.

Indeed, the false sense of security offered by DIY wills can lead you to believe you have things covered and no longer have to worry about estate planning. The reality, however, is that such generic forms could end up costing the loved ones you leave behind more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

In this way, DIY wills and other legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. In part one, we discussed the many ways DIY plans can fail to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, and here we’ll explain how these generic documents can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

The people you love most
It’s probably distressing to think that by using a DIY will you could force your loved ones into court or conflict in the event of your incapacity or death. And if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to contemplate your children’s care falling into the wrong hands.

Yet that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or low-cost fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians entail several complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common errors when naming long-term legal guardians. If wills drafted with the help of a professional are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are pretty much zero.

What could go wrong?
If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. But does it include back-ups? And if you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce? And what happens if you become incapacitated and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t even operative in the event of your incapacity. Or perhaps the guardians you named in the will live far from your home, so it would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk because it’s possible they might not be immediately available when needed. And who even knows where your will is or how to access it? There are simply far too many potential errors you can make when you go it alone.

The Kids Protection Plan®
To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating  a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which only Personal Family Lawyers® like us are trained and licensed to counsel you through and prepare.

This is so important, we’ve even created an easy-to-use (and absolutely free) website you can visit right now to take the first steps in creating the proper legal documents naming the long-term guardians you’d want to care for your children if you could not. https://mariannesrantalapc.kidsprotectionplan.com/

If you have minor children at home, you should immediately use this resource to get started, and then schedule a follow-up visit with us to put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place.

Get the right “something”
Protecting your family and assets in the event of your death or incapacity is such a monumentally important task you should never consider winging it with a DIY plan. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potentially disastrous consequences inherent in such plans are simply too great—often they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be super expensive, stressful, or time consuming. Working with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, planning will not only be as stress-free as possible, but we offer options for all budgets and asset values.

What’s more, many of our clients find the process highly rewarding. Our proprietary systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want to raise them.

No matter what you do, make certain you have a “something” that’s better than nothing. Contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® today, and we’ll provide you with that level of confidence—and so much 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.

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing—Part 1

Go online, and you’ll find tons of websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents. Such forms are typically quite inexpensive. Simple wills, for example, are often priced under $50, and you can complete and print them out in a matter of minutes.

In our uber-busy lives and DIY culture, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, such documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your life’s lengthy to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A false sense of security
Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. In fact, you thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized, but you didn’t bother to investigate what would happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all. Creating a DIY will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better, but chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late. By doing nothing, on the other hand, at least you won’t be lulled into a false sense of security, and estate planning will still be at the top of your life’s to-do list, as it should be until you handle it properly.

Not just about filling out forms
Unfortunately, because many people don’t understand that estate planning entails much more than just filling out legal documents, they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The primary purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, tens of thousands of families (and millions more to come) have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone cannot only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

The hidden dangers of DIY wills
From the specific state you live in and the wording of the document to the required formalities for how it must be signed and witnessed, there are numerous potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

The following scenarios are just a few of the most common complications that can result from attempting to go it alone with a DIY will:

  • Improper execution: For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.
  • Court challenges: Before the assets covered in a will can be transferred to your heirs, the will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties can contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are not only far more likely to be challenged, but the chances of those challenges being successful are much greater than if you have an attorney-drafted will.
  • Thinking a will is enough: It is almost never the case that a will alone is enough to handle all of your legal affairs. In the event of your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive, and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. In the event of your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY will planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the hidden dangers of DIY estate planning.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in more than a few years, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can ensure that your family will be kept out of court and out of conflict if something should happen to you. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala P.C., 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.

To Live a Happier Life, Start Thinking About Death Now

Want to know a proven way to live a more fulfilling life? All you have to do is fully accept the fact that one day you’re going to die.

“I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.” -Upajjhatthana Sutta 

The unavoidable nature of death is a basic tenet found in every religion. Indeed, the acceptance of death is so important in Buddhism that “impermanence,” or the fact that everything born eventually dies, is at the top of the Buddha’s list of the three universal characteristics of existence. Before religious practice, Tibetan Buddhists chant, “The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. The life of human beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning; this body too will be a corpse.” Such teachings may seem morbid, but they’re designed to awaken you from denial and inspire you to fully appreciate life because you never know when it will end.

