Overlooking This Basic Part of Your Estate Plan Can Be Tragic

The recent death of the CEO of QuadrigaCX, a major cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, demonstrates a basic, yet often-overlooked, principal of effective estate planning:

If you become incapacitated or die, if your heirs don’t know how to find or access your assets, those assets are as good as gone. Indeed, it’s as if those assets never existed at all.

In the case of QuadrigaCX’s owner Gerald Cotten, the lost assets were purportedly worth $145 million. That represented the vast majority of the company’s crypto holdings.

The hefty sum effectively vanished after Cotten died without leaving instructions for how to access the digital currency’s security passcodes. The crypto holdings were owned by some 115,000 clients, who used the exchange to buy and store their digital coins.

An untimely death and a cold wallet

Cotten, age 30, died suddenly while traveling in India during December 2018. In January 2019, QuardigaCX filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from creditors, including all of the customers with crypto stored in the company’s electronic vault.

Ironically, the digital assets were lost in part because Cotten followed a security practice designed for protection. Most of the company’s cryptocurrency holdings were stored in a “cold wallet,” or one that isn’t connected to the Internet. The use of a cold wallet is a common practice, since “hot wallets,” or those connected to the internet, are a frequent target of hackers.

This typically would’ve been a smart move, but Cotten reportedly stored the cold wallet on an encrypted laptop that only he knew how to get into.

According to Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Roberston, following multiple searches, she has been unable to find the passwords that will open the laptop and provide access to the company’s cold wallet. QuadrigaCX even brought in IT experts to get into Cotten’s laptop, but so far, all attempts have been unsuccessful.

Canadian financial authorities and independent auditors are currently investigating the case. Some have even speculated that Cotten’s death was faked as part of a nefarious scheme connected to QuadrigaCX. Whether it ultimately turns out to be a simple case of carelessness or something more malicious, the lesson remains the same:

From cryptocurrency to safety deposit boxes and everything in between, your family must know how to find and access every asset you own, otherwise it could be lost forever.

In fact, there’s a total of more than $58 billion of unclaimed assets from across the country held by the State Department of Unclaimed Property. Much of that massive sum got there because someone died and their family didn’t know they owned the asset.

Incomplete estate planning

Another puzzling fact is that upon first glance, Cotten was diligent in his estate planning. Indeed, Cotten named Roberston as his estate’s executor and left her instructions for the complete distribution of his assets, including a private jet and multiple properties in Canada.

He even left behind $100,000 for the care of his dogs. But he forgot to forget to include the passcodes that would unlock his company’s vast crypto assets. Most people holding crypto assets haven’t taken the proper steps to ensure their heirs will know how to access these assets upon their incapacity or death.

Given this, if you own any digital currency like Bitcoin, be sure to call us to make certain these assets have been correctly included in your estate plan. Indeed, if you have any assets that might potentially be overlooked in the event of your incapacity or death, contact us now.

Easily avoidable

What makes this loss so tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. Whether you own a lot (or very little), your plan must include a comprehensive inventory all of your assets. And as Cotten’s case shows, this inventory must also include a detailed instructions for how your heirs can find and access every asset.

At our firm, a comprehensive asset inventory like this is a standard part of every estate plan we create. And whether it’s cryptocurrency, social media accounts, or online payment platforms like PayPal, this inventory will include detailed instructions for accessing all of your digital assets and their passcodes. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session.

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers a Planning Session. The Planning Session helps you get more financially organized than ever and helps you make the best choices for the people you love.  Start by calling us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session for free.

Part 2: Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the estate planning tools all unmarried couples should have in place. Here, we’ll look at the final two must-have planning tools.

Most people see estate planning as something only married couples need to worry about. But estate planning can be even more critical for for unmarried couples in committed relationships.

Because your relationship with one another is usually not legally recognized, if one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning can be devastating. Your age, income level, and marital status makes no difference. Every adult needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place to keep loved ones out of court and conflict.

Health Care Directives

In addition to naming someone to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity, you also need to name someone who can make health-care decisions for you. If you want your partner to have any say in how your health care is handled during your incapacity, you should get Health Care Directives in place.

This gives your partner the ability to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. This is particularly important if you’re unmarried, seeing that your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process, and even deny your him or her the right to visit you in the hospital.

Don’t forget to provide your partner with HIPAA authorization within the health care directives,  so he or she will have access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care.

