Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blended Families: Estate Planning Gets a Lot More Complicated

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who has divorced and remarried, you know that estate planning with your blended family gets a lot more complicated. Without a carefully crafted Will or Living Trust, your children could unintentionally be disinherited.

The stakes are higher for those who’ve remarried

There’s a lot more at stake the second or third time around. You’re older, and there’s a greater chance that you’re bringing assets into the marriage–retirement savings, life insurance policies, brokerage accounts and real estate that you want to protect. You may also want to ensure your children receive family heirlooms or mementoes that may or may not have monetary value but can be the source of family discord.

A reality check from a financial planner

Think about this one: If you’re both on a boat that goes down and you’re lost at sea, can you trust the two sides of the families to get together and carry out your wishes? If the answer is somewhere between “not sure” and “unmitigated disaster”, you need to carefully develop an estate plan that will provide for your spouse and each set of children.

What to be thinking about as you and your spouse plan for your blended family

Naming—and updating–account beneficiaries

When people remarry, it’s easy to overlook the necessity of updating the beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies. These account designations supersede whomever you may have listed in your Trust. You can name your daughter Joan as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy in your Trust, but if you still have your ex-wife named on the policy, she’ll be the beneficiary.
When it comes to retirement accounts, your (new) spouse will most likely be the beneficiary. If you predecease that spouse, those 401(k) assets become hers–which may not include passing any money on to your kids as you may have planned. Let’s say that someone has $500,000 in a non-retirement account and adds his new wife to his account with rights to full ownership upon his death. If he wanted to leave part of that money to his kids, he didn’t do it.

Your home and the property’s title can make a big difference

Remarriage often includes a jointly owned home. Depending on how the property is titled, your wishes to have your children inherit your share of it could be upended.
In most states, including California, if a property is deeded as “joint tenancy with right of survivorship”, when one spouse dies, the property automatically belongs to the surviving spouse—regardless of what your Will states. If you own the house in “tenancy in common,” you can leave your share to someone other than your spouse. This is your chance to leave your home to your children.

Detail the distribution of items with sentimental or monetary value

If you want your children to receive specific items when you die, it’s important to be as specific as possible so there is no room for individual interpretation. These items may or may not have monetary value. When Robin Williams died, he left his $50M estate to his three kids and his Tiburon home to his current wife. Unaccounted for was the significant collection of awards, accolades and memorabilia that were in his wife’s Tiburon home. His children subsequently sued for those items, many of which had limited monetary value. Detailed estate planning minimizes this kind of family turmoil.

For young adults: A Living Trust that’s the beneficiary of a particular asset

If you want your kids to receive money but don’t want to give a young adult — or one who is a chronically poor money manager — unrestricted access to a sudden windfall, you can create a Trust to be the beneficiary. The Trust will hold assets on behalf of your beneficiary; it becomes a legal entity, as dictated by the documents creating it. The assets go into the Trust rather than directly to your heirs. You can identify the conditions under which the beneficiary will receive money.

Communication: Have that talk with your kids

Discuss your financial landscape with your blended family. Managing expectations helps avoid conflict. If you and your spouse intend to fully enjoy your retirement, it will leave less money for the family. Let them know that their inheritance will likely be significantly reduced.

Other considerations: Create a Living Trust

At California Document Preparers, our Living Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive, critical parts of long-term planning. The people you name will be responsible for making important healthcare and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Think carefully about the people you name as your agents—they should be accessible, people you trust to follow your wishes, regardless of their own views. Schedule an appointment today by contacting us at one of our three Bay Area officesOur dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Facebook’s in the News Again: This Time for Age Discrimination

Many employers have been happily leveraging Facebook’s detailed demographic data to target exclusively younger candidates in their job ads. The result? Once again, Facebook has found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In this case, the company was the focus of an age discrimination lawsuit

These detailed data fields completely excluded older applicants. Facebook has reached a settlement, and the company will stop letting employers target ads focusing on younger candidates. The agreement is a victory for older workers—those who may never have known that technology was being used to discriminate against them.

Facebook’s rich data fields are now the source of their problems

Facebook’s extensive data collection is one of things we love about this application, but it’s the subsequent use of that data that has backfired on them. Facebook was permitting advertisers to direct ads only to those who fit certain demographic features. If an employer wanted to hire candidates under 40, Facebook would show the job posting only to those who fell within that range. Those whose profiles showed they were 40 and older were unaware the ad existed.

Advertisers microtargetus according to the data we provide

Think about it: Every time you fill out a field on social media, you’re helping advertisers “microtarget” you. The more information you provide, the more valuable your demographic profile—especially if you’re on the higher end of the scale in terms of earning range, education level, location and job title. The cumulative worth and mismanagement of these rich data fields are the reasons Facebook and other tech companies are finding themselves in hot water.

California is getting serious about information accountability

Mismanagement has brought the power of data to the attention of the public and Congress. Beginning in 2020, new privacy laws will go into effect. In the event of a data breach, for instance, consumers will be able to sue for up to $750 for each violation. The law also gives the attorney general the right to pursue companies for intentional violations of privacy.

