How To Protect Yourself & Reduce Online Risk – Equifax Hack Tips & More

How To Protect Yourself – Respond To Equifax Info Leak & Reduce Online Risks

Recently the national credit monitoring company, Equifax, had a data leak resulting in the personal information of hundreds of millions of individuals being made public on the internet.

If you aren’t aware of this breach, Equifax has set up a website at https://www.equifax.com/personal/?/  allowing you to check to see if your personal information including social security number, address, birth date, employment history, credit history, and more was leaked. 

Protect Yourself – Your Personal Info May Be Vulnerable

Most people don’t realize how much of their personal information is being used by websites around the world. Plus, most people don’t have a plan to protect themselves and their digital selves, both while they are living, and after they pass away.  This article will provide several different types of digital asset protection including:

  • Protecting your credit score – risk greatly increased due to the Equifax leak
  • Protecting your passwords—a serious matter with email passwords recently brought up in the Presidential campaign and subsequently in the early days of the Trump administration
  • Protecting your social media accounts including ways of protecting this information if you pass away or become incapacitated
  • Protecting your website and blog ownership as these assets become more profitable
  • Protecting your digital estate with new Texas legislation in this area

Protect Yourself – Your Credit Score May Be at Risk Due To Equifax Leak

Your credit score may be affected by the Equifax leak. Here’s how this could happen: As a credit monitoring company, Equifax plays a big part in determining if you are approved or denied credit. They store and use your personal information and credit payment history to provide credit scores to banks and other companies. These companies use your credit score to determine if you qualify for a home mortgage, buying cars, or even getting a credit card.  If you have experience with one of those three things, you probably have a credit record stored by Equifax. 

To help protect yourself if your personal information was leaked by Equifax, you can sign up for a lifetime Equifax credit monitoring service. This means Equifax will let you know if someone is applying for credit in your name—meaning they could run up bills and not pay them—and potentially affecting your credit score. They are also offering other benefits with this free service.

Based on the information I reviewed, the monitoring service appears to be a very good deal and is part of Equifax’s efforts to patch up their relationship with customers. 

Protect Yourself – Tips for Strengthening Passwords

Changing passwords for your online accounts may seem like a nuisance, but having funds stolen from your bank account or clearing up your credit score ruined by thieves running up bills in your name are much more time-consuming problems. Consider these tips to create stronger password protection:

  • Change your passwords about every six months or use a password manager. There are many password managers out there, Apple has its own, but Microsoft also has several good password managers that are secured.
  • Here is a definition from Consumer Reports for password managers: A password manager will generate, retrieve, and keep track of super-long, crazy-random passwords across countless accounts for you, while also protecting all your vital online info—not only passwords but PINs, credit-card numbers and their three-digit CVV codes, answers to security questions, and more—with encryption so strong that it might take a hacker between decades and forever to crack. And to get all that security, you’ll only need to remember a single password, the one you use to unlock your so-called vault. Your login data will be locked down and, at the same time, remain right at your fingertips.
  • Make sure you are not using one of the top five most used passwords used in the United States. Those passwords include “password”, “12345”, “password12345”, and various other fairly ridiculous passwords.  Try not to use your personal information in your password if possible or if so, combine it with a series of numbers and special characters i.e. periods, exclamation points, etc. that are unique to you. 
  • In keeping up with your password protection, I would also include a list of your current passwords either digitally or hard copy with your Will or Powers of Attorney in a safe or safe-deposit box. If something were to happen to you, your Executor or family members could get access to email, your bank accounts and important documents.  Be sure the person you give access to these accounts is someone your trust.  If you are going to name someone as your Power of Attorney, I would always recommend that person be someone you trust anyway. 

Protect Yourself – Tips for Protecting Your Social Media Accounts

First of all, do you know who owns your Facebook?  The answer would be Facebook itself.  Even though you created your Facebook and maybe spent hours and hours adding pictures, posts, and information to it, Facebook, the company, actually owns your Facebook account. 

            If something happened to you or you violate their terms of service, Facebook may completely delete your Facebook and all the posts and pictures you ever posted online. 

            If you pass away, there are three options to continue or discontinue your Facebook account. 

