I got a call last week from a frantic man who started getting calls from credit card companies for all kinds of money owed by him and his partner.

His life partner died 3 weeks ago and always got the mail and paid the bills.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose the love of my life and before I have even a moment to grieve, the pressure of unknown creditors starts building and building and building.  AGGGHHHHH!!!  Can’t find accounts, no paper trails, no list of online accounts, and no passwords.

What a mess!

And to make the situation even worse, State and federal laws relating to digital assets make it against the law to have another person, not the account holder, get access to online accounts.

In English this means that you break the law if you are unprepared for this situation and you try to get access to your former loved one’s online accounts.

And think about how many accounts you have!

You BANK ONLINE!  checking, savings, certificates of deposits, brokerage accounts…

You pay your rent, mortgage, gas, electric, water, trash online.

You pay your credit cards, home equity loans, student loans, and other debt bills online.

You have Facebook and twitter and linked in and snap-chat and Instagram and Pinterest and lots of other social media accounts.

You probably buy house hold items or repeat items on amazon or eBay or target or Walmart online.

There is an easy solution to this.  Create an estate plan and include a plan for personal digital assets.  To start, you can visit my friend Russ and at a minimum get a digital asset authorization document.  Don’t forget to put it in a safe or a safe deposit box and also put a copy on a memory stick.

21st century technology creates 21st century problems.  Let’s all catch up to the 21st century!

When I was younger, I used to pretend not to notice who my parents liked and didn’t like.
While most of my relatives that were on the “approved” list, there were a couple of relatives that were not.
That’s not to say they didn’t get invited to the Memorial Day barbecues but conversations afterwards were
in hushed tones and all very adult or even worse, no conversation at all. As an adult,
I realize that all families have their dynamics. This includes favored siblings, strained relationships,
and my personal favorite on the inter-generational tragedy list: an old disagreement that causes family members
to ignore each other for decades and sometimes take their grievance to the grave.
Sometimes if you ask them why they don’t speak, they cant even remember!!!

I know this sounds crazy but it happens A LOT in families.
When we ignore familial issues or pretend we don’t notice major patterns in unhealthy behaviors among our children or spouses,
when the grief of death hits them, so does the rage, anger, guilt, and/or fear. While part of my job is to look into a crystal ball and help people craft their future in writing, it seems quite predictable that if you spend the time and energy to create an estate plan but you ignore family drama that involves trustees or beneficiaries, then you are playing Russian roulette with your legacy.  Why do I say that…? When your family includes second marriages, dysfunction in part of the family, family members that have been married more than once, sibling rivalry, and addictions, then you are looking at an increase in likelihood of litigation. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced a model of five stages of grief and bereavement;  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you combine the anger/fear/guilt/shame/depression that people experience after losing a loved one     add sibling rivalry/jealousy/mistrust/hatred/depression/ addiction then this formula has the potential to: = lawsuit filed in court because parties cannot work it out. To summarize Grief Family Drama=Increase in likelihood of ending up in court. Common situations that lead to court are:

1) Lawsuits over the wording in the trust or will,
2) Challenges over how valid the will or trust is,
3) Beneficiaries suing the trustee for not behaving according to the trust, etc. Solution: You can mitigate future damage and greatly increase the peace and unity of family members by taking the following three steps:
1) As you create your estate plan, address any family “drama” that  may affect parties in the future with your attorney.
2) Upon the advise of counsel,  have what our firm calls a “2 step family meeting” where we all meet, address the issues, and then work them out.
3) Work with your attorney to change or modify your trust draft if necessary to encapsulate creative solutions that will help lower the risk of a trust litigation.