The ADEA protects those 40 and older from discrimination

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people ages 40 and older from discrimination in employment. “It’s crucial that microtargeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the groups involved in the lawsuits. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

Facebook: Ads prohibited from targeting by age, race, gender and sex

Facebook said it will build a new section on its site for companies that want to advertise for jobs and housing. In this section, companies will be prohibited from targeting ads by age, race, gender or any other legally protected characteristic. Facebook also agreed to permit the ACLU to monitor the site for three years to make sure that it fully implements the changes in the settlement. The investigative journalism website ProPublica, which was instrumental in revealing Facebook’s advertising practices, is reporting that Facebook also will pay the plaintiffs $5 million, which largely will be used to pay legal fees.
Data has become a huge business, and many believe it requires more stringent regulation. While Facebook has been the most visible company to be involved in data breaches, it’s not the only company that has been profiting from its sale. It’s the one that got caught.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg commits to doing more to prevent discrimination

“These changes mark an important step in our broader effort to prevent discrimination and promote fairness and inclusion on Facebook. But our work is far from over. We’re committed to doing more, and we look forward to engaging in serious consultation and work with key civil-rights groups, experts and policymakers to help us find the right path forward.”
California Document Preparers assists our clients in the preparation of legal documents inuncontested legal matters, including Living Trusts, an important part of estate planning. Our Trusts include a Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive. Schedule an appointment today by contacting us at one of our three Bay Area officesOur dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Drowning in Data, Yet We Can’t Get Our Own Medical Records

Oliver was visiting his son in San Francisco when he had a seizure. He was hospitalized at one of the area’s premier medical institutions where he underwent testing and treatment. Oliver had had a stroke several years before, so as a precaution, he always carried his medical records when he traveled.

Oliver is still waiting for his medical records

When Oliver returned home, he contacted the hospital to get his treatment records. After months of communications, a package with medical records finally arrived. Impossibly, they were his original records—the ones he had provided when he was hospitalized. Years later, he still doesn’t have the records from his California hospitalization.

Federal law guarantees the right to see and obtain a copy of our medical records

Even in this digital information age, medical records can be difficult for patients to get. But they shouldn’t be: Federal law guarantees that people have a right to see and obtain a copy of their medical records.

A Yale University study reveals barriers to accessing records

In a Yale study, researchers called the hospitals and asked how to get records, the associated cost, how long it would take, the format in which information would be sent and whether the entire record would be available. “The unfortunate truth is that the system doesn’t give patients reliable or consistent responses,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, co-author of the study and professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health at the Yale University School of Medicine.

HIPAA guarantees patients’ rights to their medical records

Under a groundbreaking law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), patients have a right to get some or all of their medical records upon request. (Psychotherapy notes can be excluded.) Hospitals, medical clinics, physician practices, pharmacies and health insurers are required to make this information available within 30 days, at a reasonable cost and in the format that patients request, if possible.

The benefits of being able to review medical records

Research suggests that reviewing medical record scan be beneficial on several levels. Studies show that people are more likely to follow treatment recommendations, remember what happened at medical visits and feel engaged in their care when they have access to this information.

But HIPAA requirements are often misunderstood

Jacqueline O’Doherty, a New Jersey geriatric care manager encountered problems when she tried to see records for an 80-year-old client who was being transferred from a hospital to a nearby rehabilitation facility.

Although the older woman had signed a form appointing O’Doherty as a “designated representative” — a status that should have allowed O’Doherty access to her clients’ records — a hospital nurse refused to let O’Doherty check the client’s lab results, medication list and discharge summary. It was only when an infectious-disease doctor intervened, citing the need for continuity of care, that O’Doherty was able to review her client’s records.

New guidelines from the Office for Civil Rights of HHS

After receiving a large volume of complaints about records’ cost and accessibility, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued new guidelines in January 2016.
  • For electronic records, the guidelines prohibit per-page charges and recommend a maximum cost of $6.50 for consumers.
  • They also clarify patients’ rights to have records sent to third parties, including family members or professionals advocating on their behalf.

Despite these protections, the forms used to request records aren’t standardized and can be confusing

Problems may be even more common at physician practices, which often don’t have medical records departments. When GetMyHealthData, a campaign to expand access to digital health information, asked consumers about their experience, people described poorly informed or unhelpful staff, high fees, long waits and frustrating bureaucratic processes.

Electronic patient portals don’t solve the problem

Many of us are familiar with our healthcare systems’ patient portals, and theoretically, this is where we should be able to obtain comprehensive information. Yet most contain limited information and don’t include a way for patients to request records such as the notes physicians take during patient visits.

MyHealthEData Initiative is focused on improving access to medical records

The government is making improved electronic access to medical records a priority through MyHealthEData Initiative.

Become your own advocate to secure copies of your medical records

If your hospital or doctor’s office declines to make your records available, print out materials about your rights and use them to advocate on your behalf. Tell staff, “I’m entitled to a copy of my records: This is my legal right, as explained here.”


  • A good resource is amodel medical records release form created by the American Health Information Management Association. Copy and take this with you to help make your case.
  • To familiarize yourself with your rights, review the Guide to Getting & Using Your Health Records, published by the government’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
  • Do review the Get Your Data section of the GetMyHealthData website, which includes a clear summary of your rights, how to request your medical records, and troubleshooting suggestions if you encounter obstacles.
California Document Preparers assists our clients in the preparation of legal documents in uncontested legal matters, including Living Trusts. Our Trusts include a Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive. Schedule an appointment today by contacting us at one of our three Bay Area officesOur dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable.