Posts

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.

Saving What Matters: 12 Must-Have Items For Your Go-Bag

It’s the middle of the night.

The authorities just notified you that you have 20 minutes to evacuate your home before a raging wildfire cuts off the exit from your neighborhood, leaving you trapped.

The fire is advancing at the rate of a football field every second, so the actions you take in the next few moments will determine whether you and your family live or die.

While this may sound like a scene from a blockbuster disaster movie, it’s actually the very scenario Judy Shannon faced in December 2017. And it’s something we can expect to see more and more as the impact of climate change sets in.

Judy was at home with her two young children, her elderly mother, and a puppy, when an out-of-control wildfire threatened to engulf her Ventura County home in Southern California.

Fortunately, she and her family escaped without injury. But her home, her neighborhood, and hundreds of other buildings in the area were burned to the ground. Shopping for supplies in the aftermath, Judy reflected on whether or not she could have done more to ensure her family’s safety in those last moments before evacuating.

“As I look back, I wonder, ‘Did I do enough?’” Judy recalled. “I can honestly say I didn’t have much choice in those 20 minutes. I responded without much thought and felt a sense of being carried, or moved about, with each step.”

This highlights a critical aspect of facing such life-threatening emergencies: You won’t have time to think. You must be prepared to act and act fast. Your life and the lives of those in your family absolutely depend on it.

Be ready to go

With natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and hurricanes becoming more frequent and destructive with every passing year, the need for you to be ready to act is more pressing than ever. And as Judy’s story highlights, when you have mere minutes to evacuate, you won’t have time to think about what you should bring with you to survive the days—or weeks—to come.

To be optimally prepared, take a cue from the U.S. military and police agencies. These organizations require their members to always have a “go-bag” on-hand packed with the essential items needed to survive for at least three days following a disaster.

While numerous online retailers sell fully equipped go-bags for such emergencies, and both FEMA and the American Red Cross provide checklists to help you pack your own, here we offer a basic summary of the most-recommended supplies.

This list should give you some idea of what items you should have ready to go in case you need to get out of your home within minutes.

1) ID and other essential documents:
Bring copies of your passport, driver’s license, and/or state ID card and store them in a sealed ziplock bag. Other documents to consider packing include the deed to your home, vehicle titles/registration, printed maps, and a recent family photo with faces clearly visible for easy identification.

2) Cash: Carry at least $250 in relatively small bills, and keep it with your ID in a waterproof bag.

3) Shelter: A lightweight tent, along with mylar emergency blankets can help keep you warm and dry.

4) Water and a water filter: You’ll need at least one gallon of water per person per day. Bring as much bottled water as possible, but also include a water purification straw and/or purification tablets, along with a steel container to boil water in.

5) A multi-tool: These modern-day Swiss Army knives come with a wide array of essential tools, from a knife and screwdriver to tweezers and a can opener.

6) First-aid kit and prescription medications: Whether you buy one ready-made or pack your own, the likelihood of injury skyrockets in the wake disasters, so not having a first-aid kit can be deadly. And don’t forget to include prescription medications and other life-sustaining medical supplies if needed.

7) Light: Flashlights with extra batteries are great, but headlamps are even better because they’re ultra compact and leave your hands free.

8) An emergency whistle: Emergency whistles can alert rescue crews and help locate others in low-visibility conditions.

9) Solar-powered emergency radio and cellphone charger: Without power, you’ll need a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Today you can find devices that include a combination radio, cell-phone charger, and flashlight all in one, with the extra option of hand-cranked power to keep things charged even in the dark.

10) Sanitary items: Pack toilet paper, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, as well as tampons and/or pads if needed.

11) Clothes: You only need enough clothes to keep you warm and comfortable for a few days, so don’t try to bring your entire wardrobe. Stick to essentials like underwear, socks, extra shoes, a jacket, a poncho, a hat, and gloves. You’ll need to tailor your clothing to the particular climate and region you live in, so colder locations may require extra outerwear.

12) Food: Focus on high-protein, high-caloric foods that will give you the energy you need to live and get from point A to point B. The most recommended options include, energy bars, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat), freeze-dried survival food, and meal-replacement shakes.

Stay safe and secure

While go-bags are a critical part of helping your family survive the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or other emergency, they’re just a start. For instance, this list doesn’t address any of your precious sentimental items, such as photos, old love letters, and treasured cards from the past. Nor does it mention estate planning documents or insurance policies.

Copies of your insurance policies and estate planning documents items should be uploaded to the cloud and stored online. You should also store sentimentals, like family histories and photos online, so you don’t have to worry about packing any of that in the event of a natural disaster. Indeed, safely storing your sentimentals online is so important, we offer this as a service to our clients, so be sure to ask us about that.

Of course, to keep your family totally safe and secure, you’ll need to make sure you actually have the right insurance coverage and necessary legal documents in place to cover every possible emergency contingency. Contact us as  to learn exactly what you need and how we can support you.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. 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 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 at no charge.

Learning From My iFailures

 

Our lives are on our smartphones.

The data we keep on them has great sentimental value because they’re every parent’s primary way of capturing precious family memories, such as videos of an adorable child singing pop songs in the car. But our smartphones also store other sensitive information that is valuable to hackers, like passwords and financial information.

What happens when we don’t have access to our smartphones for an extended period of time? (Or if something happens to us and someone else can’t access something important on our phones?) We feel powerless. We might even freak out.

Recently, my iPhone broke. I had dropped the phone too many times and it was on its way out anyway. But I wasn’t ready. I thought I had more time. And worst of all, I discovered that I had underestimated the impact of its sudden failure and overestimated the extent of my digital backup for my family photos.

While I have systems in place to protect my work-related information, I had gotten a little lax on preserving items on my personal smartphone. In doing that, I risked losing access to cherished family photos and other sensitive information. I also uncovered another issue, two-factor authentication. Many websites have two-factor authentication, with a text message going to your phone when you try to log in from a different device. If you have to access a website or re-set a password, not having access to your text messages is a big problem!

Fortunately, my phone was repaired and the most that I suffered was some inconvenience. And I vowed to share this experience with you, because what I experienced as serious implications for family disaster planning.

Ask yourself these questions to evaluate your risk of iFailure. 

  1. Does your spouse know the passwords to your phone and computer?
  2. If you have an app that saves your passwords, where is your backup located? Who else has access to the main password?
  3. Do you routinely move your photos to the cloud or other storage methods? If so, who else has access to those locations?
  4. Which of your devices are set up to receive text messages or two-factor authentication when you’re logging in from a new device or changing a password?
  5. Have you changed your telephone number in the past year? If so, have you updated all of your accounts that require two-factor authentication?

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps folks make informed and empowered decisions about their life and death, for their sake and their loved ones. That’s why Myrna offers a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling her office today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge