Category Archives: Beneficiary Basics

Designated Beneficaries. Primary beneficaires. Contingent Beneficiaries. Payable upon death beneficaries. transfer on death beneficaries. Estate is the beneficiary. Joint Tenancy with rights of survivorship.

Unclaimed property – Are you a beneficiary but you don’t know it?

Over the last five years or so, a study has been conducted to determine how insurance companies ensured that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died.

The study was initiated by California Comptroller John Chiang, who used a Connecticut auditing firm to examine the payment practices of 21 life insurance companies nationwide.  The Controller’s investigation “has revealed an industry-wide practice of companies both failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies and ignoring their legal duty to turn the money over to the State for safe keeping.  Instead, companies would draw-down the policies’ cash reserves in order to continue collecting premium payments from the deceased.  Once the cash reserves were depleted, the company would cancel the policy.  Past audits also found that insurers did not routinely cross-check the owners of dormant accounts with government databases listing the deceased.  In other cases, companies had direct knowledge of the policy owner’s death, but still did not notify the beneficiaries.”

When questionable practices were uncovered, lawsuits ensued.  The premise of one of the latest was that insurers used the Social Security Death Master File to determine whether  those insured who had living benefit riders to annuities had died and, if so, they acted promptly to stop payments.  However, the Death Master File and other means weren’t used as often to ensure that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were promptly notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died, and the funds from that policy paid out.

In the case of one recent lawsuit, the lead plaintiff claimed that he was notified only in 2010, four years after the death of the insured, and then only by the state of Illinois Treasurer’s Office…not by the insurance company.  He received only a small sum, and it wasn’t until June 2012 that a larger sum was paid, without a good explanation.

Earlier this month (June 2013), Mr. Chiang reached a settlement on behalf of the state of California and its residents with 11 insurance companies who had been found to have underpaid life insurance benefits.  The agreements he reached required the 11 companies to do the following:

  • Restore the full value of all impacted accounts dating back to 1995;
  • Fully comply with California’s unclaimed property laws and cooperate with the Controller’s efforts to reunite these death benefits, annuity contracts and retained asset accounts with their owners or, in many cases, the owners’ heirs;
  • Pay the policy beneficiaries 3% compounded interest on the value of the held amounts from 1995, or from the date of the owner’s death, whichever is later.

If the benefits are not paid to the heirs within a specified period of time, the law requires businesses to send the list of abandoned property to the state.  In California, the period of time is three years; it varies by state.  In many states, this has become a large source of revenue.  However, the states’ first goal is to return the money to its rightful owners.

Many other states have followed California’s lead, filed suits against the major insurance companies, and will also benefit from California’s settlement with those 11 companies.

To learn more about beneficiaries and estate related topics, go to



Your digital after life: Does Google’s Inactive Account Manager offer more control?

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy over the last few years about what happens to your digital assets when you die.

Earlier this week, Google took a stab at solving this issue for its users when it announced the launch of its Inactive Account Manager.  This is a system that enables you to tell Google “what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.”

First, using Inactive Account Manager, you can tell Google when you want your account to be treated as inactive and “time out”.  You can choose from three, six, nine or twelve months.  At the end of that period, Google will try to contact you by text or secondary email to be sure you really meant to “time out”.

Second, you can add up to ten friends or family members who should be notified that your account is inactive.  The assumption is that you’re deceased if you have let your account go inactive.  However, hopefully, if you’re just traveling around the world and don’t have access to email or you’ve decided to hibernate for a year and not go online, one of your friends or family members will let Google know.

What happens when your account becomes inactive?  You can choose to share your data with one or more of those friends or family members OR you can instruct Google to delete your account.  In that case, all associated data will be deleted including things such as your publicly shared YouTube videos, Google+ posts or blogs on Blogger.

With the new Inactive Account Manager, Google thinks it will avoid some of the conflicts that occur today when relatives of the deceased want access to their data and, in many cases, can’t get it.  With Inactive Account Manager, you will designate what happens to the data.  If you want a family member to get it, you indicate the data you want shared and with whom.

But what if your wishes conflict with those of a  family member or close friend?  According to a Google spokesperson, “we will honor the preference you’ve made in Inactive Account Manager to the extent permitted by law.”

We wondered what an attorney would think of Google’s new tool and contacted Daniel I. Spector, Esq., a lawyer with Spector Weir, LLP in Sacramento, CA.  According to Dan, “It’s a nifty first attempt at dealing with this tricky issue, but I believe the solution is ahead of the law.  The information in one’s account is an asset ” and “the law wisely requires certain steps to be taken before a person can…..take possession of a dead person’s assets.”  Someone who is appointed the executor or trustee of the estate must have their appointment recognized by the court and must follow set procedures for identifying and distributing assets.  They can’t arbitrarily be given to a friend or relative without going through the legal process.  Someday the law will catch up with what Google wants to do but it’s not there yet.

