Author Archives: Minna Vallentine

Did you know about these 5 strange bequests?

facts-about-benjamin-franklinWe are constantly urging people to write a will so that their wishes will be known when they die.  Family members won’t have to guess what they wanted to happen to their favorite possessions – their paintings, jewelry and digital assets.  Most bequests are fairly common but some aren’t.

Here are 5 strange bequests made by famous people.

1.  Benjamin Franklin – Don’t Let My Daughter Wear Jewelry.
Benjamin Franklin, suffered from obesity for many years and it’s believed that this contributed to his death. He died of pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs, at the age of 84.

When his will was read a surprising clause was found. Among his final wishes, he asked that his daughter, Sarah, “not engage the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels”.

The reason for this strange request was actually quite simple. Franklin also left a portrait to his daughter, which he had received as a gift while he was an ambassador to France. The painting depicted King Louis XVI and the elaborate frame was studded with 408 glittering diamonds. Franklin left the request to prevent his daughter from removing the diamonds to make jewelry.

2.  Janis Joplin – Throw A Giant Party.
Janis Joplin lived such a huge life but in the end, she paid the ultimate price for her hard living. She was discovered dead in a hotel room on October 4th, 1970, the victim of a heroin overdose at just 27.  Throughout her wildly successful career, Janis had struggled with addiction and alcoholism.

Janis loved to party so much in life that in her will she made provision for a posthumous all night party to be held after her death. She left $2,500 for her 200 favorite friends – including her road manager, tattoo artist, sister and fiancé to party it up, one last time, in her honor. The party was held at the Lion’s Share, in San Anselmo, California on October 26th, 1970.

3.  Marilyn Monroe – We Needed More Details.
When the blonde bombshell passed away in 1962 she didn’t leave a very detailed will and it ended up having a huge effect on how her possessions were distributed. Or rather, not distributed.

Instead of a comprehensive last will and testament Marilyn left all of her belongings, including clothes and shoes, to her acting coach Lee Strasberg, on the understanding that he would divide them among her family and friends.  Strasberg, who is remembered as the father of the method acting technique, never gave away a single item and instead stored everything in a warehouse where it remained for the next 36 years. When Strasberg died at the age of 80 his widow auctioned Marilyn’s belongings for $13.4 million!

4.  William Shakespeare – My Second Best Bed
Just one month before he died, William Shakespeare compiled his last will and testament where he began by saying that he was in “perfect health.” Scholars today are still unsure of what he died from.

Surprisingly Shakespeare all but excluded his wife, Anne Hathaway, from his will instead leaving the bulk of his sizable estate to his eldest daughter, Susanna. There was a provision that she, in turn, would pass it down, intact, to her first born son. Sadly his direct line died out in 1670.

To his wife he left his “second best bed”.  This request was separate from the will, tacked on as if it were just an afterthought. At this time, leaving someone a good quality bed was far from unusual but some scholars do think this could have been meant as an insult.

5.  Farrah Fawcett – Long Time Lover Gets Nothing, It Goes To Another Ex.
Farrah Fawcett will always be remembered for her role in the original Charlie’s Angels TV series and for the infamous red swimsuit that she posed in for a pin-up poster which went on to become the best-selling pin-up poster in history.

Farrah died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer.  Her longtime partner Ryan O’Neal was surprised to find that he had been left out of her will completely. They had been together for 18 years but had broken up before she died.  She instead chose to leave most of her estate to her son. To add insult to injury she also requested that another ex-lover be given $100,000.

Don’t be like these celebrities.  Spell out what you want to have happen to your belongings.  To avoid misunderstandings or possible court battles, explain what you’ve done if you think it will raise questions from your heirs…or those who have been left out.

To find helpful information about estate planning and writing wills, go to www.diesmart.com.

Are you a victim of a home improvement scam?

Home improvement scamScamming is something that can happen to anyone but it is a major problem for the elderly.  Home repair or home improvement scams are a continuing issue.

According to a 2015 report, an estimated $36.5 billion is lost per year by elderly Americans to various financial scams.

Scammers keep an eye on probate court, making it easy for them to target a widow following the death of her husband.