Living will

While your Health Care Directives names who can make health-care decisions in the event of  your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. If you want your partner to have control over how your end-of-life care is managed, you should name them as your agent in a living will.

A living will explains how you’d like important medical decisions made, including if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you.

Without a valid living will, doctors will most likely rely entirely on the decisions of your family or the named medical power of attorney holder when determining what course of treatment to pursue. Without a living will, those choices may not be the choices you—or your partner—would want.


We can help

If you’re involved in a committed relationship—married or not—or you just want to make sure that the people you choose are making your most important life-and-death decisions, consult with us to put these essential estate planning tools in place.

With our help, we can support you in identifying the best planning strategies for your unique needs and situation. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s our firm offers a 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. Start by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free!

Use Estate Planning So Your Family Isn’t Stuck Paying for Your Funeral

With the cost of a funeral averaging $7,000 and steadily increasing each year, every estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. Yet it isn’t enough to simply set aside money in your will.

Your family won’t be able to access money left in a will until your estate goes through probate, which can last months or even years. Most  funeral providers require full payment upfront. So this means your family will have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket, unless you take proper action now.

If you want to avoid burdening your family with this hefty bill, you should use planning strategies that do not require probate. Here are a few options:

Insurance

You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. The policy will pay out to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is available. But you’ll likely have to undergo a medical exam and may be disqualified or face costly premiums if you’re older and/or have health issues.

There is also burial insurance specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known “final expense,” “memorial,” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. But  you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.

Because of the sky-high premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases.


If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, make sure your family knows about it! These policies are often never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed.

Prepaid funeral plans

Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.

While such prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. These packages can be risky. So choose wisely.

Payable-on-death accounts

Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.

A POD does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.

Joint Accounts

Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, and it puts the account at risk from their creditors.  But we know of cases where clients lost money in joint accounts they shared with relatives. In those cases, the relative’s creditors went after the money in the joint account.

Living trusts

We can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.

With a living trust, you can change the terms at any time and even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need to implement planning strategies to protect your Medicaid eligibility, we can help with that too.

Don’t needlessly burden your family

To help decide which option is best suited for your particular situation, consult with our firm. We can put an estate plan in place that includes adequate funding to ensure your funeral services are handled just as you wish—and your family isn’t forced to foot the bill.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a 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  Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

Scam Alert! Grandparent Scam

Imagine this… You are an elderly grandparent who lives alone.


You get a call in the middle of the night from your college-aged granddaughter. She’s frantic and crying, telling you she was mistakenly arrested while vacationing in Cancun.

She says she needs you to pay her $1,800 bond, or she’ll be transferred to a dangerous Mexican prison. The Mexican police told her she only has a few hours before she’s transferred, so she needs you to wire the money immediately.

She’s terrified her parents finding out she was arrested and begs you not to tell them. Because she only has a couple of minutes to use the police station phone, the call ends abruptly before you can get any further details.


What do you do?

If you’re like the thousands of others who’ve gotten just such a call, you’d probably wire the money in a heartbeat. It is your grandchild’s life after all. But you’d soon find out that your granddaughter hasn’t been arrested and was never in Mexico.

The Grandparent Scam

Known as the Grandparent Scam, this con has been around for years, and while it may seem far fetched, it has tricked many caring seniors. And this scam is on the rise.

How the scam works: 

  1. You get a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. They might be in jail and need bond or be stranded in a foreign country and need money to get out.
  2. The caller asks you to wire money to a specific location or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.
  3. The “grandchild” will often plead with you not to tell their parents they’re in trouble.
  4. Once you send the money, the caller breaks off all contact, making it impossible to recover your funds.

What to do:

In most cases, the best course of action is to simply hang up and contact the authorities. However, if the caller really does sound like the family member they claim to be, here are some steps you can take to help verify the situation is legitimate:

  1. Don’t panic. It’s far easier to be deceived if you’re nervous or scared.
  2. Be wary of calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Ask to call them back on the person’s own phone, and never accept requests sent solely by email or text.
  3. Verify the caller’s identity by asking them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet.
  4. Beware of urgent demands that money be sent immediately. Reputable sources don’t try to pressure you into making split-second financial decisions.
  5. Call other family and friends to verify where the person is. A reputable source will respect your caution and give you the opportunity to verify the facts.
  6. Requests for money to be wired are often scams, as it’s nearly impossible to get your money back in cases of fraud. Request a more secure transaction method, such as through a bank or PayPal. Legitimate sources are likely to offer multiple payment options.

