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.

No power in the house – a digital death problem!

51j2ST20YwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_A Sad but True Story from Access Denied illustrates a major problem that many survivors face when trying to deal with their loved one’s death.

“Marsha’s husband, Greg, went bike riding with some friends, something he did most Sunday mornings. A car careened down the street and hit him; he was killed instantly.

“Greg was the main breadwinner and his income paid for their living expenses. His salary checks were automatically deposited into his bank account. Their bills, including mortgage, utility bills and insurance premiums, were automatically paid from this account.

“When he was killed, Marsha was distraught. The death was totally unexpected. Greg was 46 and in great health. She spent the first few months after his death just grieving and wringing her hands. She could cope with very little and wasn’t thinking clearly. She never thought about the practicalities of how digital death were affecting her life.

“Because Greg was gone, paychecks were no longer being deposited into his bank account, so money to pay the bills quickly ran out. The checking account and the online utility accounts were set up with Greg’s name and email address. Past due notices and notices of returned checks were being sent to Greg’s email account, and Marsha knew nothing about them.

“Then, one day she came home to find she had no power. When she called the power company to find out what was wrong, they informed her that the bill for her address had not been paid. They had cut off the power and Marsha was in the dark with no heat and no electricity.

“Here’s how the call went:

PG&E answering machine: Hello, how can I help you? Press 3 if you are calling for help with billing.
Marsha: Pressed 3
PG&E answering machine: Please enter your account number so we can help you.
Marsha: Thinking to herself: I have no idea what the account number is. We haven’t received a paper bill in ages. Why don’t they ask me for Greg’s email? I know that.
PG&E answering machine: I’m sorry. Let’s try again. Please enter the account number. We’ll need that before we can help you.
Marsha: Clicking 0, 0, and 0 looking for a way to get connected to a real person.
PG&E (a real person): Hello, this is PG&E. How may we help you?
Marsha: The electricity at our house has been disconnected. I need to make a payment.
PG&E (a real person): Do you know the account number?
Marsha: No. My husband paid all of our bills.
PG&E (a real person): What is your husband’s name?
Marsha: Greg Thomas.
PG&E: What is your relationship with Greg?
Marsha: I’m his wife.
PG&E: Is Greg there? We can’t take a payment from anyone but Greg.
Marsha: No. Greg died several months ago.
PG&E: We are very sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, we can’t take a payment or transfer service to your name without you being here in person and providing proof of your relationship to Greg.
Marsha: You’re kidding right! It’s 20 degrees outside, and I don’t have any heat.
PG&E: I’m sorry. There is nothing we can do at this time. Please visit your PG&E office Monday morning with the right documentation, and they will be able to help you.
Marsha: (In one last effort for help) Can’t you just give me Greg’s password? I could log in and pay the bill electronically.
PG&E: Do you have documentation from Greg authorizing access to his account?
Marsha: No (thinking to herself: I have no idea what she is talking about).
PG&E: Sorry, there’s nothing else we can do.”

Don’t let this happen to you.  Makes plans for what will happen to your digital estate when you die and protect your family.  For more information and help on this critical topic, get a copy of Access Denied today.

Apple says maybe” – Another digital death fiasco

A Ca51j2ST20YwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_nadian, Peggy Bush, widow tried to get her deceased husband’s Apple ID password so she could continue to use apps that resided on their shared iPad.  She ended up being told by Apple support that she would have to produce a court order first.

Her daughter took up the fight and, after several weeks of customer support calls, writing to the CEO and going to the media with the story, Apple finally agreed “to help the family with their issue”.  Sounds good, right.  The problem is nobody is sure what this means.  Will Peggy get access to her husband’s account?  Nobody knows.

If this issue comes as a surprise to you, it shouldn’t.  Apple and most other companies have license terms that are quite clear.  There are no rights of survivorship.  In other words, when you die, your account dies with you.  In Apple’s terms:  “unless required by law, you agree that your account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or content within your content terminate upon your death.  Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all content within your account deleted.”

When most people are trying to get their affairs in order, they think about the tangible things they own.  They don’t think about their digital estate and how to provide access to online accounts for their heirs.

Although it is stated as not being legal in the terms and conditions of most online accounts, providing the user name and password for each account will enable your executor or other family member to access your accounts, close them, transfer date or even continue to use them.

To get more information about how to manage your digital estate, check out this book: ACCESS DENIED.  You’ll not only find valuable help but worksheets you can use as well.  Don’t leave a mess for your family.  Get all of your affairs in order now, including those related to your online life.

Have you made a plan for your digital assets?

AIM-blog-graphic-digital-estate-9-2015When cruising the web, we came across a video that very simply tells you the basics of what to do about your digital assets.  Many people have what they think are comprehensive plans for their estate.  However, they’ve forgotten about this very critical segment.  Check out the video and then start planning….before it’s too late.

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Don’t let your ex-spouse get your life insurance proceeds

Jackie and Warren Hillman

Jackie & Warren Hillman

When you buy a life insurance policy, you name a beneficiary who will inherit the proceeds when you die.  It’s important to keep that beneficiary designation up to date or the wrong person may benefit.

One such case that went all the way to the Supreme Court was that of Warren Hillman. Hillman died in 2008 shortly after he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was 66. He had been married three times. When he died, his assets included a life insurance policy worth $124,558.03.

But Hillman made an all too common estate planning error. In 1996, while he was working for the federal government, he took out a life insurance policy and named his second wife, Judy Maretta, as his beneficiary. When he and Maretta divorced in 1998, he didn’t change the beneficiary designation on his policy. It was a policy that was part of a life insurance program for all federal employees and the law for that program says that the proceeds on death are paid according to the beneficiary designation.

He married Jacqueline Hillman in 2002 and was with her until he died.

Since his death, his second ex-wife, Judy Maretta, and his widow had been fighting over that money. In June, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Maretta was entitled to all of it because she was still listed as the beneficiary.

If your life circumstances change, be sure to update the beneficiary forms for any policies that you have. Otherwise, your ex-spouse may get your life insurance proceeds.

For further information about beneficiaries, go to




New California Digital Privacy Law


Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a very broad statute that protects digital privacy rights.

Called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, it does not allow any law enforcement agency to force a business to turn over any metadata or digital communications without a warrant.  The new legislation seems to be the most comprehensive in the United States.

Here’s an article from Slate we found that provides lots of details about the new California law.

For more information on how to protect your digital assets, go to or look for our book  “ACCESS DENIED” on