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The Most Valuable Part of Your Estate Plan: Your Story

How to Get Started on Preserving Your Life Stories

The things we leave behind aren’t the only things that matter when we pass away. What is just as, if not more, important is the legacy we leave behind. 

Think of it this way, what will happen to your life stories when you pass away? Will your family have questions that can’t be answered once you are gone? Will you be able to impart your knowledge and lessons before leaving this world? 

Here is why your life stories are the most valuable part of your estate plan, plus, how to start documenting and preserving your stories: 

Your Stories Matter

We live our lives, often thinking that our lives are inconsequential. However, your stories have value and meaning. Passing them on can mean a great deal to your family too. 

If you don’t think your life stories are important, here are some questions to ponder: 

Did your ancestors record their stories? If not, do you wish they had?

What would it mean to you and your children to be able to read their stories in their own words?

What lessons and inspiration could you learn from their life experiences?

Once you are gone, preserving your stories in writing is the only way your stories can live on in your own voice. That is why it is so important to document your life stories, valuable lessons, and knowledge for future generations in your family. 

Why You Should Record Your Story

Other than preservation and imparting knowledge, why else should you document your life stories? There are several reasons. 

The first is that it provides a view of your family’s history. Many people are using online services to research their family history, but think of how rich that history could be with first-hand stories! 

Every person’s life is a sacred journey. It encompasses growth, discovery, and transformation. By passing along your unique stories, you are adding to shared family history.  

Second, our life stories provide knowledge, information, and inspiration to future generations. Your life matters and what you learn along the way matters! Documenting your stories allows you to share your failures and successes, along with knowledge on how to find the strength to confront difficult challenges. It also allows you to pass on your key values. By imparting your knowledge through documenting your life stories, you’ll help inform and inspire family members for generations to come.

Finally, your stories help keep the connection to the source of your family’s financial wealth. In other words, your stories provide true meaning to the assets you are passing on to your loved ones, especially when you document how you gained your wealth or acquired a sentimental item. 

Recording your life stories is an essential part of legacy planning, and can be far more significant and enduring than financial wealth.

What it Means for You

While focusing on what preserving your stories mean for those you leave behind is important, it has key benefits for you too.

Recording your stories gives you an opportunity to reflect on your own life. You have the opportunity to look back on the things that had the most profound impact on you, helping give you perspective. Documenting your stories can help you focus on what truly matters and what is most important for your future. 

What it Means for Others

We touched a bit already on the meaning your stories can have for others, such as how your stories provide meaning to your assets your family will inherit. But more importantly, sharing your stories, especially those that involve your family members, can help your family learn and understand things about themselves and others. 

Further, intentionally recording your story can ensure that your message and values live on after you are gone. When your family has a better understanding of your values, it can help to minimize or reduce disputes among family over your assets once you are gone. 

How to Start Writing

Staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen when sitting down to write our stories can be very intimidating for most. But remember, writing is a process! 

One way to begin that process is to create an outline of what is most important to you and your most memorable life lessons and stories. Think about writing a letter to someone to say thank you, apologize, or share important information. This gives you a great place to begin writing. 

You might also consider writing your stories as if you were speaking to a yet-to-be-born grandchild or great-grandchild. Describe where you came from, how you got to where you are, and how you overcame some of your biggest life challenges. Talk about your choices, your greatest joys, biggest regrets and share advice on whatever you think is important. 

Help with Guided Discovery

Having a little help along the way can ensure that you are documenting the most important things about your life that you wish to impart to future generations. 

OneDigitalTrust’s platform offers a simple way to document your life stories, plus resources built in to help you know what to write. Here, you have the capability to use and write about why you’ve written your will the way that you did. You can also add expressions of gratitude or regrets and even the emotions you are experiencing at the end of your life. Our platform also allows you to update your life stories periodically to keep everything up to date so you don’t miss a single important thing! 

Be sure to head to “stories” within the platform for some good content on how to write about your story (we make it easy to do this right in the platform!). Pro Tip: Documenting your life stories is not meant to be overwhelming for you or your family. Keep your stories bite-sized. Each one should be about a key experience in your life. 

Conclusion

Remember, there are no rules when it comes to writing down your life story. Your story is as unique as the individual that you are, so don’t worry about any set guidelines. This is your story! The only way to fail is to not write your life story down at all. 

 

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No Estate Plan? Why You Should Care About the Consequences!

The Consequences for You and Your Family by Not Having an Estate Plan

There are a lot of excuses that people have for putting off estate planning. Some think they are too young and have plenty of time to worry about estate planning later. Others think they just aren’t wealthy enough to need estate planning, and many believe their family will know what to do with their assets when they are gone.

The truth is, estate planning is important no matter your age or your wealth. Bad accidents or serious illnesses can happen to anyone at any age and leaving it up to your family when you are gone just doesn’t always work out like you think it will. 

In other words, there are serious consequences of not having an estate plan and living will.

1 | Stress and Complications

Your family is already grieving and asking them to figure out how to bequeath your assets is stressful and can add to their grief. By having an estate plan in place, you are taking the stress of having to figure it out from the equation. Many families find comfort in knowing that they are honoring your final wishes by following your estate plan. 

If you don’t have an estate plan, your family may have to go to probate court, which could cause time delays and creates uncertainty and angst during the waiting period. Probate court can also be expensive. Leaving the decision up to a judge could even cause conflict between family members who are already grieving. 

All of this can be avoided by having an estate plan in place. 

2 | You Won’t Get a Choice Who Inherits Your Assets

If you pass away with no plan in place, the court decides who inherits your assets, and they may decide differently from how you would have. Having an estate plan in place is especially important if you want someone outside of your blood relatives to inherit some or all of your assets, as a probate court often does not consider non-blood relatives for inheritance. As family dynamics have changed over the years, older statutes have not always kept up, and if not defined in a will, those you intended may not receive your assets. 

However, with an estate plan in place, you have full control over who inherits your assets. 

3 | Your Heirs Will Have a Bigger Tax Burden

Estate planning isn’t just about ensuring the right people inherit your assets. It’s also about protecting your loved ones. This means protecting them from the large tax burden they would have with no estate plan in place. Those who plan can be as strategic as possible to minimize the tax implications upon their passing. 

Having an estate plan in place to transfer your assets means creating the smallest possible tax burden for your loved ones. Be sure to speak with a financial advisor who will be able to help you set up your estate plan in a way that creates the smallest possible tax burden for your loved ones. OneDigitalTrust platform can approximate probate costs, federal estate tax and even state estate tax, and inheritance tax in the few states that currently levy them.

4 | You Won’t Get to Choose Who Raises Your Children

As the parent of minor children, it’s imperative that you appoint a legal guardian to gain custody of your children should something happen to you. This could be the most crucial reason to create your estate plan as the absence of a plan could be detrimental to your children. 

When there is no legal guardian named, a judge will appoint one. However, this judge does not know your family as intimately as you do, and this could have severe consequences for your family, but most importantly, your children. This could lead to messy custody battles in court. Messy court battles after the loss of a parent can further damage your child’s mental health during an already traumatic season of life. 

However, having an estate plan in place that names a legal guardian can help your children and family avoid the trauma of a court battle. This can be helpful for situations with your fur babies as well!

5 | Takes More Time and there’s a Higher Cost for Attorneys 

Emotional damage isn’t the only consequence of not having a plan in place. When your family must go through an extensive probate process because you have no plan, it takes more time to resolve issues. Because it takes more time, the cost for attorneys will be higher for your family.

By having a plan in place, you are saving your family from a financial headache. A plan can also mean that your wishes are honored in a more timely manner, allowing your family to work through their grief, rather than hold onto it because of a court claim. 

