E211 Use a Personal Property Memorandum to Bequeath your Stuff

Many people make this mistake with personal property when creating their estate plan: They include a long laundry list of the tiniest items in their official, legal will.

We’ll discuss why this can be a problem, and what you should do instead.

Leaving personal property in a will

Leaving personal property in a will

It is very common to leave personal property in a will. However, it can cause problems during the probate process.

Personal property lists change frequently. The items on the list may change, or you may change who you want to receive the items. You won’t want to pay money to update your will every time there is a change on the list.

Unlike a bank account, it’s hard to put a value on your personal property. Some personal property items that might make sense to put in the will are large or expensive items. Examples of these are a classic car, expensive jewelry and art, and collectibles. To determine whether the item has significant value, ask yourself: would this item be worth sending to an appraiser?

Personal property you should never put in your will

To re-cap, items that are fine to put in your will are ones with big value, worth paying for an appraisal, and things that you will likely still own when you die.

People love to put furniture in their wills, but this isn’t usually a good idea. Furniture is often in poor condition, heavy, and costly to move. It also puts pressure on the beneficiaries who may not have wanted the furniture, as most people already have complete furnished houses.

Personal property you should never put in your will

What about jewelry that is more expensive than costume jewelry, but less expensive than “estate” jewelry? It’s worth something, but not worth appraising. In this case, it’s best not to mention it in the will.

Lastly, do not put clothing in your will! Unless it is a costly mink coat, it’s not worth the headache to have your will revised every time you get rid of or buy clothing. Again, like furniture, your clothes may not be desired by your heirs.

It’s not that these items are not important, but there is a better way to leave much of your personal property to your loved ones.

Use a personal property memorandum, instead

Use a personal property memorandum, instead

A personal property memorandum is a separate document that is not part of your will. Revising your will is expensive but updating a personal property memorandum is not. The personal property memorandum is very easy to update. It could be as simple as a Word document that you update as you wish, then send the most recent copy to your attorney to keep on file. Unlike a will, the personal property memorandum is not legally binding, and that’s ok! You should choose an executor who you trust to carry out your wishes.

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E210 How to Administer a Bitcoin Trust

E210 How to Administer a Bitcoin Trust

In Episode 206 we talked about how to set up a trust. This time, we’ll talk about how to manage a bitcoin trust as the trustee.

How to Transfer Bitcoin to Trustee

How to transfer bitcoin to trustee

As we discussed in Episode 206, there are a couple of ways to transfer control of the trust to the trustee. These are the dead man’s switch, sharding, and even old-school envelopes.

The dead man’s switch requires the trust maker to hit a button at regular scheduled intervals. Failure to hit the button presumes your death, and an email containing your seed phrase gets sent to your trusted people. (This is not a good plan, since it stores your seed on a ‘hot” device, the email server).

You can also “shard” your code and break up your seed phrase into chunks. You would give these chunks to different trusted people who will come together after your death to put the pieces together.

How to Invest the Trust Assets

Now that trustee has control, how should the trustee hold and manage the Bitcoin? This depends on the decedent’s wishes.

Sometimes, the decedent’s wish is to liquidate to fiat, convert to cash, then invest it as a normal trust.

But most bitcoin holders probably want their trust to continue to hold bitcoin on behalf of the heirs. The problem is that there is no such thing as a fiduciary account on the centralized exchanges. That is, there’s no way for a trustee to open an account at Coinbase, Gemini, etc. Those exchanges only allow individuals to open accounts, not trusts. So make sure you choose a trustee who knows how to handle a digital or hardware wallets and safeguard the trust keys/seeds.

How to invest the trust assets

If your trustee holds the Bitcoin in trust, he must manage his own wallet. He must also maintain security and anti-loss protocols as if it were his own. If the trustee dies with the keys or seed phrases, that’s not good. The trustee needs to have something in place to avoid catastrophic loss in a secure way. It makes sense for the trustee to have a sharding with the successor trustee or a backup attorney.

Bitcoin Trust Fund Distribution to Beneficiaries

Since cryptocurrency is so volatile, it is best to distribute the bitcoin in-kind. Meaning, instead of the trustee selling the Bitcoin and giving the cash to the heir, just distribute the actual bitcoin to the heir. This way, the beneficiary bears risk of if/when to exchange to fiat.

Bitcoin trust fund distribution to beneficiaries

The problem with this approach is that not all beneficiaries know how to receive or manage cryptocurrency. Beneficiaries should have some skill with cryptocurrency and have their own wallets/digital addresses.