Typically a fraudulent contractor will convince the elderly individual that they’re in urgent need of a repair, such as a new roof.

In many cases, the unwitting homeowner will write a check for work that is never done.

An unlicensed contractor will seem to be helpful to the senior and will be sympathetic about the need to get the work done.  He will typically ask for a down payment upfront and offer to get the work done with no contract. He will also come to your door or contact you unsolicited, saying that he noticed a problem with your home.

Before hiring one of these people, he should be asked for references from previous customers and their contact information so they can be asked directly about  the contractor.

If no references are provided, you are most probably part of a scam and should not agree to have that person do any work.

For other information of importance to the elderly, go to www.diesmart.com.

Do you know where your parents’ important information is? 

do you know whereIt may seem morbid but have you asked them?  

This article from a New Zealand website is very applicable to us in the United States.  It’s a topic most of us don’t want to broach with our parents but it’s one that’s necessary to address.

Do you know how to get into your parents safe if necessary?

Knowing where their important documents and valuables are located in the event of an unexpected health crisis will give you, and them, peace of mind – especially if a parent is hospitalized and is unable to tell you where things are.

So before anything happens, it’s a good idea to talk to your ageing parents about what you may need to get one day; you may also want to consider letting your own children know where your key information is located as well.

You should ask your parents for the locations of the following items: 

1. Medical records 

If your parents find themselves in an emergency medical situation, doctors will want to know if they have any existing conditions, previous surgeries and any medications they’re currently on. If they have a spouse, that person probably knows the answers but it’s still a good idea for someone else (i.e., you or your siblings) to know just in case both of your parents are unwell or injured. 

2. Health insurance and life insurance information

It’s important to know where your parents keep their health and life insurance info, including any extras. You’ll also need to know where those cards are and you should ask to see their life insurance policies to double check their premiums are up-to-date.

3. Advance healthcare directive

This is a legal document that is also known as a living will and usually includes your parents wishes in the event of a major medical emergency. For example, they may have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order or a health care power of attorney (POA) which differs from a general power of attorney. A POA allows a person to make decisions on behalf of another regarding his or her healthcare or medical treatment – this becomes active when a person is unable to make those decisions on their own or can’t communicate what they want. That’s why it’s important to talk to your parents about what they want to do if they find themselves in a situation where they’re no longer able to speak for themselves. 

4. Banking information 

This is a touchy subject but if a parent is suddenly out of commission, bills still have to be paid so find out where your parent’s bank is and get their account numbers, online access codes and PINs. It’s also important to learn how your parents pay their bills. Do they pay online, by check or direct debit? Ask them if they’ll add your name or one of your siblings to their bank accounts so someone else can access the account to make payments and manage it. 

5. Investment information 

This is information that cannot be ignored. Find out not only the location of your parents’ investments, but also the name and contact information of their advisor. You’ll also need to know what fees, required distributions and withdrawal penalties are. 

6. Deeds and titles 

Your dad may have kept the deeds and titles to your parents’ property in a box somewhere when you were a kid but do you know where those documents are now? Find out where the deeds to houses and land are as well as titles to their cars and/or recreational vehicles are. You may need them in order to liquidate their assets should a health crisis or sudden move to a care facility occurs.

7. Safe deposit box

Do you know if your parents have one? If yes, find out where they keep it and the keys and ask them what steps need to be taken to access the box. They may need to put your name on file so check with their bank. 

8. Hidden valuables

It’s been three years since my grandma died and my mum is still finding money and jewelry Grandma hid around her granny flat. Grandma lived through the Great Depression and had apparently stashed anything of value in the most curious places: money wrapped in plastic tucked inside the toilet cistern; jewelry hidden in the freezer, between her mattress, and even shoved deep inside the toes of some of her shoes – so it’s important to know if, and where your parents have hidden things. If they don’t want to tell you while they’re still alive, ask them to make a list and keep it with their wills. 

9. Wills, birth certificates, marriage licenses

Asking your living parent about their will may seem morbid and highly uncomfortable for everyone but dying without a will can be a costly affair and could start family infighting. It’s important to know if their wills are up-to-date. You’ll also need to know where their birth certificates and marriage license are located.