“How sad it is that most of us only begin to appreciate our life when we are at the point of dying.” -Sogyal Rinpoche

Numerous individuals have discovered that contemplating and accepting their own mortality is a powerful source of happiness. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this isn’t something only found in religious teachings; it’s also been demonstrated by modern science.

Countless healthcare professionals report that people facing terminal illness often experience an incredible sense of peace and fulfillment in the days and weeks before they die. Many of them describe the acceptance of death as a life-changing event, confessing they never knew what it meant to live until they knew they were going to die.

The same is true for many who undergo a near-death experience (NDE). After staring death in the face, they report that their lives have much greater meaning. They frequently make dramatic life changes because they know without a doubt that any day, even today, might be their last.

“It is only in the face of death that man’s self is born.” -St Augustine

You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each moment. This advice is also derived from acceptance of death. By accepting that death is inevitable, we’re inspired to embrace every second of our lives with more gratitude and joy because we know that our existence is so fleeting. If you’ve been avoiding thinking about and preparing for death, you may be missing out on an incredible opportunity. What all these experiences show us is that death is an essential part of what makes life so sweet.

One of the biggest steps in accepting death is to prepare for it with proper estate planning. And proper estate planning is needed, regardless of how big or small you think your estate is, because no matter what, your family is going to have to handle whatever you have when you’re gone. Indeed, facing life’s greatest fear head-on and using it as an opportunity to protect and provide for your family is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those you love.

If you’re ready to begin truly living your life, start by working with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to properly plan for the inevitability of death. Contact us today to get started by scheduling 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.

Who Should Khloé Kardashian Choose as Legal Guardian For Her Child—One Instance Where ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ Might Be A Good Idea

You might not be a big fan of their typical life choices, but the Kardashians recently demonstrated impressive wisdom in protecting their minor children using estate planning.

During a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Khloé Kardashian was preparing to give birth to her first child, daughter True. Khloé was second-guessing her initial choice to name her sister Kourtney as the child’s legal guardian in the event something happened to her or the baby’s father, Tristan Thompson.

During her pregnancy, Khloé spent lots of time with her other sister Kimberly and her family, daughters North, Chicago, son Saint, and husband Kanye West. Watching her interacting with her own kids, Khloé really connected with Kim’s mothering style and pondered if she might be a better choice as guardian. “I always thought Kourtney would be the godparent of my child, but lately I’ve been watching Kim, and she’s been someone I really gravitate to as a mom,” Khloé said. To make things more challenging, Kourtney always assumed she’d be named guardian and said as much. Over the years, Khloé had lots of fun times with Kourtney’s family—sons Mason, Reign, and daughter Penelope—and Kourtney thought her own passion for motherhood would make her the natural choice.

For guidance, Khloé asked her mother, Kris Jenner, how she chose her kids’ guardians. Kris’ answer was to compare how her two sisters raised their own children. “You just have to think,” Kris told her. “‘Where would I want my child raised, in which environment? Who would I feel like my baby is going to be most comfortable and most loved?’”

In the end, Khloé chose Kim over Kourtney. She explained her decision had nothing to do with her respect or love of Kourtney; it was merely about which style of parenting she felt most comfortable with. “Watching Kimberly be a mom, I really respect her parenting skills—not that I don’t respect Kourtney’s, I just relate to how Kim parents more,” said Khloé. “I just have to make the best decision for my daughter.”

Lessons learned
Khloé’s actions are admirable for several reasons. First off, far too many parents never get around to legally naming a guardian to care for their children in the event of their death or incapacity. Khloé not only made her choice, but she did so before the child was even born.

Khloé also took the time to speak and spend time with her sisters beforehand, so the family understood the rationale behind her decision. Khloé was lucky her choices were close family members, so she had ample opportunity to experience both of their parenting styles.

