E255 How Solo Agers Should Hide Cash and Jewels at Home

E255 How Solo Agers Should Hide Cash and Jewels at Home

Lots of people like to keep cash and valuables hidden at home. But what if you do too good a job of hiding them that even your executor can’t find them? They could end up lost or thrown away. Let’s discuss how to avoid that.

Why people hide cash and valuables at home

Why people hide cash and valuables at home

Some folks don’t trust banks or the government, in general. Perhaps they came from a country or grew up in another era where banking was much less reliable.

Others want to hide valuables from home aides, cleaning staff, EMTs, etc. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for items to go missing when someone gets transferred to a nursing home or when they pass away.

Lastly, some folks want to be prepared for a recession or bank runs/panics. Panic bank/ATM runs could have easily been the scenario two years ago when we witnessed the toilet paper shortage.

Where NOT to hide cash and valuables at home

Where NOT to hide cash and valuables at home

If you hide valuables too well, the executor/heirs probably won’t find it either. From personal experience, treasure hunting for hidden money and jewelry is just one thing on a long list of the executor’s tasks to do when cleaning out a home. The executor needs to document items for family members, and the home needs to be cleared out and in broom-clean condition to get it on the market in a reasonable time frame. There’s really not much time to tear up the floorboards to look for hidden cash…

Here are some examples of where people hide things and why the executor/heirs might miss it:

  1. In the freezer, wrapped in foil or Ziploc bag. It’s not really reasonable for someone to go through every item in the fridge/freezer to see if there’s money in it. By the time we’re cleaning out the fridge, everything is probably rotting. We do our best to check, but often, there just isn’t much time before we need to move on to the next task.
  2. In the pantry, inside flour jars, sugar jars, cereal boxes. Again, there isn’t time to look through all of these things for hidden valuables. Sometimes we hire a cleaning company, and they certainly are not going to take the time to examine each item.
  3. Inside books or hollowed out books. It’s not realistic for an executor to take every book off of the shelf and leaf through the pages. We do tend to check the dictionaries and Bibles, which are more common “hiding places.”
  4. Taped on the underside of the drawer. Some public administrators will take out every drawer, examine it, then toss it on the floor. After doing so, it tends to look like someone robbed the place. We do our best to look around, but we also respect the emotional reaction of the heirs. We do not trash the place.
  5. Inside a cigar box. We do check these, but if the box is tucked away, we might miss it.
  6. Sewn into the lining of clothes. We might do a pat-down of some items, but generally, clothing is overlooked. Although one time, we found cash in a sofa cushion because we noticed a lump.
  7. Under floorboards. If there is an obvious discolored board, we’ll take a look. However, we’re not wrecking a house to find possible valuables. It’s time consuming and costly to pull up floorboards and get them neatly back into place. By the way, if the floorboard hiding place is so obvious that we can find it, chances are the home aid or EMT can find it, too.

Good places to hide cash and valuables at home

Good places to hide cash and valuables at home

A fireproof safe costs money and it can draw attention, but it also means that your executor knows to look in there. Try not to worry about the home aid seeing your safe. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. You are more likely to have cash or jewelry swiped off of your dresser than for a visitor to spend time trying to get into the safe.

There is no need to buy a huge safe that is incredibly obvious. You also don’t want to get a tiny safe that is easy to carry away. A standard safe might weigh 50 to 100 pounds and can be bolted into the floor or the wall.

Solo Ager Book

This topic came up because we have been talking about hunting for Bitcoin keys after death. We thought this would be helpful to cover other types of treasure hunts.

You can tell your professional executor that you have hidden things in certain places, but this may not help if you die years later and change the hiding place.

If you want to learn more, click the link below to get a free copy of my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E251 Should Solo Agers Tell Heirs About Inheritance?

E251 Should Solo Agers Tell Heirs About Inheritance?

Our Solo Ager clients often ask, “Do I have to tell an heir that I’ve named them in my will?” For one reason or another, you may not be sure what to do. We will discus the pros and cons of telling your heirs they have been named in your will.

Do heirs have to be notified?

Do heirs have to be notified?

You are not legally required to notify your heirs when you make your will. However, once you die and your executor begins the probate process, your executor is required to notify your heirs that they are named in the will. In fact, the executor must send a copy of the will to the heirs. This means the heirs will also see who the other heirs are and what they will inherit.