  • First, you can memorialize your Facebook account. This can be done either by yourself through a designation on the Facebook website before you pass away, through your Executor or Administrator with a Court Order, or by a close family member who can prove that that person is a close family member.  By memorializing your Facebook, you leave your Facebook up and no further changes can be made to this account other than allowing your friends and family members to post thoughts and remembrances of you on your Facebook for as long as you would like to keep this alive.  Some people think this helps the grieving process.  I would recommend considering this option if you are very attached to your Facebook. 
  • The next option is to have your Facebook downloaded off-line so that your family members and friends can have your pictures and posts, etc. and then have your Facebook closed. This way you won’t pop up as someone’s friend suggestion down the road.  As someone who has dealt with this personally, I would recommend trying to remove a deceased family member from Facebook to create any further damage in terms of emotional grief. 
  • The last option for Facebook is to simply have Facebook close your account and delete all of the content. If you don’t have anything of note on your Facebook and you really don’t have any interest in keeping your Facebook open once you pass away this is something you can preselect on your Facebook account or your Executor or Administrator can do this after you pass away. 

Protect Yourself – Use New Texas Laws to Allow Access To Your Online Accounts

Recently, Texas passed the “Texas Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” or TRUFADAA.  This Act allows a person (fiduciary) named by you, much like a Power of Attorney, to obtain access to your digital assets.  These digital assets can include two things. 

  • The first type of digital asset includes social media, email accounts, and various things that require password protection because of personal information. These digital assets don’t necessarily make money. This would include things like Facebook, My Space, Instagram or Twitter, etc. 
  • The other type of digital asset is a website or blog that is profitable or at least is created for profit.

This new Act would allow you to use a form provided by an attorney or created by you, obtained online, or an estate planning service. The form names one, two or even three or more people to act on your behalf in case something happens to you in regard to your digital assets.  If you have further questions about this type of planning, please be sure to visit an estate planning attorney like us!

Protect Yourself – AND Your Profitable Website or Blog

Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, there are website and blog platforms online that individual people and companies do own or can own.  For example, this website that you are visiting right now is owned by the Weaver Firm – Attorneys. The most famous of these is “Huffington Post” which started as a blog and is now a multi-million dollar company. 

If you created a blog or website that is profitable or if you believe your website may be profitable one day, you need to have a succession plan just like any other business. 

As these types of websites become more and more common, I believe that litigation will increase as family members and friends fight over the profits and the rights to these websites.  If you own a business, either an internet company or a company in the real world, you must have a succession plan either in the governing documents of the company or in your Will or Trust.  If you need help setting up a plan for your business, please contact our office. 

Protect Yourself & Your Heirs – Create a Digital Estate Plan

So, how does all of this I have discussed relate to estate planning?  Well, I mentioned a few things including the new laws and planning in your Wills for your online business or your social media, but to wrap everything up in a nice little package, I would recommend creating an actual digital estate plan that goes along side your regular estate plan.  This would include:

  • List of passwords and other access to online accounts, emails, etc.
  • Name at least one person (a fiduciary), preferably from a different generation, to handle your digital assets including access to emails, text messages, etc., access to businesses you run online including eBay accounts and Amazon accounts. This would also include designating websites like Facebook and Twitter to either terminate upon your death or to be memorialized depending on your personal situation. 
  • Add language in your Will allowing your Executor to deal with digital assets specifically as the legislature has not quite caught up with current technology and the law is very new on most of these topics.

Should you need help in planning–for distribution of your digital or tangible assets–please give us a call to schedule an appointment at 817-638-9016.  We would be happy to meet with you about your estate plan as technology continues to change our lives.

I believe that estate planning, both digitally and non-digitally, will be crucial to avoiding costly litigation. We’re glad to help protect you, your family, and your online presence in the future.

 

By Travis Weaver, Attorney

Office: 817-638-9016

Email:  TWeaver@WeaverLegal.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make 401(k) Plans Great Again

If you don’t already have a 401(k), do I have some great news for you! The new limits for 2018 contributions just came out and as of January 1, 2018, you can contribute $18,500.00 to your 401(k). 

For a quick reminder, a 401(k) account is a retirement savings account through your employer (SEP IRAs are for self employed individuals and those have slightly different rules) which allows you to contribute money to your retirement before taxes are taken out. Yes, taxes are taken out once you retire, but 401(k) plans allow you to lower your taxable income right now.

Over 1.1 million dollars saved for retirement

With modest returns, a forty year old could max out his or her 401(k) account for the next twenty-seven years and have over 1.1 million dollars saved for retirement above and beyond social security. That’s a lot of vacations.