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E208 Article 81 Guardian vs Revocable Trust for Solo Ager

E208 Article 81 Guardian vs Revocable Trust for Solo Agers

Recently, our solo ager client, Julie, moved into a long-term rehabilitation facility. Thankfully, her health is stable, but her bills are starting to fall behind.

No plan: What is Article 81 Guardianship?

An Article 81 guardian is someone that takes over your financial affairs when you have no prior plan. By walking you through this situation, we will show you what can happen if you fail to plan.

Unfortunately, Julie only had half a plan. She has a Last Will and in it, I’m named as her executor because she has no relatives nearby. But this is only half of a plan because a will only takes effect when Julie dies. Until then, I have no legal authority.

No plan- What is article 81 guardianship?

To help Julie manage her finances and pay her bills, I have to ask the court to name me as her Article 81 guardian. Any time you have to go to court, there are usually delays, costs, and uncertainty. While we are waiting at the mercy of the court process, Julie’s co-op payments are falling behind.

Better Plan: Guardianship vs Revocable Trust

What would have been a better, complete plan for Julie? In this case, with a revocable trust, I could step in and help Julie without the long court process. Besides avoiding probate, another benefit of a revocable trust is the end-of-life help with finances. For the same reasons you’d  avoid probate, you’d want your end-of-life team to be able to help you without going to court.

Better plan- guardianship vs revocable trust

If you worry that it’s too expensive to hire a lawyer for a trust, note that the cost of an Article 81 guardianship is between $5,000 to $10,000. A revocable trust costs about $2,000. I don’t recommend revocable trusts for everyone, but it is often a wise option for solo agers.

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E204 How to Make Sure You Don’t Leave Anything to ...

E204 How to Make Sure You Don’t Leave Anything to …

Many of our Solo Ager clients want to make sure they don’t leave anything to a relative who is distant, estranged, or they just dislike. Here are a couple of common misconceptions – and the best solution.

Can’t I just omit them from the Will?

Can’t I just omit them from the will?

The assumption is, “If I omit them from my Will, they have zero involvement, right?”

Unfortunately, that is not how the process works. They will still receive notice from the court regarding the Will. When you probate a will in court, you’re required to notify all the family members who would have inherited under the default inheritance law (what the inheritance plan would have been if there was no Will).

For example, you are unmarried with no children, and you have several nieces and nephews who are not involved in your life. Those nieces and nephews are the ones who would inherit if you didn’t have a Will, and they will receive a court notice even if you omit them from your Will.

That court notice is basically an invitation to come to court and contest the Will. Those nieces and nephews may not have legitimate grounds to contest, but may drain the estate’s funds fighting the legal battle, stress out your intended heirs, etc.

Can’t I specifically disinherit them in my Will?

Can’t I specifically disinherit them in my will?

Yes, this is called an “In terrorem” clause, but there are two problems with this approach:

  1. You’re still notifying them and inviting them to contest your Will; and
  2. In terrorem works best with an “incentive,” which you probably don’t want to give.

For example, an In terrorem clause could state that if a nephew contests the Will, then he might not receive anything. The problem here is that you didn’t want him to receive anything anyway. Now, he has no disincentive to contest the Will.

The In terrorem clause works best by giving the nephew something as a disincentive for him to challenge the Will: “I leave $10,000 to my nephew, but if he contests the Will, he will not be entitled to receive the $10,000.” In this example, you have given your nephew a disincentive to challenge, but you’ve also given him money as advanced blackmail that you would not have given to him in the first place.

Solution: A Trust

Solution- a Trust

In the situation where you want to make sure a specific person does not get anything and cannot challenge your wishes – a Trust works best.

A Trust is a mechanism used to deliver assets to your heirs without the probate court process. If you don’t have the probate court process, then no notice is sent to heirs who are not named in the Trust. Even if an unnamed relative finds out about the Trust, there is no easy mechanism to contest your wishes. Unlike the In terrorem clause in the Will, there is no need to give an “incentive” in the Trust.

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E201 Should I Name a Trust as Beneficiary of My Accounts

E201 Should I Name a Trust as Beneficiary of My Accounts?

Another question that we receive often is “should I name a trust as beneficiary of my estate?” In a recent case, Rhonda reached out to us, because she wanted the benefits of a trust (avoid probate, reduce chance of a “will contest,” etc.), but she was not quite ready for the headache of a full-blown trust setup. In her particular situation, naming her trust as beneficiary makes sense. If you are considering this doing this, here are a few things you should consider.