Why not tell your heirs?

Why not tell your heirs?

First of all, nothing is final. There is a good chance you might change your will again before you die. It would be pretty awkward to tell someone that they are inheriting something, and then you change your mind. You don’t want to cause drama between you and your heirs, or among the heirs themselves. Suppose you have two nieces between whom you were going to split your estate 50/50. Then they find out that you’ve changed it to 75/25. This will create an awkward situation among all of you, especially if the nieces are sisters.

You may find that once you tell your heirs what they will inherit, the heirs’ behavior changes. It could feel as if you are dangling their inheritance in front of them. Or maybe the ones inheriting the most won’t try as hard to win your favor or hang around as much, since they feel secure in what they plan to receive.

When to tell heirs

When to tell heirs

Generally, I don’t recommend telling your heirs what they will specifically inherit for the reasons described above. However, there are times when it makes sense to tell them. One reason is to help them plan for the future. Say you have a niece with school-aged children, and she is struggling to figure out how much to save up for college. You know that by the time her children are in college, you won’t be around. You can let your niece know that they will receive an inheritance to take care of those costs. This news could alter how aggressively she saves, which will make their lives easier now (not just when the inheritance comes). Just remember – once she relies on this information to set her financial plan, it will not look good if you change your mind!

If you are not planning on giving much to your heirs or you plan to give mostly to charity, then set expectations for your heirs. Let them know that you plan to give your wealth to charities and for them not to expect a large inheritance. Doing this can help avoid hard feelings after your death. If you have a relative who’s expecting to receive a lot and they find out after you pass that it’s going to charity, it may tarnish your legacy in their eyes. But if you set expectations before you pass, then the heirs will be prepared.

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E247 Solo Ager Annual Estate Plan Review

E247 Solo Ager Annual Estate Plan Review

As we know, Solo Ager estate plans are a bit trickier than other estate plans. We recommend that our clients take a look at their estate plan every 4 to 5 years. However, for Solos Agers, we suggest a light annual review.

1. Your Executor

Your Executor

The first thing you should review is whether your executor is still alive. This is important for Solo Agers because they often have non-traditional executors. Solo Agers often hire a professional executor like me because they don’t have family members who they feel comfortable appointing. This professional executor is probably not someone they keep in touch with on a daily basis.

Is your executor still living nearby? Perhaps if the executor has moved far away, it’s not practical to have them named in your will any longer.

Are you still confident your executor will fulfill his or her duties to your liking? Perhaps the executor is someone who is developing close relationships with relatives that you are planning to disinherit. Maybe your executor is getting older and declining. Maybe your assets have become more technologically advanced, and your executor isn’t familiar with the types of accounts you have (bitcoin, for example).

2. Who inherits

Who inherits

Again, you want to make sure that the beneficiaries of your will and/or trust are still alive. It sounds depressing to have to think about such things, but a 5-to-10-minute review of your documents could prevent a headache for your executor when you pass.

Are your beneficiaries still worthy of inheriting your money? Sometimes family members slowly stop keeping in touch with their aging relatives. As a Solo Ager, you may want to evaluate whether those people are still worthy of receiving your estate. Does it still make you feel good that you’re leaving your money to them?

You may have set up a trust for a beneficiary, or you may have chosen to give them their share outright. It’s best to re-evaluate to see if that choice is still appropriate for that beneficiary. For example, you may have chosen an outright distribution to someone who has since started having drinking problems or gambling issues. Perhaps you’ve left money to someone who needs asset protection. Now, a trust or some other planning tool may be better. On the other side, you may have put a minor beneficiary’s share in a trust, and now he or she is an adult who can handle money.

Many Solo Agers prefer to leave some money to charities. Take time to review if your charity of choice still exists and if it is still worthy of inheriting your money. Perhaps the charity was very efficient in serving the original cause, but now a change of management style has resulted in less money going toward the charitable cause itself.

Does the charity still align with your values? Have your passions or interest changed? Maybe when you created your will, you were really into pets, and you left a large share to the ASPCA. Maybe now your passion is something else that you’d rather leave your money to.

3. Your Guardian

Your Guardian

You may not have a guardian in your estate plan. But, are you satisfied with what happens if you lose capacity? If you don’t have a trust or other mechanism in place, are you happy with the idea of a court-appointed guardian? You may have listened to our prior podcast in which we reviewed the Netflix move, “I Care a Lot.” The movie is obviously a dramatization, but it shows how bad it can be when the system takes over someone who doesn’t really need a guardian.