Weaver Firm PC 817.638.9016 or TWeaver@www.weaverlegal.net

The Importance of Elderly Legal Advocates to Stop Elder Abuse

Last week, the New Yorker published a sobering look into the world of abusive guardianships around the country. Stories about elderly individuals being over-medicated and shuffled around to different nursing homes show the dark side of Guardianship law and how the Elderly are abused in our communities. As the baby boomer generation ages, elder abuse will continue to plague our society. After reading this story, I am left with two takeaways:

  1. Attorneys appointed to represent the interest of potential Wards need to do their due diligence EVERY TIME. Visit the person and speak to the caregivers. Talk to the family members and gather all relevant facts before submitting any report to the Court. In 99 out of 100 cases like those discussed in the article, a good advocate for the Ward would prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
  2. Family members and friends need to look out for the elderly in their communities. In a society where we close ourselves off more and more each year, those struggling in their homes or daily lives go unnoticed. If you know of an elderly person or couple in your neighborhood, take time to stop and check on them once a week or so. If you are family, go visit your elderly family members! Look for signs of elder abuse (new credit cards, HSN packages by the dozens, etc.). Those with memory issues can greatly benefit from seeing familiar faces on a daily or weekly basis.

Although we practice Guardianship law at the Weaver Firm, we always recommend a Guardianship as a last resort. The State of Texas has many statutory alternatives including Power of Attorneys, Caregiver Agreements, etc. Often, a strong support system can prevent Guardianships for years if not indefinitely.

For more information about these alternatives or if you think you need Guardianship advice, call our office at 817.638.9016.

To report elder abuse, go here: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Contact_Us/report_abuse.asp.    

Who is Entitled to Death or Survivor Benefits from an ERISA Plan or from a Federal Employee Benefit Plan?

Are you or someone you know a part of the federal employee plan? Postal employee? Social Security worker? Senator? If so, you are covered by the Federal Employee Benefit Plan. We often deal with clients who are entitled to benefits from this type of plan. Check out this great article about what to do if you are entitled to benefits under this type of plan.

Some highlights:

  • make sure you designate your beneficiary and keep it updated!
    • married? change the beneficiary
    • divorced? change the beneficiary
    • children? change the beneficiary
  • FYI, just because you get a divorce, your surviving spouse can still receive retirement benefits
  • ambiguous designations on forms can still be effective depending on the intent of the employee

article link: https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=695120099066114013027099112073077092097036019031031092110087122090070084089113065093056035048125008059096096007071031065126120038022089021065116026080115123096064024046007086080070084082070083125112002114094008068080065015005113092010007021119102024&EXT=pdf

What Trump’s Tax Plan Means for Texas Estate Planning

Attached, please find a timely article on the changes to the tax laws and how they might affect your Estate Planning.

Here are some highlights:

  • repeal of Estate Tax (death tax)
    • yes, the death tax is once again being threatened to within an inch of its life. While I doubt, the 5.5 million dollar exemption goes away, be on the lookout for changes in the future.
    • no mention of gift tax staying or going . . . limit is $14,000 a year per person still
  • cost basis at death is also strangely unmentioned. Perhaps you will keep a step-up in basis and perhaps not

Our advice:

  • update Power of Attorneys to allow for gifting powers
  • update Estate Planning documents for 2017 changes in language and law
  • keep investing wisely and saving so you can eventually take advantage of no Estate tax in the future!

Link to article: https://www.fa-mag.com/news/what-your-hnw-clients-should-do-in-response-to-trump-s-tax-plan-34964.html

Swedish Death Cleaning . . . Not Quite as Brutal as It Sounds

What is Swedish Death Cleaning? Basically, a guide to decluttering your life. As an advocate of decluttering your life for your heirs and for yourself, I always recommend reading this type of material. Estate sales are expensive and time-consuming. Often, fights start about who gets what jewelry or artwork or personal items.

Having an Estate Plan means actually having a plan for what happened when you age and when you pass away. Wills, Trusts and Power of Attorneys are excellent tools, but making a plan with your family can be the best type of planning. Check out this article and make sure and subscribe to our newsletter for even more in depth content and special news.

https://lifehacker.com/you-must-get-started-on-your-swedish-death-cleaning-1819370181

Is Your Child 18? 4 Tips & More To Prevent Legal Problems

Is Your Child 18? 4 Tips & More To Prevent Legal Problems

Many parents face a new experience this fall–sons and daughters headed to college, moving out, or handling adult responsibilities for the first time. Follow these four NEED TO KNOW tips to help you and your 18-year-old prevent legal problems:

1. Obtain financial & medical power of attorney for your young adult
If young Josh forgets to pay his rent one month, a financial power of attorney allows mom or dad to talk to the landlord and settle the bill—protecting your son’s credit rating. Same goes if Emma ends up with a bad case of bronchitis and can’t speak for herself at the doctor’s office. Parents can step in and determine medical care. At age 18, your child is now an adult in the eyes of the law and needs help preventing legal problems. You have no access to information or input on decisions.

