Parents Liable for Internet Bullying

BullyingThe 13-year-old thought he’d have some fun: anonymous “cyber bullying” of a classmate on Facebook.

Eventually, his parents learned of their son’s action. But they ignored it for months.

And now they face civil liability for not dealing with what their son had maliciously created on the Internet. Read more

The Black Hole Revocable Trust

black holeSurprise! Have a Revocable Trust (a/k/a “Living Trust’)? Gotten any statements addressed to it? No? Well, the Trust isn’t going to do what you think it will do.

It’s like buying a car with no gas in the tank. You’re not going anywhere.

And we see this all too often.

(This is no knock on these Trusts; they can be very useful.  But if they’ve got nothing in them but dust, the signed document is next to useless.)

A typical story: a couple fills in a “Trust” form given to them by their banker.  It looks legal and official enough: the print was really small, the right margin was justified, and the signature block looked very important.

They figure the customer service person at the bank must have known what he or she was doing, the bank’s logo was on the top, and sure, this was cheaper than going to a lawyer, so what was the harm?

The bank person assures them that it’s a fine trust; “that’s why the Bank gives these out.”

So they sign, and take a copy home to put with their important papers. Read more

Happy Thanksgiving Questionnaire

TurkeyIf you’ll see your parents (or your adult children) on Thanksgiving, you might want to leave ‘em a copy under their plate.

Dear ______________ (you fill in the blank),
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we want to let you know that we are thankful in advance that you’ll read this letter. (We know you won’t want to discuss this, but we really need to.) And we’re making it as easy as possible for you to fill out; just check the boxes you like. You can also add in any words you wish.

☐ I don’t have a Will.
☐ I have a Will but I don’t have the faintest idea where it is. Read more

Mean Wills Don’t Ever Mean Well

letterShakespeare — yes, that Shakespeare, the celebrated playwright and poet – wrote one mean document.  His Will did not refer to his wife by name.  And all he bequeathed her was his “second-best bed.”

That’s what he thought of his wife. Theirs wasn’t a great marriage.

So what kind of message was he sending in this part of his Will?  Right. A mean one.  Did this sentiment need to be part of his permanent, written legacy? Probably not; it tarnishes the image of this otherwise giant of literature.

Fast forward to today and someone else. A real Will contained this provision:

If we’re not divorced by the time I die, make sure she gets nothing.  She has already gone through all my money.”

The sentiment was clear.  But when the man died and his Will was probated, this paragraph went on record at the courthouse. Where everybody – including children – could see it.  Forever. Read more

New Cracks in IRA Protection

nest eggThe old rule: IRAs were exempt from creditor claims in bankruptcy.  Now there’s an exception: IRA money left to your children will not be immune from their bankruptcy creditors, thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

But there is a way to deal with this and reset the protection. Read more

Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Buy-Sell

Stock CertificateDo you own all or part of the company you work for? Your equity doesn’t die with you.

So your family and heirs don’t have to shrug their shoulders, send out a “We’re sorry to announce . . .” letter, and walk away from the value you’ve built up. I.R.S. won’t be walking away from it.

Impossible? No. How about your business phone number? It’s an asset which could be sold if you stop working, voluntarily or otherwise. The same goes for key files and lists.

That’s why I.R.S. stays interested.

But a “Buy-Sell Agreement” makes things easier for your family with I.R.S. by locking values into place. Read more

Five Trusts You Do (or Maybe Don’t) Need

piggy bankWe get asked a lot about Trusts, so here’s some gospel. There is no single do-it-all, one-size-fits-all Trust. Each is perfect for some situations, perfectly awful for others. A book about trusts in our library is 855 pages long, and that’s not enough to cover all the types, so the book comes with a CD of trust material, too.

Anyway, here’s the quick guide to the most common ones – and a generic snapshot of why each might or might not be right for you. Read more

Your Probate Vocabulary Cheat Sheet

After a person dies, someone has to do things with that dead person’s remaining assets.  And to do those things, that someone has to go to the Probate Court and be appointed the legal representative for the dead person.  If you are that “someone,” when you start looking into what has to be done, you’ll see that Probate has a language of its own – which can be overwhelming.  So while lots of Probate work can be done without a lawyer, it is much more difficult if you don’t know what the terms mean.

This “Probate Vocabulary Cheat Sheet” spells out some frequently used terms that come up during Probate and what they mean: Read more

Pink, Grey, The Queen of Hearts, and Ted Williams

Surgeons“Off with her head!” cried the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Off with his head is what Ted Williams’ son did to him. The ultimate baseball player’s head and his body live in separate cryogenic tanks in Arizona, ever since he died in 2002.

There was some question as to whether the slugger wanted to be frozen for the future. He called for his lawyer several times before his death, according to a recently-published biography[1].

His children made sure the meeting never happened. His son was particularly enamored with all the publicity of cryogenics. And the company which did the freezing-draining-antifreezing (you had to ask, right?) just loved the idea of having such a celebrity in their tanks.

Shades of Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, in which the fictional hero is cryogenically frozen for 200 years. The movie’s hero was fictional; Ted Williams was very real.

Now there’s no moral lesson to be drawn from this. There are, however, two practical ones. Read more

The Dangers of POD and TOD Accounts

moneyUsing TOD (“Transfer on Death”) accounts, POD (“Pay on Death”) accounts and JTWROS (more on this one below) accounts are a seduction. The prospect of passing assets without documents, executors, courts, and lawyers sounds like a slam-dunk. But they’re dangerous.  So don’t buy the hype. Read more