It’s best to have a plan in place now before the court decides it’s a good idea to appoint a stranger as your guardian. If you are unfamiliar with court-appointed strangers, we suggest you check our podcast on the topic.

In conclusion, an annual light review of your documents can go a long way in making sure your plan is strong. To learn about estate planning tips for Solo Agers, please check out my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan,” available on Amazon.

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E242 Solo Ager Movie “I Care a Lot”

E242 Solo Ager Movie: “I Care a Lot”

The Netflix movie, “I Care a Lot,” shows a nightmare scenario for Solo Agers. It is a dramatization of what could potentially happen to our Solo Ager friends.

Below we’ll separate 7 myths from reality in this movie. Spoiler alert! If you want to watch the movie first, then save this blog to read after you’ve seen the movie. We’ll be discussing mostly just the first 30 minutes of the movie (the set-up) but we will touch on parts later in the movie.

The sole job of the main character, Marla, is to act as a guardian for people who are incapacitated. Elderly Ms. Peterson is deemed to be incompetent, and Marla is appointed to take over her affairs. Marla represents what a bad guardian can look like. Ms. Peterson’s situation shows how brutal it can feel if you are a vulnerable Solo Ager.

1. “Pain in the rear” patients get nudged into system

“Pain in the” rear patients gets nudged into system

In one scene, Marla talks to the doctor about how Ms. Peterson is a pain in the rear. Marla prefers for Ms. Peterson to get nudged into the system and out of her hands.

I would say that yes, this is real. It may not happen as maliciously or overtly as the movie, but doctors, nursing homes, social workers, and courts/guardians are human. We don’t like dealing with people who are a pain.

What happens when the doctor, social worker, etc., thinks a patient is a pain? They are more prone to medicate the problem or pass the patient onto the next facility or next guardian.

2. Solo Agers targeted

Solo Agers targeted

In the same scene, Marla is speaking with the doctor and assistant. They describe Ms. Peterson as a “cherry.” It’s clear from the context that a “cherry” is a wealthy Solo Ager who is vulnerable and has no family.

I’d say that this is real. Solo Agers aren’t necessarily targeted by bad guy movie characters, but by advertising, financial advisors, and prepaid funeral plans. There are a lot of eyes on wealthy Solo Agers. This kind of person is more likely targeted than someone with a family to help or less money to grab.

3. “The System” = judge, doctors, homes

“The System” = judge, doctors, homes

Is there a gamut through which the Solo Ager gets pushed?

There’s a scene where Marla is in court, and the judge knows her. Even though Marla is doing bad things, they are a bit chummy, and the judge seems to trust her. Marla also has ongoing relationships with the nursing home directors, who want to fill their rooms while Marla is looking for places to put her Solo Agers. There are also scenes showing kickbacks where money is exchanged, and Marla gets paid in stocks.

Yes, this is real too. Again, it’s not a dramatized as the movie, but it’s easy to imagine subtler versions. There is a system, and these professionals know each other. Once you’re a victim in the system, it’s hard to get out. You can get pushed from the court to the guardian to the nursing home to the social worker. Even Ms. Peterson’s dangerous and powerful son couldn’t get her out of the system.

4. Court-appointed stranger

Court-appointed stranger

In an early scene, Ms. Peterson’s morning tea is interrupted by a knock on the door. Marla is at the door telling her that she is Ms. Peterson’s court-appointed guardian. She tells Ms. Peterson to come with her or she will have to deal with the sheriffs.

It is possible to get stuck with a stranger as a court-appointed guardian. We had a case where our client expressed that she wanted her attorney or family member to be her guardian and the court ignored it.

5. Hearing without the solo ager?

Hearing without the solo ager?

Can all of this happen without a Solo Ager being able to stop it?

There were courtroom scenes where Ms. Peterson was not present to speak up for herself. It seems that Ms. Peterson had no idea what was going on until Marla knocked on her door.

This is a myth, at least in New York. I’m sure it could happen in some states or in an emergent circumstance. However, in New York, judges have gone to GREAT lengths to have the Solo Ager at the hearing, especially now that platforms such as Zoom can be used. They have the right to be heard, to testify, to make their wishes known. I’ve even been in situations asking the judge to end the testimony sooner because our person is in pain, etc. But the judges are adamant that the hearing is important.