Comprehensive protection

Please share this article with any seniors in your life. There are countless other scams out there that work in much the same way, so even if it’s not this particular con, by becoming aware how these deceptions work, they’ll be much less likely to fall for them.

Of course, scams and cons are just one threat to seniors’ financial security. Without comprehensive estate planning, there are numerous other ways your family’s money and other assets can be squandered or lost.

Consult with us to put planning strategies in place to safeguard your family’s finances and other assets, both tangible and intangible. This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t  just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s Myrna offers a 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 Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

Improve Your Relationships Through Estate Planning

Do you have a New Year’s resolution? How about Estate Planning? Believe it or not, it can improve your relationships!

During the holidays, you’ve probably spent a lot of time with your family and friends. During these moments, you realize just how important these relationships can be. And as we grow older, you begin to realize how precious little time we have to spend with one another.

Life is short. So use this time to talk about estate planning so that you can ensure that you and your loved ones are provided and cared for no matter what happens. Though death and incapacity can be uncomfortable subjects to discuss, with a comprehensive plan in place, you’ll almost certainly experience a huge sense of relief and peace.

Planning requires you to closely consider your relationships with family and friends—past, present, and future—like never before. This process can be the ultimate forum for heartfelt communication and prioritizing what matters most in life.

Indeed, communicating clearly about what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death (and asking your loved ones what they want to happen) can foster a deeper bond and sense of intimacy than just about anything else you can do.

Here are just a few of the valuable ways estate planning can improve the relationships you cherish most:

1) Estate planning shows that you really care.

Taking the time and effort to carefully plan for what will happen to you in the event of your incapacity or when you die is a genuine demonstration of your love. It would be far easier to do nothing and simply let you family and friends figure it out for themselves. After all, you won’t be around to deal with any of the fallout.

But planning in advance shows that you truly care about the welfare of your loved ones, even when you’re no longer around to benefit from their love and companionship. Such selfless concern and forethought equates to nothing less than a final expression of your unconditional love.

2) Estate Planning inspires honest communication about difficult issues.

Sitting down and having an honest discussion about life’s most taboo subjects—incapacity and death—is almost certain to bring you and your loved ones closer. By forcing you to face immortality together, planning has a way of highlighting what’s really important in life—and what’s not.

In fact, our clients consistently share that after going through our estate planning process they feel more connected to the people they love the most. And they also feel more clear about the lives they want to live during the short time we have here on Earth.

Planning offers the opportunity to talk openly about matters you may not have even considered. When it comes to choices about distributing assets and naming executors and trustees, you’ll have a chance to engage in frank discussions about the reasons for your choices.

While this can be uncomfortable, clearly communicating your feelings and intentions is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships. In the end, it might just be the first step in actively addressing and healing any problems that may be lurking under the surface of your relationships.

3) Estate Planning builds a deep sense of trust and respect.

Whether it’s the individuals you name as your children’s legal guardians or those you nominate to handle your own end-of-life care, estate planning shows your loved ones just how much you trust and admire them. What greater honor can you bestow upon another than putting your own life and those of your children in their hands?

Though it’s often challenging to verbally express how much you love your family and friends, estate planning demonstrates your affection in a truly tangible way. And once these people see exactly how much you value them, it can foster a deepening of your relationship with one another.

4) Estate Planning creates a lasting legacy

While estate planning is primarily viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, it can offer your loved ones much more than just financial security. When done right, it lets you hand down the most precious assets of all—your life stories, lessons, and values.

In fact, the wisdom and experience you’ve gained during your lifetime are among the most treasured gifts you can give. Left to chance, these gifts are likely to be lost forever. In light of this, we’ve built in a process, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages, for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

With this service, which is included in every estate plan we create, we guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind. Family Wealth Legacy Passages can not only ensure you’re able to say everything that needs to be said, but that your legacy carries on long after you—and your money—are gone.

The heart of the matter

We can help guide and support you in having these intimate discussions with your loved ones. And as our Family Wealth Legacy Passages service shows, we offer a wide-array of customized planning options designed to enrich your family and friends with far more than just material wealth.

With our help, estate planning planning doesn’t have to be a dreary affair. When done right, it can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and ultimately be a tremendously uplifting experience for everyone involved.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents. Myrna helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers a 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. Call our office today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a  Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

New Year’s Resolution: Tackle that estate plan!

It’s that time of year when many of us are working on our New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s to eat healthier, get organized or finally clean out the garage, many of our resolutions center around some type of self-improvement. Doesn’t it feel great when you’ve finished that dreaded item on your to do list?

For many folks, estate planning is at the BOTTOM of the to do list. Studies have shown that over 50% of Americans don’t have a Will. Yet 100% of folks would benefit from some type of estate planning!  With an updated, effective estate plan, you can guard against unnecessary heartache, financial hardship and family drama. For example, if your health deteriorates to the point where you’re dying and you can’t communicate your wishes, without any advance medical directives in place, your loved ones have the emotional burden of trying to figure out what medical care you do or don’t want. Moreover, who’s going to be in charge of the decisions? And without an updated Will, can you be sure that your property goes to the right people?

I understand that for many of us, estate planning is uncomfortable, emotional and overwhelming. Who wants to spend time thinking about leaving their loved ones behind? I guide my clients through the process, one step at a time. Let’s tackle this resolution together. Then you can get back to your other resolutions, like cleaning out that garage.

Dementia and Guns: A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

It’s common for families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to realize that at some point, their loved one shouldn’t be allowed to drive. But fewer people know that they should exercise the same level of caution when it comes to restricting their loved one’s access to firearms.

This was one of the findings of a May 2018 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine covering firearm ownership among Alzheimer’s patients. The study noted that even though 89% of Americans support restricting access to firearms for those with mental illness, there’s been little attention focused on limiting firearm access among elderly dementia patients. Currently there are no federal gun laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by persons with dementia. And only two states—Hawaii and Texas—have laws restricting gun access for dementia patients.

A ticking time bomb

This lack of attention comes despite an increasing number of incidents involving elderly dementia patients shooting and killing family members and caregivers after confusing them for intruders. And with so many Baby Boomers now entering retirement age, this dangerous situation could get much worse.

In fact, the number of people with dementia is expected to double to around 14 million in the next 20 years, with the vast majority of those over age 65. Nearly half of people over 65 either own a gun or live with someone who does. So it’s clear that firearm safety should be a top priority for those with elderly family members—even if they don’t currently show any dementia signs.

Just talking about restricting someone’s access to guns can be highly controversial and polarizing. Many people, especially veterans and those in law enforcement, consider guns—and their right to own them—an important part of their identity. Given this, the study’s authors recommended that families should talk with their elderly loved ones early on about the fact that one day they might have to give up their guns. Physicians suggest bringing up the topic of firearms relatively soon after individual’s initial dementia diagnosis.

This discussion should be similar to those related to driving, acknowledging the emotions involved and allowing the person to maintain independence and decision control for as long as it’s safe. Even though this can be a very touchy subject, putting off this discussion can literally be life threatening.

All part of the plan

Since it relates to so many other end-of-life matters, this discussion should take place as part of the overall estate planning process. One way to handle the risk is to create a legally binding agreement laying out a “firearm retirement date” that’s similar to advance directives addressing the elderly relinquishing their driving privileges.

Such an agreement allows the gun owner to name a trusted family member or friend to take ownership of their firearms once they’re reached a certain age or stage of dementia. In this way,the process may seem more like passing on a beloved family heirloom and less like giving up their guns. Moreover, the transfer of certain types of firearms must adhere to strict state and federal regulations. Unless the new owner is in full compliance with these requirements, they could inadvertently violate the law simply by taking possession of the guns.

In light of this risk, you should consider creating a “gun trust,” an estate planning tool specially designed to deal with the ownership of firearms. With a gun trust, the firearm is legally owned by the trust, so most of the transfer requirements are avoided, making it a lot easier for family members to manage access after the original owner’s death.

Indeed, gun trusts can be a valuable planning strategy even for gun owners without dementia. Speak with us to see if a gun trust would be a suitable option for your family. A matter of life and death

If you have an elderly family member with access to guns, you should consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® as soon as possible. We can not only offer guidance on the the most tactful ways to discuss the matter, but also help you set up the appropriate estate planning strategies to ensure the firearms are properly secured and transferred. Given the grave risks involved, managing the elderly’s access to firearms should be taken every bit as seriously—if not more so—as managing their ability to operate motor vehicles. The safety of both your loved one and everyone who cares for them depends on it. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.That’s why we offer a 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 learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.