2. Update student checking accounts and more with beneficiaries and co-signers
Maybe you’ll be putting monthly spending money in a checking account for Madison. Or, you’ve set up a 529 plan to pay for Jake’s tuition and books. Possibly you have a will that hasn’t been updated in years—showing your ex-wife as a beneficiary. Take 10 minutes to add yourself as co-signer on a youthful checking account and name a beneficiary. Same goes for updating beneficiaries on savings accounts and wills. You’ll then be able to access funds immediately if needed and avoid probate proceedings in Texas for these accounts.

3. Name a trustee for your estate – not your 18-year-old
Even the most mature 18-year-old doesn’t have the experience to handle decisions like selling a house, moving stock funds, and other major financial challenges if a parent is unable to do so.Update your will to name a reliable person as trustee for your estate, thereby preserving your children’s inheritance and making sure funds are spent as you intend. If you have minor children, naming a trustee for their care is even more important. Trustees can determine where your children live, apply for government benefits for your children, and speak to medical professionals. Good estate planning avoids any funds going to minors, so this won’t apply to seasoned experts like those of you reading this article.

4. What about your daughter’s dog (or cat, lizard, snake)?
If Ethan or Hannah leave Snoopy and Bootsy with you while they’re away at college, congratulations! You can always leave a small fund in a pet trust as part of your will. I also recommend naming the person or people who would take care of the pets. If you need further info on this subject, check out our article, Planning for Fur Babies.

More questions?
As always, if you have questions or would like to visit more about these tips or other estate planning concerns, I’d be glad to visit with you personally at our office just north of Fort Worth, in Rhome, Texas. Call 817.638.9016 and ask for Travis Weaver or send an email to Travis Weaver at TWeaver@WeaverLegal.net.

By Travis Weaver, Attorney – August 22, 2017

What Happens to Your IRA When You Die?

Check out this great article about the different ways your IRA benefits can pass at your death. This article goes into some planning details, but here is a brief summary of the author’s most important points:

  1. Talk to your attorney or CPA about any Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the current year. If the beneficiary was over age seventy (70), this is more than likely the case.

  2. Make sure your beneficiaries are up to date. Often we see former spouses or deceased individuals listed as beneficiaries. If these beneficiaries are not updated, you may leave money to someone you don’t even know.

  3. Listing a Trust as a beneficiary can be helpful is done correctly. You can stretch out distributions from your IRA for years. Consult an attorney or CPA about the proper way to set up your IRA Trust as mistakes in planning are common.

For all of these issues and more, set up an appointment with the Weaver Firm Attorneys at 817.638.9016 or at TWeaver@www.weaverlegal.net

To get ahead of the curve, join our newsletter here.

Will President Trump Repeal the Death Tax? Probably Not.

Forbes recently published an updated look into the proposed GOP tax reform which, among other things, seeks to repeal and death tax. Currently set at 5.49 million per person (portability allows this to double), the estate tax only affects about one percent (1%) of the U.S. population. This new tax reform seeks to lower the highest tax rate as well as reduce the top tax rate on trade or business income. As with all tax reform proposals, take this one with a grain of salt.

If anything was to change regarding the estate tax or laws that might affect you, rest assured, that the Weaver Firm will let you know. Yet another reason to stay up to date on our latest legal tips. For even more information, join our newsletter here.  

Smells Like Teen Inheritance

Refinery29 recently published an interesting glimpse into the life of Frances Bean Cobain. If the last name looks familiar, that’s because Frances is the only child of the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame. Ms. Cobain makes a cool $100,000.00 per month from her father’s old band’s royalties. More recently, Frances and her husband, Isaiah Silva, went through a very public divorce. Silva is currently seeking half of the couple’s assets due to a lack of a prenuptial agreement. For more on this story, check out the original article here. For questions about generation planning or prenuptial agreements, give us a call at 817.638.9016 or visit us at weaverlegal.net.

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