How to Name Trust as Beneficiary

How to Name Trust as Beneficiary

A full-blown trust has to be set up and funded. It can be a nominal amount, even as little as $10. It has to own things and you will need to convert your banking accounts, houses, and related items from your individual name to the trust name. It may be quite a bit of work in some situations. For example. if you live in a co-op, this can be a lot of work to change your deed. You will likely need board approval, and this will take time and work. If changing your banking, you will need to go to the bank and open new accounts in the trust name. You’ll then need to change any direct deposits and withdraws once the new account is open.

In Rhonda’s case, instead of changing all of her accounts now, she is leaving them in her name and changing the beneficiary of the accounts to a trust. For example, when you have life insurance, you can name a person or multiple people as beneficiaries. However, instead of naming a person, you can name your trust to be the recipient.

In her situation, her trust will be unfunded until she passes. Upon her passing, the trust will be funded using the beneficiary designations.

To name a trust as a beneficiary, there are three basic steps. You must create the trust document, you then fund the trust (even a nominal $10), and finally, you name a beneficiary. Usually, you can obtain change of beneficiary forms for your accounts to change the names. The result: you have a hollow, but ready, trust on standby, which is ready to accept funds as beneficiary upon your passing.

Pros of Your Trust as Beneficiary

Pros of Your Trust as Beneficiary

One of the pros for taking this route is that, in theory, you get to avoid the costs and headache of probate. Probate is generally not easy and takes a long time. If there is a beneficiary on an account, then the account does not need to go through probate to be liquidated. You simply need a death certificate and a copy of the trust to withdraw the funds. Having a trust also reduces the chance of a will contest. If there is a wayward heir, they can contest the will if it is probated. If you do not probate, it’s much harder. You essentially create a challenge barrier with a trust.

There is also a phycological connection. Changing all of your accounts out of your name and into a trust name may feel as if it’s not yours. If that is an issue for you, then this option may be a good way around that feeling.

Cons of Your Trust as Beneficiary

This way of doing a trust does not protect you from court-appointed strangers (known as guardians) controlling your funds during your life. If everything is still in your name and you become incapacitated or someone can assert that you are in cognitive decline, then a guardian can be appointed to control your funds. However, if everything is owned by the trust, then a court-appointed guardian can not access those items. Only the trustee of the trust, as chosen by you, can control what happens. Not only does a full trust prevent a court-appointed stranger from controlling your assets, but they most likely won’t bother with you, because there are no funds for them to control.

Cons of Your Trust as Beneficiary

In general, Anthony is not really a fan of naming a trust as a beneficiary, because in his experience, people generally do not do a good job tracking their beneficiary designations. We see very often where people forget to change their beneficiaries after relationship ends and people die. It is very easy to forget, even if you are really well organized. The designations are not conspicuous and are not usually listed on the statements, so people do forget. Bottom line – people do not remember.

Another reason that Anthony doesn’t suggest this route is that honestly, doing it this way does not really save as much time as you would think. It is actually very similar to what you will need to do with your assets when you create a full-blown trust. In either scenario, you will have to submit forms and provide documentation, which is almost the same process in both situations.

Naming a trust as your beneficiary is a good steppingstone as first step to a fully funded trust. We suggest you talk out your wishes and situation with an experienced estate planner to determine the best route for you.

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E199 Solo Agers: Make These 7 New Year Resolutions for 2021

Happy New Year! Solo Ager experts Joy Loverde, Sara Geber, and Carol Marak were kind enough to share their thoughts with us on what Solo Agers should map out in the new year. Here are your seven new year resolutions from your favorite Solo Ager experts:

Joy Loverde, is the author of two books, The Complete Eldercare Planner and Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old. She is an expert in this area of solo agers and we are grateful that she shared her insight with our followers on our podcast Episode 192: How to Plan for Old Age and Being Childless with Joy Loverde podcast. She offers the following New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Learn More About Shared Housing

Learn More About Shared Housing

Shared housing can be summarized in two words: “Golden Girls.” Instead of going into a facility, this is a situation where people share housing. This can be a more intimate, cozy environment, compared to a institution setting. Last year reminded us how important social interaction is, and a lot of people have learned that they want to be in the company of others. She believes that shared housing will increase in popularity and will take off this year, as a result of 2020. This may or may not work for everyone, but it is certainly something for a Solo Ager look into. Joy recommends researching and exploring this option to see if it is something to consider.