For more information about digital assets and the way companies like Facebook and Twitter handle them after someone has died, go to  You can also find information there about probate and what it means.

Social Networking Accounts: Who controls them after you die?

If State Representative Peter Sullivan of New Hampshire has his way, the executor or administrator of your estate could take control of your social media and other digital accounts after you die.

According to Sullivan, “The way we conduct our business as a society and the way our laws regulate how we communicate as a society have not kept up with technology.”

Since 2005, a few states have enacted their own laws dealing with digital assets after death. However, most of these laws are very weak and only go part of the way toward solving the problem.

And the Uniform Law Commission  last August appointed a committee to draw up a law that would “vest fiduciaries with the authority to access, manage, distribute, copy or delete digital assets and accounts,” according to a draft.

The commission is a nonpartisan group that produces legislative language that can then be introduced and adopted in individual states, with the goal of creating uniform legal standards across state lines.

Sullivan’s bill would ensure that, in New Hampshire at least, the executor of a dead person’s estate “shall have the power, where otherwise authorized, to take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate any accounts of a deceased person on any social networking website, any microblogging or short message service website, or any email service website.”

“This would essentially extend the powers of the administrator or executor of the state to basically step into the shoes of the deceased,” Sullivan said, taking control of the account and making the decision either to continue operating it or shut it down.

Sullivan said he was inspired to file his bill after several high-profile cases of bullying that led to teenagers’ suicides. In some cases, he said, the bullying continued online even after death, and families faced difficulty gaining control of those social-media profiles.

“The law is very vague as to the power of survivors to do something about it,” he said.  His bill, he added, is “going to bring the law up to date.”

Sullivan’s bill (HB 116) went before the State House Judiciary Committee for review this week.

Is everyone in support of this bill?

According to Rebecca Jeschke, a digital rights analyst at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation,  “There can be privacy pitfalls, though, to granting posthumous access to digital accounts. I personally don’t want my family to be able to read my email or other private online activity after I die. It’s private for a reason, after all. I’d be pretty suspicious of any bill that doesn’t default to allowing privacy for people even after they passed.”

Whether your state has a digital asset law or not, you can still take a few steps to protect your assets.

1. Make a list of all of your digital assets. The list should include your password for each. If it is easier, think about buying a password tracker like Roboform to handle this for you.

2. Think about what you want someone to do with your digital assets after your death. Who do you want to have access to them when you’re gone? Do you want them destroyed, memorialized, archived or transferred to someone else. It might be a good idea to write a letter concerning this issue and to keep it with your important papers.

3. When you prepare your will, trust and power of attorney documents, include a clause giving your representative authority to access your digital accounts. Even if your state law doesn’t cover the digital world, this clause may help your representative gain access to your accounts and to comply with your wishes.

For more information about this subject and others, go to

HIPAA for Digital Assets?

According to Professor Jason Mazzone, University of Illinois, College of Law, ” people spend an increasing part of their lives using Facebook and other online social networking sites. However, virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death”.

The professor’s recently published a paper, “Facebook’s Afterlife”, calls for federal laws to regulate what happens to a digital account after the death of its account holder. Mazzone states that Facebook and other online service policies don’t adequately protect the individual property and privacy interests of a deceased user’s account. He says “Social networking sites determine on their own what, if anything, to do with a deceased user’s account and the materials the user posted to the site….It’s a little like letting the bank decide what to do with your money after you die.”

He suggests that HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a comparable mandate. He wants a federal HIPAA-like law to protect peoples’ digital data after their death. It’s an interesting idea and one that is worth thinking about.

Die While You’re a Google Employee

Some companies treat their employees well while they’re alive but provide a few death benefits. However, no other company has a program as rich as Google’s. The benefits for living employees are amazing but those for the deceased’s family are broad and unusual.

  • The deceased’s spouse or domestic partner (can be same sex) receives 50% of their salary for 10 years.
  • All of the dead Google employee’s stock vest immediately.
  • Each child of the employee receives $1,000 per month until age 19…or age 23 for a full time student.
  • And there’s no tenure requirement. All employees qualify.

Why does Google do this?  Obviously, there’s no benefit to the company.  However, according to Google’s Chief People Officer, Laszio Bock, the company feels that it’s important “to help our families through this horrific if inevitable life event.”

So, if you want your loved ones to be well cared for financially after you’re gone and you’re not super rich or you don’t have a ton of life insurance, get a job at Google and continue to work there until you die.