This is a continuation of last week’s discussion of virtual legacies. There was once a time that people could easily recall the phone numbers and addresses of all family members and most of their friends. We kept this information in Rolodexes or address books. Today, things have changed quite a bit. Most of us can hardly recall one or two phone numbers. Many people have a hard time remembering their own spouse’s number. After all, these telephone numbers are stored in our cellular phones and often backed up to the Cloud. E-mail addresses have become the new address, and we don’t need a book or Rolodex, because these are also securely saved in our e-mail server and often backed up to the Cloud as well. We do, however, have hundreds of user names and passwords to remember.

So how on earth would our heirs be able to access our many accounts to easily print bank statements, remove information about us, or obtain records for accountants, attorneys, funeral directors, and other people handling our final affairs. Consider all of the sites and access accounts that would simply be left unattended out their in the drift upon death.

Try this exercise

Today, everything is online. People build complex virtual realities through social media, professional and personal websites, and even dating sites. We date online, buy groceries online, sell everything from books to brake pads online, and we even register stars online. So, naturally when we die, there is a lot of personal information about us still available on the Web. After all, the Internet does not come to a screeching halt just because one person passes away. Some have even asked attorneys if they can leave their virtual reality to a loved one. In some ways, the answer may be yes.

But one might ask, what becomes of all that information? What if we own a business or have a public brand, such as a celebrity or business owner? Believe it or not, there are several interesting ways that people can preserve their virtual presence after death and even leave certain intangible benefits found uniquely in the virtual world.

Facebook Legacy Accounts

In this tight economy, people are always looking for value. Budget options are popping up in every industry, from substandard tires to refurbished televisions. Some even view legal services this way. Let’s face it; folks do not want to pay top dollar for a product they will never use. This is the plight of estate planning. The one who pays for a will or trust will never personally use it. Instead, that individual’s children will be using it to ensure things go right later. Even tools like powers of attorney are created many years before their intended use. Much like passive investing in a 401(k), these are purchases that may not truly prove their value for decades. Naturally, many are turning to low cost DIY form providers, and worse yet, office supply stores, in order to create their estate plan.

While the Internet is full of attorneys and other experts who strongly oppose these DIY options, you may be surprised how many lawyers love Legal Zoom and its kindred. Here are 3 big reasons why experienced attorneys love DIY estate plans.

Litigation is far more expensive than skilled estate planning

Attorneys strongly advise gay and lesbian clients to prepare their estate plans, because the law generally would not offer many of the same protections as it does heterosexual couples. But following the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), misinformation abounds, especially on the Internet, regarding whether LGBT seniors should bother considering estate planning now that marriage is an option for all. The short answer is a resounding yes.

Here are just a few benefits of estate planning that elderly LGBT clients can and should take advantage of, regardless of their marital status.

Wills & Trusts

It seems estate-planning attorneys are often asked to help clients avoid probate. In fact, this is typically one of the first questions people ask in a consultation. There are likely many reasons why people are so focused on probate avoidance, not the least of which is probably a wide misunderstanding of the process. Perhaps family members have told horror stories of oppressive attorney fees or family feuds that destroyed close relationships. Nevertheless, probate is not a dirty word. While probate is a perfectly useful process for disposing of a person’s estate, there are a few points to consider.

A last will and testament does not necessarily avoid probate

Many people mistakenly believe that having a will means not having to go through probate. This is not always the case. While every state has different rules, New York only requires probate if a person dies with more than $30,000 of probate assets. Not every asset is subject to probate. For instance, joint accounts, properties held in joint tenancy, life insurance accounts, 401(k) accounts, generally any asset that has a beneficiary designation, and assets held in trusts are not included in the probate estate. The will simply tells the probate court what the decedent wanted. It also usually waives an executor’s bond requirement and provides a more streamlined method of moving through the process.

An estimated 50 million American households now include a child being raised by a grandparent. Even more households include multi-generational families, where 3 and 4 generations live together. Even the Whitehouse included such an arrangement, as President Obama’s own grandmother resided with his family until her death just before the 2008 election.