6. Taking her phone

Taking her phone

There is a scene where Marla takes away Ms. Peterson’s phone as she is ushered into the nursing facility. It was like Ms. Peterson was in a prison, because she was not allowed to have contact with the outside world.

This is a partial myth. In New York, nursing home patients are allowed to have their own phones. But if the phone breaks, runs out of battery, runs out of plan time, etc., is it SUPER hard to connect with a patient in a nursing home to replace or repair the phone. It’s not because the nursing home is trying to cut off communication; it’s just difficult to accomplish even small things when dealing with nursing homes.

7. Raiding the safe deposit box

Raiding the safe deposit box

As Marla takes control of Ms. Peterson’s life, she goes to the bank to raid the safe deposit box.

This is a myth. In New York, when an executor/guardian opens a safe deposit box, there is a procedure set up. The box opening has to be performed in front of two bank witnesses and all people present must sign the inventory of contents to submit to the court. In real life, there’s no way anyone can walk into a bank and get into a safe deposit box without abiding by the procedures.

Overall, it was a good movie. For professionals in our line of work, the first 30 minutes of the movie are probably the most frustrating. If you’ve seen the movie, please let us know your thoughts. If you are a Solo Ager watching it, don’t get stressed out that this is how life will be.

To learn about estate planning tips for Solo Agers, please check out my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan,” available on Amazon.

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E238 A Solo Ager’s Court-Appointed Stranger, 6 Months Later

E238 A Solo Ager’s Court-Appointed Stranger, 6 Months Later

About six months ago, the court chose a court-appointed stranger for “Ms. H.,” a lovely solo ager who has named me executor in her will. In this episode, we are going to check in and see what’s happened since then.

To refresh, Ms. H. is unmarried with no kids and is somewhat estranged from her nieces and nephews. Ms. H. named me as executor in her will many years ago. She recently rekindled a relationship with a niece, who has been attentive to her.

Ms. H. is in declining health and was placed involuntarily into a nursing home. She asked me and the niece to petition the court to be her guardians to get her out of the nursing home and into the comfort of her own home.

Six months ago, when we petitioned the court, the court ignored Ms. H.’s wishes and appointed a random attorney (court-appointed stranger), instead.

So, what’s happened since then?

Has the court-appointed stranger contacted anyone?

Has the court-appointed stranger contacted anyone?

Nope. Neither Ms. H., nor the niece, nor I have heard a peep since the court hearing. Up until the court hearing, the court-appointed stranger was very attentive in calling Ms. H. to make sure she understood the situation. Now, we’ve heard absolutely nothing.

In fact, Ms. H. and her niece didn’t even know the court had ruled against them and appointed a stranger. They were patiently waiting for the court to contact them. They had no idea the court-appointed stranger has been Ms. H.’s guardian for months. The only way they found out was because the niece randomly called me to ask a few questions about estate planning.

Has our Solo Ager moved home?

Has our Solo Ager moved home?

No. She hasn’t even heard from her guardian, let alone begun the process of exiting the nursing home. There is no indication of any movement on this.

Sadly, ever since the court hearing, Ms. H. has been hopefully waiting for signs that she will be released. She had been asking daily if today is the day that she will go home.

Unfortunately, the niece had to break the news that not only is Ms. H. not going home, but that neither she nor I are her guardians. (And that the actual guardian has been silent for the past six months).

What can our Solo Ager do now?

In her situation, sadly, there is not much Ms. H. can do. Perhaps in another six months, if there is no activity or contact from the guardian, it’s egregious enough to go back to court and ask for Mr. H.’s originally requested guardians. There’s no guarantee that the judge will agree, but after a year of no activity, it can’t hurt to try.

For now, Ms. H. is stuck with the court-appointed stranger. Unfortunately, a year in a nursing home probably feels like a very long time, and she just wants to go home.

So, how can others avoid this type of situation? For most folks, I don’t recommend a revocable trust, but, for Solo Agers, having a revocable trust makes sense. With a revocable trust, your chosen trustee can step in immediately, without having to rely on a judge to respect your wishes.

If Ms. H. had made a revocable trust, we’d have the power and authority to execute her wishes. We did recommend drafting a trust for her, but it never happened. We’re wishing Ms. H. the best of luck, and we hope we can give you a positive update on her case in the future.