10. End-of-life decisions 

My father’s been telling me for years that if Mum dies, to put him in a boat and push him out to sea. While that seems rather melodramatic, it is important to know what your parents would like you to do after they die – do they want to be cremated? Buried at a cemetery? Have a huge party or somber church service? Find out what their end-of-life preferences are and let them know you intend to honor their wishes. 

For more information on this topic, check out our website, www.diesmart.com.

 

Do famous people have wills?

imagesLess than 50% of people in the United States have a will and it seems that famous people are just as bad as average folks when it comes to writing one.  The younger the person, the better the chance that there’s no will.  A will can be a fairly simple document to prepare and is something that everyone should have.  That way, when you die, there won’t be any squabbles over what you’ve left behind and there won’t be any arguing about what you would have wanted to do with them.

Here are just a few of the famous people who died without a will.

Pablo Picasso died in 1973; he was 91 year old.  He left behind an estate valued at $250 million.  Because he didn’t have a will, his heirs had to fight for six years and spend about $40 million to settle his estate.  If he had just done some basic estate planning, many of the issues could have been avoided.

Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 in 1970 from a drug overdose.  When he died, his father Al fought with two children who Hendrix had fathered out of wedlock.  Eventually, Al won and he inherited the whole estate.  When Al died in 2002, he left Hendrix’s estate to his adopted daughter, while neglecting to leave his biological son anything.  Since Hendrix died without a will, his family spent millions of dollars and more than 30 years fighting over the rights to his property.

Bob Marley died from cancer in 1981.  His estate was worth about $30 million and many people claimed a portion of it.  His wife only received 10% based on Jamaican law.  With a will, he could have left her more.  This estate, too, took more than 30 years to settle.  Millions of dollars were spent in court costs and family relationships were badly damaged.

Whether you’re famous or not, you should definitely have a will.  A free, simple form can be found on the web or, if you have a large estate as these folks did, an attorney should be consulted.  Your will can state what you want to have happen to your assets and who you want to receive what.  Your family will have a rough enough time dealing with your death when you’re gone.  Don’t give them the added burden of fighting over your things.

For more information about estate planning and wills, go to www.diesmart.com.

 

Press 1 to speak to a moron

imagesUWFGLBGSAn article recently appeared in The West Australian that is very relevant to us in the United States as well.  What happened to Carole Webb could happen to any of us.  I’ve copied the article in its entirety and hope it will goad you into sharing passwords and other information with your loved ones while you’re still able to do so.  That may not solve all of the problems Carole faced but it will definitely help.

“72-year-old Carole Webb was devastated when she lost her husband of 40 years.

As Mrs Webb writes in today’s Your Money, realising that the love of your life will never again walk through your front door is distressing.

Like all of us, Mrs. Webb knows that death is a part of life and understands that at some stage we will all have to deal with the loss of a loved one.

What this sprightly retiree does not understand is why this troubling time in someone’s life is made that much more difficult because of “morons” at banks and utilities.

The cause of her angst? Trying to change bills and accounts from her husband’s name to her own.

The Your Money team is sure that many readers will identify with Mrs Webb’s often humorous account of spending hours on the phone wading through layers of “Press 1 if you want to …”.

We are also sure many readers will agree that the companies and agencies which supply services to us could do worse than create a “bereavement hotline” to ensure this distressing time is not made worse by red tape.

WARNING CALL FOR BEREAVED

When Carole Webb was widowed, call centres added to her pain. Here’s what happened …

As a recently widowed pensioner, who cannot afford a solicitor to take care of the numerous legalities necessary, I wish to enlighten others to prepare themselves. Preferably, of course, all the major banks, utilities and any other companies that insist on using recorded “follow the prompts” methods of providing service to their valued customers. They may even learn a thing or two by reading my article and start to realise they are causing untold stress to thousands of seniors.

I have to say the easiest, simplest, kindest transition of all was with Centrelink. One of the telephone companies was by far the worst.

With utilities, because they insist you can only be allowed to have one name as the account holder, you need to notify them that the deceased is no longer the account holder, so your name needs to be placed on the same account and a new billing system started afresh.