Depending on your life situation, you might not be able to spend that much time vetting your choice. But at the very least, you should sit down with each of your top candidates to openly and intimately discuss what you’d expect of them as your child’s new parents.

Avoid conflict and court
Furthermore, with multiple family members vying for the guardian role, Khloé’s quick action may have prevented a potential nightmare. If she’d delayed naming a guardian and something happened to her, Kourtney, Kim, and even other family members could’ve gone to court seeking guardianship of True.

This could’ve led to years of contentious legal battles that not only cost the family huge sums of money, but the potential hardship imposed on the children can be incalculable. Even if you think something like this would never happen to your family, why take the risk, especially when it’s so easy to avoid?

Get started now
While the Kardashians are wealthy and famous, you too can provide the exact same level of protection for your kids, even with minimal financial resources. It’s imperative as soon as it’s physically possible to choose someone who will step in to raise your children if you cannot. You must also legally document your choice and make sure the individual you’ve selected knows what to do if they’re called upon.

Many parents have no idea how to go about making this critical decision, much less create a legally binding plan, so they never get around to doing it. And even parents who have legally named a guardian (even with a lawyer’s help) often make at least one of six common mistakes that leave their children at risk.

This is because most lawyers aren’t aware of all that’s involved with planning for the well-being and care of minor children following their parent’s death or incapacity. As a Personal Family Lawyer®, one of our specialties is legal planning for the unique needs of those with minor children.

We’ve even created an easy-to-use (and absolutely free) website, where you can create legal documents naming long-term guardians for your children. You should immediately take this opportunity to ensure your kids are properly cared for by the person you trust most should anything happen to you. https://mariannesrantalapc.kidsprotectionplan.com/

And if you’ve already named guardians on your own or with a lawyer, a Personal Family Lawyer® can review your existing legal documents. We’ll determine whether you’ve made any of the six common mistakes that leave your kids vulnerable and help you fill those gaps.

Beyond naming legal guardians, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can create a comprehensive estate plan with all the necessary legal documents to ensure the protection and well-being of your entire family and assets, no matter what happens. Contact us now.

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.

Questions and Answers About Personal Liability Umbrella Insurance

It’s no secret that we live in a litigious society. And though our right to a fair trial is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, it has also led to a lawsuit-crazy culture.

In this atmosphere, you’re at near-constant risk for costly lawsuits, many times even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is especially true if you have substantial wealth, but even those with relatively few assets can find themselves in court.

If you’re sued, your traditional homeowner’s and/or auto insurance will likely offer you some liability coverage, but those policies only protect you up to certain limits before they max out. Given this, you should consider adding an extra layer of protection by investing in personal liability umbrella insurance.

What is umbrella insurance?

Umbrella insurance offers a secondary level of protection against lawsuits above and beyond what’s covered by your homeowners, auto, watercraft, and/or other personal insurance policies. For instance, if someone is injured in your home, they might sue you for their medical bills and lost wages.

Your homeowner’s insurance will cover you up to a certain dollar amount, but you’re personally liable for anything beyond that limit. This is where umbrella insurance kicks in.

Once your underlying insurance maxes out, the umbrella policy will help pay for the resulting damages and legal expenses if you lose the case. If you win, it can help cover your lawyer’s fees.

Who should purchase it?
Umbrella insurance is particularly important for those with a high net worth. But seeing that everyone has the potential to be sued, it’s a good idea even for those without substantial assets.

Indeed, if you’re sued and lose, the judgment against you may exceed the value of your current assets. In such a case, the court can allow the plaintiff to go after your future earnings, potentially garnishing your wages for years. To this end, umbrella insurance not only protects your current assets, but your future ones as well.

How much coverage do I need?

Most people will be adequately covered with a $1 million umbrella policy. If you earn more than $100,00 a year or have more than $1 million in assets, you may want to invest in additional coverage.

A good rule of thumb is to buy an umbrella policy with coverage limits that are at least equal to your net worth.

How much does umbrella insurance cost?

Umbrella insurance is fairly inexpensive. You can buy a $1 million umbrella liability policy for between $150 and $300 per year. An additional million in coverage will run you about $100, and roughly $50 for every million beyond that.