We’ve talked about revocable trusts in a few prior episodes: Guardian vs Revocable Trust for Solo Agers and Getting Final Affairs in Order Before Death.

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E234 Should Closest Get the Mostest

E234 Should Closest Get the Mostest?

As a Solo Ager, choosing who inherits from you is something you should think about. Should it be the person who was there the most at the end? Or someone who had more of a life-long relationship with the decedent?

Which relative should inherit?

Which relative should inherit?

You can be a Solo Ager and still have siblings, nieces, and nephews, etc. Should the person who inherits your estate be that lifelong “favorite” niece or nephew that you went to ball games with or sewed with?

Alternatively, there may have been a distant relative who was there for you at the end when things got tough. Perhaps it was someone who helped you with personal medical and hygiene needs. That kind of care creates an instant close relationship.

We deal with estates after someone has passed on, and we hear both sides of the story. There may be the niece who says she was close with her aunt for 40 years and then all of a sudden everything goes to Cousin Johnny. The other point of view is that Cousin Johnny, who never had a close relationship with the aunt, was the one who stepped up to care for her in the end. There is no right answer, but this is an example of both points of view.

Can a caregiver inherit?

Can a caregiver inherit?

In a similar scenario, rather than talking about Cousin Johnny, a hired home-aide or nurse was caring for the decedent in the end. Often, the “hired help” do get something from the decedent’s estate. We’ve seen butlers, live-in maids, and live-in cooks either inherit or not inherit. The family often underestimates how close the decedent was with their cook or maid. On the other hand, sometimes the home-aide overestimates his or her place and expects a large inheritance that will never come.

A word of caution for home-aides and cousins helping at the end: The courts may look into whether a beneficiary exerted undue influence on the Solo Ager when making the will. For example, when someone is so reliant on another person for daily care, they have reason to fear that the care may be withheld if they don’t sign a will naming the home-aide as a beneficiary. If the court finds that this is the case, the will might be deemed invalid.

Leaving money to a church in your will

Leaving money to a church in your will

In this context, we’ll use the word “church” to describe any religious or community organization. For many Solo Agers, the church provides a lot of comfort and community toward the end of life. When the Solo Ager lives far away from (or has outlived) their family, the church sort of becomes their family. The church may also be the one that you rely on to give you a proper burial and memorial service.

For these reasons, the church is often a main beneficiary. This may be confusing for relatives far away because they think they should get the money. But in reality, the church was the one meeting the needs of the Solo Ager at the end.

These scenarios should get you thinking about having a solid estate plan. For Solo Agers, it’s wise to get at least one version done now while you are unquestionably of sound mind. That way, there is a paper trail showing your minor changes along the way.

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E229 Judge Gave Her a Court-Appointed Stranger

In this episode, we bring you a real-world story of “Ms. H.,” who got a court-appointed stranger guardian instead of her family or her own attorney. This a cautionary tale for anyone who is dragging their feet on getting their planning done.

Why Ms. H. needs a guardian

Ms. H. is a Solo Ager. (For those of you who are new here, a Solo Ager is someone who is getting on in years and is unmarried or has no available immediate family to fulfill traditional roles). Ms. H. prepared her Last Will and Testament ten years ago when she in great health and named me as her executor. Her only family are nieces and nephews, whom she disinherited because they were estranged.

A will is great for after you pass away, but you still should have a plan in place for when you decline and are unable to make your own decisions. As her health slowly deteriorated, I advised Ms. H. to make a trust or power of attorney, but unfortunately, she did not.

Why Ms. H needs a guardian

Sadly, Ms. H. got to the point where she was no longer able to care for herself and was hospitalized (during COVID lockdowns) for dehydration and malnourishment. She was not eating or drinking enough.

Now that she was in “the system,” she was bounced around among social workers, rehabs, and nursing homes. No one knew where she was until she finally got in touch with me and her estranged niece. I suppose in the end, family does matter no matter what transpired in the past. We then petitioned court to be her guardians (niece as guardian of person and me as guardian of property).

Who became Guardian her person?

The guardian of person has legal authority to make healthcare decisions such as whether to stay in nursing home or try to arrange home care. In this case, moving back home was very important to Ms. H.