It doesn’t mean a thing that you are still living in the same house, using the same appliances, showering at the same time in the same bathroom, with the same washing machine going, and with the same phone number being used, with the same email address being used, the same TV being switched on … Get my drift?

So is it really necessary to put the grieving widow/widower/spouse/partner through all the extra tasks needing attention when they are finding it difficult enough coming to terms with the death of a loved one?

Imagine the scenario if you were a 90-year-old with no family, not on the internet and living in a country town with a darling husband of 67 years having taken care of the business side of things all your married life.

Let me tell you about my own experience with the phone company.

I am 72 years of age and have a deaf aide phone but I am a pretty switched on.

Contacting the phone company to change names on the account involved following the prompts, which is very frustrating when the five minutes you spend with the polite female recorded voice has nothing relevant to what you want to say or do.

The voice continues: “I am sorry, what was that you said …” or “Did you say …” or “Can you say in a few words …” until in the end you are shouting. My neighbours must assume I’m going stir crazy. Anyway, this alerts someone eventually, after you have been put on hold for 20 minutes, and finally, bingo!

Guess what? The person you are speaking to sounds like they are two blocks up from “The Best Little Marigold Hotel” and can’t pronounce their words properly, so I am no better off in trying to have a conversation.

“Is it really necessary to put the grieving widow/widower/spouse/partner through all the extra tasks needing attention when they are finding it difficult enough coming to terms with the death of a loved one?”

After being put on hold yet again, I get a lovely lady who calms me down and sorts everything out. But not before another 20 minutes asking me questions, including “Do you own your own home?” What has this got to do with anything?

Finally, after threatening to go to another company, she finds me a nice little package which suits all my needs and is a lot cheaper. I thank her and suggest she mentions at the next training workshop that they consider having a “bereavement hotline” given to everyone and serviced by properly trained staff, equipped to reduce stress when changing names on accounts.

After a couple of weeks had passed, I received a cheque for the estate in my husband’s name, this was credit we accrued as we always had Centrelink deduct money from our pension fortnightly to forward to the utilities, so this meant we never received a bill.

I went to bank it at my new account I had opened in my newly chosen bank, but couldn’t because it was in my husband’s name. I was required to get a certified copy of my husband’s will, showing I was the executor and sole beneficiary as well as the proof I was who I said I was with ID etc worth 100 points.

So I first phone the phone company again to see if they couldn’t give me the credit into my phone account, as it was the same number and same address.

Oh no, that is far too simple! I had the same experience as the changing-the-name scenario. A very nice lady (a different one) calmed me down and promised me she would definitely recommend the “bereavement hotline” at the next training session.

I went to check my statement of the joint name account my husband and I had used for years, online, but access was shut down. I had never bothered to learn the password. I tried to get a balance the old way I always did, on the phone, before my husband learnt to do it online, and it also was shut down.

I phoned the bank helpline, the chap was sympathetic, helped me get my own set up but when it came time for the password, I needed a mobile phone.

I have a mobile phone but I don’t text and this was the only way he could send me my password. He thought this was very funny. I was ready to scream at him.

I had to physically visit an ATM or go to the bank, which is what I did. The young woman told me I needed probate and a copy of the will.

So as my husband and I had our will in safekeeping across the road from the bank at the solicitors, I told the girl I would pop over and collect it. The kindly receptionist at the solicitors (I knew her mother well) told me I didn’t need probate as all I had was the home, an old car and fortnightly pension, and probate would cost me $2000.

I went back to the girl at the bank and told her and her reply was “Oh, don’t you?” I asked her why she told me I would need it and her answer was “because someone else told me”. Clearly the big four bank’s could do more to train their staff in “bereavement issues”.

I haven’t had a chance to get to the motor registration people yet. I am hoping it is pain free.

As people are living longer and leaving behind older spouses and partners, it is high time something was done to warn people of the difficulties they may face.

It would have been common courtesy to have the bank inform me they were shutting down my access and would like them to help me set up a new password so I was prepared?

Or the phone company to enclose an explanatory letter advising me what I would need to do to enable me to bank the cheque?

Coming to grips with the fact that a loved one will never walk through the door again is awful.

And these morons don’t help one iota.”

For more information about end of life planning, go to our website www.diesmart.com.