Umbrella policies are inexpensive because they only go into effect after your underlying homeowner’s or auto policy is exhausted. In light of this, most insurers require you to have at least $250,000 in liability on your auto policy and $300,000 on your homeowners before they’ll sell you a $1 million umbrella policy.

How can I purchase umbrella insurance?
You can buy an umbrella policy from the same insurance company you use for your other policies. In fact, some companies require you to purchase all of your policies from them in order to obtain umbrella coverage.

If your current insurance agent offers umbrella coverage, you may qualify for a discount for bundling all your policies. Of course, you can also purchase a stand-alone umbrella policy, so shop around for the best rates.

For help choosing the best personal liability umbrella insurance to shield your family’s current and future wealth, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We’ll evaluate your assets to ensure you have the optimal levels of insurance in place to protect your wealth from today’s litigious climate. Contact us today for more information.

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.

What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Die?

If you’re active on social media, Facebook probably plays a prominent role in your life… and now the social media titan can even play a role in your afterlife. 

Today, estate planning encompasses not only your tangible assets—bank accounts and real estate—but your digital assets as well, such as cryptocurrency, websites, and social media accounts. Though social media may seem trivial compared to the rest of your personal property, a Facebook account functions as a virtual diary of your daily life, making it a key part of your legacy—and one you’ll likely want to protect.

Since social media is so new, there are very few state laws governing how your Facebook account should be handled upon your death. Considering this, Facebook itself is in nearly total control of what happens to your profile after you die. Without proper planning, your post-mortem Facebook presence can haunt the loved ones you leave behind.

Since roughly 8,000 Facebook users die every day, the company has created a few options for dealing with your account once you’re gone. While it’s possible for you to take care of this on your own, many people are working with legal professionals like us to incorporate these digital assets into their overall estate plan to ensure their legacy is properly preserved and protected.

Here are three options for what you can do with your Facebook account when you die:

1. Do nothing
Unless Facebook is notified of your death, it assumes you’re still alive, and your profile remains active indefinitely. While this might not seem like a big deal, your profile will continue to be included in Facebook searches, People You May Know suggestions, and birthday reminders. Your friends and family likely won’t want to be constantly reminded of your absence, and even worse, ex-friends and/or trolls will be able to post potentially hurtful messages on your timeline. To shield your loved ones from this kind of thing, you should go with one of the other options.

2. Have the account deleted
You can notify Facebook that you’d like to have your account permanently removed from its servers upon your passing. Alternatively, a friend, family member, or your executor can make the same request after your death. This will completely delete your profile and all its associated content from Facebook for good. Additionally, one of these individuals can request that your account’s content be downloaded and saved before the profile is deleted. Content that’s eligible for download includes wall posts, photos, videos, profile info, events, and your friend list. However, Facebook will not allow any third-party to access or download your personal messages or login information.

3. Memorialize the account
In 2009, Facebook began allowing accounts of the deceased to be “memorialized” at the request of a friend or family member. Once an account has been memorialized, only confirmed friends can see the profile or find it in a search. Your memorialized profile will no longer appear in friend suggestions, nor will anyone receive birthday updates or other account notifications.When your account is memorialized, the word “Remembering” will be added next to your name on your profile. Depending on your privacy settings, friends and family members can post content and share memories on your timeline. A memorialized account is locked, so its original content cannot be altered or removed, even if an individual has your login info. In 2015, Facebook created a new policy that allows you to designate a family member or friend as a “legacy contact” to manage your memorialized account. This contact will be allowed to pin a final message to the top of your timeline, announcing your death or providing funeral information. The contact can also respond to new friend requests and update your cover and profile photos. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as you or see any of your private messages.

Preserve your legacy
Since social media and other digital property are such an important part of your life, you should work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure that these assets are protected by your overall estate plan. We can help you name a digital executor, who can quickly and easily manage your Facebook account and other social media upon your death. We can also help you inventory all your other digital assets and make certain they pass to your loved ones seamlessly.