6 | If Incapacitated, You Lose Control Over Your Life Decisions

Bad accidents can happen to anyone at any time. While we may not die from a bad accident, it is possible that we become incapacitated and can not make decisions about our care in those moments. So not only is planning for your eventual death important, but so is planning for the possibility of becoming incapacitated. 

Not having a living will in place leaves the decision to your loved ones, meaning you have no say in your financial and medical decisions. These decisions can include whether you should remain on life support or not. Leaving hard decisions such as this up to your family can cause strife between family members with differing opinions, leading to expensive and traumatic court battles. 

When you have a living will, you specifically lay out what you want and your family will be able to honor your wishes. This helps to avoid arguments over what they think you would want and expensive court battles.   

Are You Ready to Work on Your Estate Plan? 

Estate planning doesn’t have to be done in traditional attorneys’ offices. OneDigitalTrust has reinvented personal legacy and estate planning for the digital age. We empower users to always be prepared for events across life stages by making it easy to create and maintain your estate plan. 

We work directly with financial institutions by augmenting their existing digital footprint and capabilities. We even offer a personalized platform to deliver this easy-to-use service to your customers. Learn more about how we can help you deliver estate planning to your customers. 

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OneDigitalTrust named in Top Twenty Most Promising Technology Companies in 2022

OneDigitalTrust was selected and featured by SiliconIndia magazine in their 2022 siTech20 issue which showcases the twenty most promising technology companies in the US which are founded and managed by Indians in the US. 

Click here to read the article in the digital issue on the publisher’s website.

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Avoid Headaches from Settling an Insolvent Estate

Three Challenges for the Executor when Administering an Insolvent Estate

Debt is a part of life for the majority of us. As an executor, settling debts on behalf of the deceased can be a burdensome task, especially when it is a loved one that the executor just lost. However, that task can become all the more complicated when you find that there are insufficient assets left in the estate to cover all debts and liabilities, which is the case in insolvent estates. 

An insolvent estate can be much more complicated, costly, and burdensome for the executor, making it important for them to understand what to expect. In other words, they need to know what they might be walking into.

Here are the challenges and complications you should consider.

Challenge #1: What Debts Should be Paid First?

One of the first things an executor for an insolvent estate will have to deal with is what debts should be paid first. It’s important to understand that state law can dictate this order of priority, as the probate process is done through the state and those laws can differ from one state to the next. 

However, you can expect to follow this general order of priority:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Estate expenses (legal, executor, and court fees)
  • Taxes
  • Creditors
  • Payments to beneficiaries

Challenge #2: What Happens When an Estate Doesn’t Have Enough to Pay Taxes and Debts?

One of the biggest questions an executor may have is, if there isn’t enough to pay the debts, are they personally responsible for paying the deceased’s taxes or debts. The answer to this is no, with a few exceptions.

The first exception is that if you were a co-signer on a loan with the deceased, you will still be responsible for that loan. Second, if you are the surviving spouse in a community property state, you will still be responsible for those payments as well. 

It’s also important to understand that most states provide creditors a set period of time to come forward and make a claim against the estate once a person has passed away. If a creditor does make a claim, the executor may potentially have to deal with those creditors directly. Probate court will determine the validity of any claims made in the allotted time, so only deal with creditors that the court has determined have a valid claim. 

If the estate runs out of money or available liquid assets prior to all debts and taxes being paid, the executor must petition the court to declare the estate insolvent. This means that beneficiaries named in a will won’t receive any assets or cash distributions, charitable estate giving is nil, and unpaid creditors will remain unpaid. 

Challenge #3: What Happens When an Estate Doesn’t Have Enough to Pay Beneficiaries?

One of the biggest challenges an executor can face is when there is enough to pay all the debts and taxes, but not enough to pay beneficiaries named in the will. The reason this can become a tricky situation is that some heirs may feel entitled to funds or specific property that had to be liquidated to pay debts. 