Who became Guardian her person

Ms. H. asked for her estranged (now reconciled) niece to serve. Unfortunately, the niece very politely declined this large task. She promised to stay in touch, but she did not want the responsibility of making major decisions and doing all the work. A nomination does not mean that someone must accept, so the judge appointed a stranger.

In this case, the stranger was an attorney chosen from a pool of attorneys who do this sort of thing for a living. The attorney had only spoken to Ms. H. once before. Would this attorney fight tooth and nail to get Ms. H. home with an aide, or would she take the easier route of leaving her in the nursing home? I know would want someone who is personally invested in my care.

Who became Guardian her property?

The guardian of property has legal authority over her funds and makes investing and spending decisions.

Who became Guardian her property

Ten years ago, Ms. H. asked for me to handle her financial affairs upon her death. So, it makes sense that she asked the court to be the guardian of her property during the final phase of her life.

Again, the judge ignored Ms. H.’s request and handed financial reins to the court appointed stranger. I am not sure why this was the Court’s decision. Sadly, a court-appointed stranger now has full legal control over Ms. H.’s personal care (instead of family) and all her money (instead of her self-selected attorney). This stranger guardian will have to do her best, based on the information she has about Ms. H., even though she did not know Ms. H. or her wishes prior to being appointed.

This is a cautionary tale that if you fail to plan properly, you will be at the mercy of the court should you ever need a guardian for health and finances. I wish we could have gotten Ms. H. the team she wanted during her final phase of life.

I hope Ms. H.’s situation helps motivate someone else to get their estate plan in order. If you want to know how to avoid a scenario like Ms. H.’s, click the link below for a free copy of my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E225 3 Recent Solo Ager Estate Plan Questions

E225 3 Recent Solo Ager Estate Plan Questions

The following are three recent questions from our Solo Ager listeners. Thanks for your questions!

Is a bank as an executor better?

This question comes from a Solo Ager who listened to our previous podcast episode 221, where we discussed whether executors are contractually bound to serve.

Our listener asks, “since professional executors are not contractually bound, aren’t banks better?” The short answer is: No. Banks aren’t contractually bound, either. Individuals and banks are on the same level regarding that issue.

Is a bank as executor better?

This leads us to the next question: why wouldn’t a bank take an estate? To answer this question, you have to think far ahead 10, 15, or even 20 years.

What we have seen happen is that the bank shuts down their estate’s division. Or perhaps between the time they agreed to be your executor and the time that you pass away, the bank increases their estate minimums, so now your estate doesn’t qualify. For example, your estate may have been two million dollars when you appointed the bank, and that amount met the bank’s minimum requirements. But, since then, they bumped up their minimum to five million, which makes your estate ineligible.

Even if you meet the qualifications and the bank still has an estate department, the bank’s review committee may reject your estate. Maybe they see the estate as too risky, due to family feuds and potential litigation. Or maybe the estate has too many illiquid assets (house, art, collectibles, etc.). Banks want to be in this business to control your portfolio, and it is a lot of work to liquidate those kinds of assets.

Should a professional executor review my will before I sign?

Should a professional executor review my will before I sign?

I am often asked to be the professional executor for my clients, but I am rarely the attorney who drafts the will. This may be due to the client living in another state, they have an attorney they’re comfortable with, or that we’re not currently drafting wills.

The short answer is: No, it’s not required any more than it’s required for a spouse or best friend to review it.

However, if you name a professional executor (such as a bank or attorney), we can be a good second set of eyes to review your Last Will to make sure it’s what you want. It’s like getting a free second opinion.

But if you’re working with a good attorney, it’s not necessary to have a professional executor review the will. You also don’t want your drafting attorney to feel like he is being second-guessed. 

It could also be confusing having a lot of different people with different opinions looking at the will. You don’t want too many cooks in that kitchen.

Does naming beneficiaries on my accounts help my professional executor?

No, it probably makes things harder! Why? Naming beneficiaries to your account creates liquidity problems. It’s as if you are treating your bank or brokerage account like a life insurance policy: “In case of my death, this account will automatically go to my niece.” You might think this is great because it minimizes probate, but there are complications.
Does naming beneficiaries on my accounts help my professional executor?

Here’s the problem: if you name beneficiaries on too many (or all) of your accounts, you put your executor in a liquidity crunch. Because those beneficiary accounts go directly to the beneficiary, the executor won’t have operating cash to move the estate forward. The executor may not have enough funds to pay bills, taxes, etc.  

