On Monday, Yahoo Japan announced “Yahoo! Ending”, a program designed to help Yahoo Japan users plan for their death. The search engine, in partnership with funeral services company Kamakura Shinsho, helps Yahoo Japan users make a will, find a grave, and plan their funeral. Once Yahoo Japan confirms the user has died, the service will set up a memorial site, send out digital farewell messages, and delete personal data from Yahoo’s on line system. In the future, Yahoo Ending could be expanded to work with credit card, insurance and other companies to manage a wider scope of personal data left behind when users pass away.
Yahoo Ending answers the question “what happens to your Yahoo Japan digital assets when you die”. Once Yahoo Japan receives proof of death, Yahoo Japan assumes it has the legal authority to delete digital assets created and stored on Yahoo Japan.
In the United States, Yahoo digital assets are in fact part of the estate of the deceased. Before we created our digital life, we stored photos and art in an album or a picture frame. Our emails and text messages were paper letters and notes stored in a file cabinet. When someone dies, the estate representative is required by law to take an inventory of property owned by the deceased and assign a value to the property, including their digital assets. The estate representative is then required by law to dispose of property the deceased owned based on instructions left in a will or a trust, or state intestate laws if the decedent died without a will or a trust. In today’s paper world, estate representatives or beneficiaries must provide documents providing they are managing the assets according to the wishes of the deceased. In a paper world, proof of death does not trigger the automatic deletion or destruction of property owned by the decedent.
The question “what happens to our digital assets” continues to be the subject of legal debate as the internet service providers and the legal infrastructure grapple with the rules and processes for managing and disposing of digital assets that are in fact part of our estate.
We need programs and policies that don’t just deal with the death of the account owner, but also provide a way for trustees and conservators to manage our digital assets in the case of incapacity.
President Obama proposed 2014 budget: Changing the Estate Tax and Gift Tax Rates AGAIN!!!
From January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2012, Congress seemed intent on making planning for death more complicated than it already is by creating a series of “temporary” estate tax laws. These temporary tax rates and estate tax and gift tax exclusion amounts created turmoil for software companies, lawyers, accountants and ordinary people.
As part of the 2012 “Fiscal Cliff” compromise, President Obama signed legislation that appeared to make permanent the 2012 estate tax exclusion amount of $5 million for estate and gift taxes and a top estate tax rate of 40 percent. The exclusion amounts would be indexed for inflation. The statements from Congress and the President made it seem we FINALLY had permanent rules regarding federal estate and gift taxes. Software companies could stop revising code. Families could make permanent plans for death.
So much for compromise. The Obama “Green Book” Budget for 2014 puts us back in the guessing game about estate and gift tax rules. Page 138 of the budget has these words: “Beginning 2018, the proposal would make permanent the estate, GST and gift tax parameters as they applied during 2009. The top tax rate would be 45 percent and the exclusion amount would be $3.5 million for estate and GST taxes, and $1 million for gift taxes. There would be no indexing for inflation.”
FINALLY! The first temporary rules were passed by Congress in 2001. Twelve years later and two major tax changes in between, it appears we FINALLY have permanent estate tax rules. Software companies, estate lawyers and financial planners should all be breathing easier after Congress passed the American Taxpayers Relief Act.
Here’s a brief summary of the federal estate tax laws included in the Act. The only change from the current federal estate tax rules that went into effect in 2011 is an increase in the tax rate.
1. The federal estate tax exemption allowance stays at $5 million.
2. Portability stays. Portability gives married couples the ability to exempt $10 million of assets from any federal estate taxes by filing a Deceased Spouse Unused Exemption Allowance form when the first spouse dies.
3. The estate tax rate on estates exceeding the $5 million estate tax exemption allowance will be 40%, a change from the current 35% tax rate.
When creating a trust managing family affairs, many of us designate a family member to serve as the trustee. A surviving spouse. The eldest child. In many cases, a family member does this job without compensation.
If you have agreed to serve as a trustee, you may not really know what you just agreed to do. You might even assume there is no legal risk in agreeing to serve as a trustee.
It’s not easy to find articles describing the job of a trustee that is not filled with legalese. This articled titled “A Novice Trustee Primer” does a great job of describing the responsibilities of a trustee and is is recommended reading if you have a trust, are thinking about setting up a trustee, or if you have agreed to serve as a trustee.
Today’s front page article in the San Jose Mercury News is titled “The Cost of Dying.” The article talks about the cost and blessing of taking care of a loved one dying a lingering death.
If you are one of the estimated 55 million caregivers now caring for a parent, a spouse, or a child, you are familiar with the pain and strain of a lingering death. Costs that families pay out of their own pockets because Medicare pays only for treatment, not in-home “custodial care.” Hospice helps, but patients must be judged to be within six months of death and its benefits don’t cover prolonged care. Private insurance doesn’t cover care, unless the patient has a long term care policy. Costs that aren’t included in our retirement budgets, but can bankrupt a family.