It is very easy with everything that is going on in our country and our world right now, to be concerned about the pandemic and start to think about your own mortality and planning. While we recommend planning at all times to always be prepared ahead of time, this certainly provides a reminder for us to stop and take a look at our current situation to make sure that we have at least our basics in place. Powers of AttorneyEach person should have a financial power of attorney that authorizes another individual to make financial decisions on their behalf in case they cannot. They could be unable to because of an illness or an incapacitation or simply just not in town, or maybe they are traveling out of the country. We cannot stress the importance of having a financial power of attorney in place to avoid the necessity for guardianship. We have discussed in detail in other blogs and articles about powers of attorney and guardianships, and we would encourage you to please take a further look at those, and why it would become important to have a financial power of attorney in place.A medical power of attorney is an essential document that authorizes another individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not capable or able to make those medical decisions for yourself. Although there is a healthcare statute in the state of Pennsylvania that will name the next of kin to be able to make those healthcare decisions in case you cannot, we stress the importance enough of having this document in place to ensure that the people that you want making those decisions can make them without unintended people being named as well. When you reach the end-of-life stage it's also important that you have in place a living will. If the living will is coupled in one single document with a medical power of attorney, that is also considered an advanced healthcare directive. We recommend having these documents in place to ease the burden on your family. This will save them from having to make those end-of-life decisions if two qualified physicians put in writing that there is no realistic hope of recovery that you will always remain end-stage medical or vegetative, comatose, permanently unconscious, or terminally ill. There is certainly a lot that goes into the medical definition, but plainly stated, it is imperative to decide for yourself how you would like those decisions to be made rather than to put the burden on a loved one to feel like they have to play God or pull the plug on their family member. Review Your Current Documents, Including Beneficiaries, to Ensure They Meet Your Needs and Desires We encourage anyone who has planning in place to not assume that it is up to date or that it is what their current wishes are, things change over time. It is also important to review all of your beneficiary designations on accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, etc. Often, the most overlooked item is reviewing the beneficiary designations of an account, and it is probably the most critical thing that can screw up an estate plan. Please make it a priority to review your documents to make sure they accurately reflect your wishes. If you have questions or need to make some changes we would be more than happy to see you at one of our workshops to discuss the different documents and how they can assist you and your family. We certainly understand if there is any anxiety or stress that you are experiencing but encourage you to be prepared no matter what, which will give you a sense of comfort and security. If you would like further information about this topic or to learn more about our firm, please visit us at www.bellomoassociates.com or call the office at 717-845-5390.
Ten years ago, Id never have thought about writing about digital legacy planning. But when I think about my digital assets (photos, documents, music, blogs, business records, etc.) and my digital accounts (emails, bank accounts, subscriptions, etc.), I know Ill want to provide for someone to handle them (1) in case I lack capacity to manage them, or (2) after I die.Think about it: the larger my digital footprint, the larger my digital legacy. While I am only on Facebook and LinkedIn, I imagine many readers are also on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, as well as dating, job search, and affinity websites. What happens to these accounts after one dies?Do I want to preserve or eliminate my digital presence? How do I get off of Facebook, LinkedIN, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? For example, Facebook allows users in the US to designate a legacy contact who can take control of your account after their death. Few other social media do. Or do I want to remain there in perpetuity (as a zombie)? (One shocking statistic suggests that in 100 years, there will be billion dead people on Facebook). What about passwords, photos, emails, texts and business information that live on after I die? These, too, are part of this process. A durable power of attorney and/or a will or estate plan can designate a trustee or executor to access, modify, delete, and/or archive, your digital data. But she or he cant do this unless you have provided them the authority to do so and alist of your digital accounts and assets and how to access them.Most states have passed a version of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which allows a digital asset custodian to disclose digital asset information when requested by a fiduciary who needs access to the information to fulfill fiduciary duties.But heres the kicker: Who actually has the skill to manage our digital assets and accounts? Your spouse who is executor of your estate? Your brother who has power of attorney to make decisions for you if you lose capacity? I wonder. Digital legacy management may call for a new occupational specialty with a skill set not many of us possess.
Technology is constantly improving, which means that cybercrime is on the rise. As an agent, its more important now than ever before to protect yourself from the dangers of cyberspace. The National Association of REALTORS (NAR) has created a checklist that lists cybersecurity measures you can take to keep yourself and your business protected. Heres an overview of what it has to say.Email and Password HygieneYou most likely use your email and a variety of other services everyday to conduct business, which means that your accounts might contain a lot of personal and confidential information. Its easy to forget about securing your accounts when you access them day in and day out, but this is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from cybercrime.According to NAR, your login credentials are especially important to protect. You should carefully guard login and access information to your email and any other service platform you use during the transaction, while also making sure that the usernames and passwords are different for each account. For example, if a hacker accesses one of your accounts, you dont want them to easily access any others using the same login information. In addition, your passwords should be long and complex, with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that would be hard for any person or computer to guess. Finally, NAR recommends using two-factor authentication to give your accounts that extra level of security. This requires you to give two forms of identification to access your accounts so that hackers cant get in, even if they know your password.When it comes to general email hygiene, NAR recommends that you be careful with both the information you send and the information you receive. When sending emails that contain sensitive information, you should use encrypted email, a transaction management platform or a document-sharing program to protect your information from being easily stolen. If you receive an email that contains any unknown attachments or links, dont click on themthey could contain malware that infects your device. And whether youre on the sending or receiving end of an email, NAR recommends that you avoid doing business over unsecured wifi, where hackers can easily access your personal data. Other IT-Based Security MeasuresWhile its a good idea to secure each of your accounts, its equally important to protect your devices operating systems and software. NAR emphasizes that you should always keep antivirus software, firewalls, operating systems and programs active and up-to-date to receive the highest level of protection. Its also a good idea to regularly back up the data on your device. By doing this, it will be stored in a safe place in the case that a virus infects your device or someone hacks in and erases your information.Another way that NAR suggests securing your device is by avoiding any suspicious links or applications. If you receive a text message from an unknown sender that contains a link, dont open it or your information could be stolen. If youre downloading an app, make sure that its legitimate by researching it beforehand so that it doesnt breach your privacy or infect your system. And if you ever need an IT provider, work with an attorney to review their policies and contracts before allowing them access to any of your devices.Law, Policy and Insurance ConsiderationsSo far weve talked about some everyday measures you can take to improve your cybersecurity. But there are larger considerations you should also keep in mind to make sure that youre protected in the long-run. According to NAR, your attorney can help you develop a written disclosure warning clients about the possibility of cybercrimes resulting from their transaction. In this disclosure, you can recommend certain steps for sellers and buyers that will protect their personal information and finances. In addition to a disclosure, NAR recommends that you also develop policies relating to document retention and destruction, cyber and data security and breach notifications and responses. NAR believes that you should stay up-to-date on those documents and coverages you already havefor example, your insurance coverage. Ask your insurance agent about additional options you can add to your plan, such as cyber insurance and crime protection products. In addition, remember to stay up-to-date with your states laws regarding personal information, cyber and data-related business policies and other legally required security-related business practices. This will all help you and your clients stay protected and will save you time and stress in the long run.Its easy to put off the small steps that can protect you from cybercrime, but dont wait! Unfortunately, its only becoming more common in todays digital space. If you dont start protecting yourself now, you could be a hackers next victim at any moment. By implementing the items from NARs Cybersecurity Checklist, you can begin living with peace of mind that you and your business will stay protected.