An example of this is one of our estates with two houses, a business, a car, and a bunch of accounts. The accounts and car had beneficiaries on them. So, now I am the executor of two houses and a business, and I have no cash. My job is to settle the estate, but I have no money to clean out the houses, secure the business property, or pay to evict the tenant that won’t leave. There are solutions, but they are not ideal. I’ll probably have to sell the business or house at a severe discount, because who is going to want to buy a house full of junk because I can’t pay to have it cleaned? Who is going to buy a business where I haven’t been able to secure it or get the financials done? No cash means selling the property “as-is,” which means fewer buyers. 

When I am named as executor, I make sure there are more than sufficient accounts in probate to cover the estate bills, or else I usually will decline to serve, as it puts me in a tough position. 

These are great, relevant questions, so please keep them coming! 

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E218 Bitcoin Letter of Instruction to Heirs

E218 Bitcoin Letter of Instruction to Heirs

Every bitcoin estate plan must include a simple, easy-to-understand letter of instruction to your heirs or executor. If you don’t, all of your hard-hoarded bitcoin may disappear.

Explain Bitcoin to a Child

Explain bitcoin to a child

Keep it super simple! Write the letter like you are explaining bitcoin to a child. Do not give the whole history of bitcoin, block chain, sound money, etc. Just write enough to get them past this treacherous stage: handling new and complex assets while grieving.

In your letter, write about:

  1. High-level concepts;
  2. Major pitfalls to avoid when working with cryptocurrency; and
  3. Immediate to-dos or checklist.

Bitcoin vs Banks

Most of your heirs understand banks and brokerage accounts. So, explain how bitcoin is different. Explain that cryptocurrency can be lost forever if handled wrong, unlike dealing with a bank. There is no password recovery.

Bitcoin vs banks

If your heir is a little more financially savvy, explain that bitcoin is like a bearer instrument. Bearer instruments are certificates where whoever holds them owns the money. (Cash is essentially a bearer instrument). When you give someone your bitcoin keys, that person has complete no-consequence access to your funds. No one will check their ID or verify their signature.

Where You Store Your Bitcoin

In your instruction letter, explain where you store your bitcoin keys. You should have a rough inventory of what you’re holding so your heirs know what to look for. Most bitcoiners have a little bit on an exchange (Coinbase, Binance, Gemini, etc.). You may also have some hot wallets online (apps, browser extensions, etc.). Lastly you may have cold wallets, which are not connected to the internet at all (hardware or paper certificate).

It is important that your instructions are in a letter, not in your will. Your holdings could change, and you won’t want to update your will for every change.

Where you store your bitcoin

Next, explain how the heirs can access the items on your inventory.

Exchanges are simple to explain, because they are more similar to banks than anything else. You heirs will send the death certificate and letters from the court and the exchange will turn over possession to the heirs.

Wallets are a little different. A good solution for a hardware wallet is to give a clone wallet to an executor or heir and give the PIN to someone else. Or you can split up a seed phrase and pass phrase among different heirs and they must collaborate to access your bitcoin.

Bitcoin letter of instruction example

If you’re reading this, I’m either dead or incapacitated. If I’m not dead or incapacitated, PLEASE STOP READING NOW.

This letter is about my Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency, and how to access them. I won’t even try to explain everything about Bitcoin here, but I want you to know enough to not get robbed or lose everything.

Some important high-level concepts:

(1) Cryptocurrencies can be lost, forever! There’s no FDIC, or bank customer support to stop payment or reverse a bad transaction. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

(2) There’s no password reset or “recover lost password.” If you lose the passwords (known as seed phrases, I’ll explain below), Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are gone forever.

(3) Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are “bearer” assets, like cash. Whoever holds it, owns it. So if you hand someone the seed phrases, it’s like handing them an untraceable bag of cash.

Nervous enough? No worries, Just follow these instructions, and you should be fine.

On Exchanges

I hold some Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the following exchanges:

– Binance.com/Coinbase.com/Gemini.com

This is the easy part: just ask my executor or probate lawyer to contact the exchange with an original death certificate and letters testamentary, and they’ll give further instructions on how to transfer my Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Now it gets harder.

On Hardware Wallets

I also hold some Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on hardware wallets. What’s a hardware wallet? It looks like a large USB thumb drive, and my passwords/seed phrases are securely stored inside the device. You need my PIN code to access my hardware wallet.