Just like with debts and taxes, the executor is not personally liable for paying beneficiaries. However, it’s important to know that some beneficiaries may petition the court if they believe there was mismanagement of the estate funds that resulted in the loss of their benefits. Probate court will oversee the process with beneficiaries as well, deciding which beneficiaries will receive what amounts. If there isn’t enough, the court may issue a reduction, referred to as an abatement. 

Conclusion

Managing an estate with significant debts can be a big challenge and higher complexity for an Executor. Leaving a ton of surprises for loved ones when it comes to debts and taxes can be troubling for many. To alleviate the fears one may have about leaving an insolvent estate to their heirs, OneDigitalTrust can help identify if an estate is at risk of insolvency before it becomes a bigger headache for everyone involved. Learn more about our revolutionary digital legacy planning platform for your or your clients, by heading to our website today. 

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How to Bequeath Sentimental Items in a Way that Sidesteps Contention and Family Strife

Tips to Help You Bequeath Items in a Way that Avoids Family Conflict


We’ve seen the portrayals in the media of family members fighting over sentimental items after a loved one’s death. These scenes aren’t totally from fantasy–it does happen in real life! However, more importantly, we all have something to pass on and planning for that bequeathment can be a simple and wonderful way to be remembered by your loved ones.

But how can you bequeath sentimental items in a way that helps avoid family strife and contention? Here’s how.

1 | Have a Plan

Having an estate plan is an essential part of avoiding family strife after you pass away. By having a plan in place, you are letting your loved ones know exactly what your wishes are. And when your family members are able to follow your plan, it gives them peace of mind knowing they are honoring your final wishes.

Having a plan to divide assets can also help avoid costly and traumatic legal battles. When you have no plan in place, this means that either your family needs to figure it out or it can go to court when there are disagreements or larger assets. Legal battles can get messy, drawn out, expensive, and don’t allow for the healing process to begin in earnest after your passing.

Remember, family members generally want to honor the wishes of their loved one. Fighting is less likely to break out if you have an estate plan in place.

2 | Talk About Your Plans

Good communication helps avoid conflict in all kinds of situations, including what happens to your assets after your passing. Talking to your family about your estate plans ahead of time can help them to further understand your decisions. This is because you have a chance to talk more about the “why” and answer questions your family may have, which can’t be done after you are gone. This also allows your family time to process and more fully understand your wishes so that when the time comes, they know exactly what you want and any issues have already been resolved. This can be especially important to do if you are leaving someone out of the will.

3 | Give Gifts During Your Lifetime

Another option for avoiding strife and tension after your passing is to disburse sentimental items before you die. Not only will the recipient get to enjoy those items for longer, but it also avoids claims to them after your passing. Consider giving these sentimental items as gifts for birthdays or holidays.

This strategy assumes, however, that the item is below the annual gift tax exclusion. Items of greater value require a gift tax return be filed and may entail taxes. Be sure to talk to your financial advisor to understand whether your loved one may incur a gift tax or not.

4 | Other Ways to Avoid Family Discord

Some other options for avoiding family strife when dividing up sentimental items include:

Writing a letter of instruction on who gets what (this is not legally binding, but does serve as a roadmap)

Deferring to an independent fiduciary (a family executor must formally decline the appointment, however, steps should be taken for family members to agree on who will act as the independent fiduciary)

Using a lottery (as simple as writing a brief description of each item on a slip of paper, placing it into a hat, and allowing family members to take turns drawing until the hat is empty)

Final Thoughts

Estate planning not only allows you to dictate who receives what, but can help minimize bad feelings among family members. With OneDigitalTrust, you can empower your members to take control of their estate planning. Our digital platform makes it easy for members to create their estate plan and adjust it through all their life changes. You can create digital memories about the sentimental items that you bequeath by using photos, audio recordings and video about the item, all within the platform…..and share the memories (through the platform) privately with loved ones. Learn more about our next-generation digital platform that makes it simple for users to create and maintain their plans by visiting our website today!