But with more Americans than ever raising their grandchildren, there is even more urgency for aging caregivers to consider early estate planning. Without wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, elderly grandparents may find their estates being paid to adult children who have no been a part of their lives for many years. Here are just a few ways that estate plans may be used to protect grandchildren and the grandparents who raise them.

Wills and Trusts

Americans love our furry friends. In fact, the richest dog in the world died in 2011. For those who don’t already know the story, Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotel mogul who disinherited all her family and $12 million in trust for her dog, Trouble. She was known for her malcontent and often cruel nature, which earned her the title, “The Queen of Mean.” She died in 2007, but Trouble lived until 2011. Stories like this are becoming more common with time. Many people, however, wonder how they would possible create a trust for a pet. Fortunately, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has several great tips that everyone should consider when planning a pet trust.

Identifying the beloved pet

A vehicle has a VIN number, a home usually has a PIN number and a deed, but a cat has no such “FUR number.” And, although we all like to think our pet is as unique as a snowflake, a bank’s trust manager or the relative you selected to be the trustee may not be able to tell your loveable cat from the neighbor’s stray. At a minimum, here are some options to consider:

Once upon a time, there were these somewhat sexist laws called “dower and curtesy.” These laws applied to the specific amount of a decedent’s estate to which his or her surviving spouse would be entitled. They were usually very different; men received more than women. Over the years, these laws were abolished and made way for their modern counterparts – the elective share. Most states have enacted some variation of an elective share statute, which states that surviving spouses are automatically entitled to a specific share – usually around one-third – of their deceased spouse’s estate.

While it may seem harsh to disinherit a spouse, there are often many reasons to do so. For instance, couples that marry late in life after raising their own children may each have substantial assets from prior marriages and from their working careers. Each person may wish to provide for their own descendants rather than seeing their entire estate pass to another family line. This is just one common example.

So, is it impossible to disinherit one’s spouse? Hardly. There are several ways to limit or eliminate a spousal inheritance.

Gene Chandler (aka Eugene Dixon) was one of the more prominent figures in mid-Twentieth Century Soul and R&B. In 1962, he released his biggest hit – The Duke of Earl. Following this award winning number one billboard hit, he began to refer to himself as the Duke of Earl. However, according to court documents in Cook County, Illinois, the Duke of Earl had a very troubled life, from felony convictions for Heroine possession to fathering well over 20 children by many women. Late in life, he married a wealthy real estate mogul, Lilli Kinnard, who already had children of her own.

Just before his wealthy wife passed away from cancer, her will mysteriously was changed to entirely disinherit her children, leaving millions to the Duke. In fact, the new will made no mention of her children and instead named several of Chandler’s children from prior relationships as successor executors. Even more shocking, the attorneys who drafted the new will were the same ones that helped the Duke negotiate his prenuptial agreement with Kinnard.

Today, Chandler is still embroiled in an ongoing will contest case and several supplemental proceedings involving allegations of fraudulent transfers of business and real estate assets, unlawful attempts to defraud creditors, and undue influence. This case, however, teaches a couple invaluable lessons.

Supplemental Needs Trusts (also called Special Needs Trusts) have become fairly popular in recent years. These trusts are designed to protect a disabled person’s assets in order to ensure the greatest amount of funds available for care and support. In 1993, Congress passed legislation in 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et seq. that specifically allows a disabled person to exempt assets from public aid determinations. You can click here to read more about how the government treats these unique trusts. One look at the complex federal regulations that control these trusts should be reason enough to consult an experienced elder law attorney to find out if it is right for your situation.

How much money can a disabled person keep and still be eligible for public aid?

In general, for a person to qualify for Medicaid, he or she must be impoverished. This means having less than $2000 in personal assets. Previously, there were fairly strict provisions that made it difficult for a disabled person to keep assets and still qualify for Medicaid funding of long-term care. Nursing home and rehabilitation costs can be exceedingly expensive, and people are often concerned that a disabled family member could quickly spend all of their assets on care and support before qualifying for government assistance.

Contact Information