The Stored Communications Act

One of the more difficult things for families to do after someone passes away is to gain access to the deceased’s digital accounts. A federal law is part of the reason for that.

When someone passes away, one of the many things families often want to do is gain access to the digital accounts the deceased had. These include emails, financial accounts and social media accounts.

Sometimes access is wanted so important financial and business transactions can be completed, if necessary. Other times the families would just like to have access for their own information and to close the accounts.

The terms of services of most digital providers make it difficult to gain access.

A federal law, the Stored Communications Act, also makes it difficult as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discusses in “Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act.”

The Stored Communications Act is essentially a privacy law.

It prevents providers from giving access to some user personal data without the consent of the user.

In a recent Massachusetts court case, Yahoo cited the act as the reason it could not give access to emails sought by the personal representative of a deceased account holder’s estate.

The court declared that, under the act, the personal representative could give the necessary consent to gain access to the data. However, the court did not make this mandatory. The court instead decided that it was still up to the company whether to comply with the request.

Many states are attempting to make it easier to access digital information after someone passes away.

Nevertheless, it appears the law still has a long way to go.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 20, 2017) “Court Holds Personal Representative May Provide Lawful Consent Under Stored Communications Act.”

Gray Divorces

More senior citizens are divorcing their spouses than in previous generations. That leads to some estate planning complications.

It used to be that once people entered retirement age, it was extremely rare for them to seek a divorce. That is no longer the case.

Elderly people are getting divorced today at an increasing rate. These so called “gray divorces”, can present unique legal challenges.

They can be difficult enough for divorce attorneys who must sort through and divide a lifetime’s worth of accumulated marital property. However, they also present challenges in estate planning.

The Indiana Lawyer recently discussed these problems in “Rise in divorces among older couples presents unique family law issues.”

The big issue in estate planning is that plans are often already in place for the couple’s estates.

These plans are normally drafted in unison with the understanding that when the first spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will receive the bulk of the estate. When the second spouse passes away, then the estate will go to the agreed upon heirs.

These plans need to be undone when the couple divorces. This can be difficult to do, unless estate planning attorneys are hired who have the expertise to wrap up legal entities that are no longer needed and might be a hindrance.

There are many difficulties associated with gray divorces and you may want to try to reconcile.

Be sure to consult with an estate planning attorney who can explain these difficulties to you, sooner rather than later.

Reference: Indiana Lawyer (July 26, 2017) “Rise in divorces among older couples presents unique family law issues.”

Mary Kills People

If you have ever wanted to watch a television drama about physician-assisted suicide, you now have your chance.

A normal television show about a brilliant emergency room doctor who kills people in her off hours, would probably be a very dark drama about a serial killer, if there was such a show at all.

Normally, doctors are treated on television as nothing but heroic and rarely involved in anything too controversial. However, a drama from Canada now airing in the U.S., seeks to tell a different story.

In this show, the brilliant doctor is killing people who wish to pass away. She moonlights by performing euthanasia, also known as physician-assisted suicide.

The New York Times recently reviewed the show in “Review: ‘Mary Kills People,’ but It’s for a Good Reason.”

While the Times review is somewhat mixed, that this show exists at all highlights the changing attitudes about euthanasia.

It was only a couple of decades ago when Dr. Kevorkian was seen as the evil “Doctor Death.” Now, many people are taking the idea of physician-assisted suicide seriously.

A few states have recently legalized the practice and many more are considering it as part of the dying with dignity movement, which seeks to allow terminally ill people the choice of when they want to pass away and under what circumstances.

The concept, however, is still controversial since not everyone agrees it is a good idea.

This new television show is certain to draw more attention to the concept and get people talking about it even more.
Reference: New York Times (April 21, 2017) “Review: ‘Mary Kills People,’ but It’s for a Good Reason.”

Slayer Statute Limitations

Slayer statutes are designed to prevent people from inheriting the assets of people they have killed, but they have their limitations.

You have probably heard this plotline before. It is a common one that goes something like this: a younger relative of a wealthy person in need of money or just plain greedy, murders the elderly relative to inherit his or her estate or cash out a life insurance policy.

This is more than just a Hollywood fantasy. It happens in real life.

There are even famous examples from history, such as the Roman Emperor Tiberius who was killed by his heir Caligula or so the writer Suetonius alleged.

We actually do have laws that are designed to prevent this from occurring known as “Slayer Statutes.”

They generally state that people cannot inherit from those they are responsible for killing.

However, they can have their limitations, one of which the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Court Determines that Slayer Statute is Not Applicable in Self-Defense Case.”

In the case discussed, it was not clear what led to the death of the holder of a life insurance policy. The sole beneficiary of the policy was involved in the death and had given conflicting statements.

The beneficiary was not convicted of murder and claimed self-defense.

The deceased’s sister sued to claim the policy, but the court decided that since there was some merit to the self-defense claim, the slayer statute did not apply.

Needless to say, it is good that slayer statutes exist to guard against profiting by killing, even if the statutes do have some limitations.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (April 11, 2017) “Court Determines that Slayer Statute is Not Applicable in Self-Defense Case.”

Finding the Right Nursing Home

Going into a nursing home can be a frightening experience. It can be made less scary by asking questions and choosing the right nursing home for your family.

No one wants to go into a nursing home.

When we think about what happens in them, we usually imagine nursing homes to be sterile places where people are sent off to be isolated and alone. That stereotype comes to us from the distant past. It is a bad caricature of what nursing homes are like today.

However, nursing homes do come in all sorts of different varieties with many different levels of care and interactions between staff and residents. It is important that the nursing home you choose is the right one for you.

That can be accomplished by asking appropriate questions before deciding on a nursing home, as Next Avenue points out in “18 Questions to Ask Any Nursing Home.”

While the questions to ask are too numerous to list here, it is important to understand that the most fundamental questions are not about cost, although that is important. Instead, the most important questions to ask are about how patients live, what activities are available to patients and how staff helps patients with those activities.

The answers to those questions are what truly determine what quality of life will be like in a nursing home and how happy you might be there as a resident.

Before deciding on a nursing home, take a look at the questions to ask and actually ask them of the nursing homes you are considering. That way you can make sure that you are choosing the right place for you.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 15, 2017) “18 Questions to Ask Any Nursing Home.”

New Jersey Changes Student Loan Policy

The state of New Jersey has often been criticized for its policy of requiring parents who co-sign student loans for their children, to pay back the loans even if the child passes away. The state has now changed its policy.

Generally speaking, when a person passes away any of his or her outstanding creditors must be paid, if claims are made as required by law. There are very few exceptions to that general rule.

However, one of the biggest exceptions is with federal student loans.

If the student passes away with outstanding student loan debt, then the federal government discharges the debt. Even many private student loan companies do the same.

The state of New Jersey has always been different with its state run student loan program, as Financial Advisor discusses in “N.J. Discharging Loans For Families of Deceased Students.”

Not only would New Jersey still expect payment from the estate, it would require co-signers to pay, if the estate was unable to do so. This left many families deep in debt over the unrepaid loans of their deceased children.

The policy was roundly criticized for the burden that it left on grieving parents.

Attempts had been made to change the law and the state’s policy to no avail. However, the state legislature has recently reversed course and will now discharge the debt of deceased students.

If you have a loved one who has student loans and who has passed away, make sure that you talk to an estate planning attorney about how to properly discharge the debt. You can now do so, even in New Jersey.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 21, 2017) “N.J. Discharging Loans For Families of Deceased Students.”