Furthermore, through our Family Wealth Legacy Interviews, we allow you to create a customized video recording, sharing your values, stories, and life lessons with the loved ones you leave behind. Every estate plan we create includes a Family Wealth Legacy Interview component, because estate planning should encompass not only your financial assets and material possessions, but your most precious personal wealth—your wisdom, love, and leadership. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala P.C., 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.

Don’t Transfer Ownership of Your House to Your Kids Before You Read This

With the cost of long-term care (LTC) skyrocketing, you may be concerned about your (or your elderly  parents’) ability to pay for lengthy stays in assisted living and/or a nursing home. Such care can be massively expensive, with the potential to overwhelm even the well-off.

Because neither traditional health insurance nor Medicare will pay for LTC, some people are looking to Medicaid to help cover this cost. To become eligible for Medicaid, however, you must first exhaust nearly every penny of your savings.

Given this, you may have heard that if you transfer your house to your adult children, you can avoid selling the home if you need to qualify for Medicaid. You may think transferring ownership of the house will help your eligibility for benefits and that this strategy is easier and less expensive than handling your home (and other assets) through estate planning.

However, this tactic is a big mistake on several levels. It can not only delay—or even disqualify—your Medicaid eligibility, it can also lead to numerous other problems.

Medicaid Changes

In February 2006, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which included several provisions aimed at reducing Medicaid abuse. One of these was a five-year “look-back” period for eligibility.

This means that before you can qualify for Medicaid, your finances will be reviewed for any “uncompensated transfers” of your assets within the five years preceding your application. If such transfers are discovered, it can result in a penalty period that will delay your eligibility.

For every $6,422 worth of uncompensated transfers made within this five-year window, your Medicaid benefits will be withheld for one month. Any transfers made beyond that five-year period will not be penalized.

So, if you transfer your house to your children and then need LTC within five years, it may significantly delay your qualification for Medicaid benefits—and possibly prevent you from ever qualifying. Rather than taking such a risk, consult with us to discuss safer and more efficient options to help cover the rising cost of LTC such as long-term care insurance.

A potentially huge tax burden

Another drawback to transferring ownership of your home is the potential tax liability for your child. If you’re elderly, you’ve probably owned your house for a long time, and its value has dramatically increased, leading you to believe that by transferring your home to your child, he or she can make a windfall by selling it.

Unfortunately, if you do that, she or he will have to pay capital gains tax on the difference between your home’s value when you purchased it and your home’s value at the time she or he received it. Depending on the home’s worth, these taxes can be astronomical.

In contrast, by transferring your home at the time of your death, your child will receive what’s known as a “step-up in basis.” It’s one of the only benefits of death, and it allows your child to pay capital gains taxes based on the value of the home at the time of inheritance, rather than the value at the time you bought it.

We can help you choose the most advantageous estate-planning strategy to minimize your beneficiaries’ tax liability and ensure they get the most out of their inheritance.

Debt, Divorce, Disability, and Death

There are numerous other reasons why transferring ownership of your house to your child is a bad idea. If your child has significant debts, his or her creditors can make claims against the property to recoup what they’re owed, potentially forcing your child to sell the home to pay those debts.

Divorce is another problematic issue. If your child goes through a divorce while the house is in his or her name, the home may be considered marital property. Depending on the outcome of the divorce, this may force your child to sell the home or pay his or her ex a share of its value.

The disability or death of your child can also lead to trouble. If your child becomes disabled and seeks Medicaid or other government benefits, having the home in his or her name could compromise eligibility, just like it would your own. And if your child dies before you and has ownership of the house, the property could be considered part of your child’s estate and be passed on to your child’s heirs, creating a problem for you.


No substitute for proper estate planning
Given these potential problems, transferring ownership of your home to your children as a means of “poor-man’s estate planning” is almost never a good idea. Instead, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you find better ways to qualify for Medicaid and other benefits to offset the hefty price tag of long-term care while keeping your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

We offer an array of estate planning strategies to protect all your assets, while also enabling you to better afford whatever long-term healthcare services you might require. Contact 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.