My hardware wallet (and duplicate copies) are located:

– Describe locations

You should automatically receive an email with the PIN within six months of my death (I set up a “Dead Man’s Switch”). Just remember: anyone who has both my hardware wallet and PIN has full, irreversible access to the Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies inside.

Seed Phrase

If you cannot find or access any of the hardware wallets, you can still recover my Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies using my “seed phrase.” This string of 24 ordered words is the secret password to control the funds, even without the hardware wallet device.

I’ve given the first 12 words to these trusted people: Bart, Lisa, and Maggie

And the second 12 words to: Moe, Larry, and Curly

Contact whoever you need to complete the 24 word seed phrase. And remember: whoever has the full 24 word phrase has full, irreversible access to the Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies inside.That’s it.You probably won’t be able to navigate all this without some help.But at least you now know how to find and protect the hardware device and seed phrases while you figure out the rest.

Also, consider choosing an executor who understands bitcoin custody. If you want to learn more about how a professional executor can help , check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon. I don’t have a Bitcoin chapter yet, but you’ll get a sense of how choosing a professional can make things easier, especially for something complicated like an estate that includes Bitcoin.

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E216 Bitcoin's Unclaimed Property Problem

E216 Bitcoin’s Unclaimed Property Problem

Bitcoin is getting more mainstream every day. But new bitcoiners need to be aware of the unclaimed funds problem. Hopefully we can contribute to a solution.

How do Unclaimed Funds Work, Generally?

The first level of prevention of loss is password recovery. This is not part of unclaimed funds, but for banks and other custodians.
If your bank account is dormant (meaning no activity for a long time), then the bank must make attempts to contact you. If there’s no contact after several attempts, then the bank sends your money to the State to hold in the unclaimed funds department. You and your heirs can recover from the State any time.
This is how banks protect their members from catastrophic loss of assets.

Why Bitcoin Is Different

Why bitcoin is different
When you own your bitcoin, you own your own keys (self-custody). If you keep your bitcoin on an exchange, there are some similarities to a regular bank account. Meaning, you have a way to recover your password and there is a similar unclaimed funds procedure as discussed above.
If you are a real bitcoin enthusiast, you probably own your bitcoin. In this case, there is no one you can call to recover your password. You are responsible for it, and there are some measures you need to take to make it work.
If your bitcoin wallet is dormant for years, no one will attempt to contact you. It just stays in zombie mode. Bitcoin is a public ledger, meaning we can all see how much is in a given wallet, we just don’t know whose wallet it is. There are wallets sitting with huge amounts and there is no one to check on them.
If you lose your keys (or fail to deliver them to your heirs), they are gone “forever”. In other words, your wallet becomes stuck with no way to get into it.

How to Prevent Lost Bitcoins

Since bitcoin is not governed by the unclaimed loss protocols, there is not a safety net.
How to prevent lost bitcoins
If you think someone knows how to manage your crypto after your death, it won’t happen without leaving instructions.

How do you recover your password?

Don’t share your keys. You can split up your seed phrase or add a passphrase. You can give a copy of the hardware wallet to one person and the PIN to another person.

Another option is a decentralized dead man’s switch. A dead man’s switch is a button that needs to be pressed in order to prevent something from happening. The act of pressing the button is proof that you are alive. If you fail to press the button as scheduled, then the process starts for your funds to transfer to your beneficiary. For example, the PINs, phrases, or locations of those keys will be sent to people who will combine the information to access your account.
It’s important to remember that it is not safe to store seed phrases anywhere online (even split up).
A centralized dead man’s switch with a company could go away at any given time. A decentralized dead man’s switch would be some sort of open-source project that does not rely on one server or one company. A solution that preserves the ability to control your assets is decentralized and secure. For now, split hardware/pin or seed/passphrase are the best solutions we have.
What are some better solutions? I would love to hear from you.
What will bitcoin look like in the future? Will we have bitcoin “banks” to protect your money and provide quick easy access? How will they remain decentralized and let you keep your sovereignty over your money?

If you want to learn more about probate in general, please check out my book, “How Probate Works.” I don’t have a Bitcoin chapter yet, but you will get a sense of how the probate process applies to your Bitcoin situation.

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Sign-up for your free consultation using the form above, and I’ll be happy to email you a free chapter from Anthony’s best-selling bookHow to Leave Bitcoin to Your Heirs.”