2. Be More Aware of the Full Responsibility of Pet Ownership

Be More Aware of the Full Responsibility of Pet Ownership

Another result of 2020 is increased pet ownership. Many people sought companionship from pets when isolated from the real world. Solo Agers need to know the extent of what it takes to care for a furry family member. If they haven’t done so already, now is a good time to research the financial and physical aspects of pet ownership. In particular, what will happen to your pet if you are unable to care for them? Joy recommends exploring a pet trust. While Anthony isn’t a fan of pet trusts, he explains that they are a vehicle to care for the pet financially. Instead of giving funds outright to a person to care for a pet, it’s put into a trust. Anthony suggests that instead of a pet trust, you find someone that will care for your pet properly if given an outright lump sum.

Sara Geber, PhD. is the author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers. She is also a retirement transition coach and a professional speaker on retirement and aging. Sara shared essential retirement planning tips with Anthony recently on his podcast. You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2). Sara She suggests these New Year’s Resolutions for Solo Agers:

3. Review and update your planning documents

3. Review and update your planning documents

Sara suggests that Solo Agers take the time to review their estate planning documents. In particular, she suggests reviewing your Power of Attorney and Advance Directive, especially if you have not done so in five or more years. While this isn’t the easiest and most uplifting resolution, it is very important. Anthony suggests that you review these documents every 4 years, which coordinates with the Olympics. To him, it is an easier way to remember. This is like going to the dentist – you may not love it, but you have to do it.

4. Have “the conversation” with your family and/or other loved ones


Again, while not a fun topic of conversation, it’s important. You don’t have to make a whole to-do about telling them, but it’s a good time to start talking, even if it’s informally. If you don’t share your end of life wishes and emergency contacts, then no one might know. It doesn’t necessarily have to be family. It may be your Super or Doorman that may learn of your passing before others. They see you daily and may know if something is wrong. You will want them to know who to call.

Have “the conversation” with your family and/or other loved ones

While not easy to talk about, if you share your burial and inheritance wishes beforehand, it may make it easier on those who will help with your funeral planning and finances.

Carol Marak is a solo aging advisor and advocate. She is the founder of the Elder Orphan Facebook Group, which launched in 2016 has almost 10,000 members. She also has a very successful YouTube channel called Solo and Smart and her book Solo and Smart, is slated for publication in 2021. We were thrilled to have spoken with her in podcast Episode 194: Tips from Founder of The Elder Orphans Support Group.

5. Shift uncertainty to predictable outcomes

Carol says that you should work to shift uncertainty into predictable outcomes. Generally, uncertainty can be stressful, so she suggests you fix it. If you’re feeling stressed about your health – fix it. Talk to your primary care physician about things you can do to change your daily habits and feel better.

Shift uncertainty to predictable outcomes

She suggests that you build a team of support. Not knowing who will help you when you need it can be stressful. A family can be built with friends and Carol calls these your “family of choice.” It does not necessarily need to be relatives. Find your team – your friends, your doorman, etc.

6. Never buy into the idea that you are powerless

Never buy into the idea that you are powerless

Carol suggests that you list two goals you want to accomplish. They do not have to be big goals. Simply pick two things that you have thought about doing and do them. She suggests that to do this, you should find the people who can help you learn the skills or strategies to achieve them.

Anthony, a Solo Ager expert as well shares his resolutions for Solo Agers:

7. Read more books, less “news”

Anthony recommends that you read more books and watch less news. Books help to educate and sharpen your mind. Authors of books typically spend substantially more time researching and writing the book then say a blog post or news article that was written on the whim. He feels that books immerse you, contrary to news articles which tend to enflame you.

Reading keeps you sharp and talking about books makes you a better conversationalist than talking about news. Set a goal to read one or two books a year. Anthony suggests that you never put pressure on yourself to finish a book. If you start it and don’t like it, put it down. You can go back to it or you can simply never pick it up again. If you go into a book with that pressure, it’s much harder to get started reading. Knowing you can stop when you want gives you some mental freedom to try more and more books.

Read more books, less “news”

Let’s face it – book clubs sound more fun and social than news clubs! Another bonus – you don’t have to purchase books. You can borrow them from a library or even your friends.

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E197 How to Disinherit a Child

In this case, “Robin,” a solo ager, is looking to update her estate plan. She is divorced and has two biological daughters. One is living abroad and one not on good terms with her mother. One lives too far away to be a part of the estate plan and the other has been neglectful and the relationship is strained. For these reasons, she does not want to give her inheritance either daughter.

How to Disinherit Someone in a Will

How to Disinherit Someone in a Will

In theory, you can simply just omit them. However, some people prefer to have a simple explanation as to why a particular person will not inherit, such as “I have already given generously over their lifetime” or “my daughter has not treated me well so I am choosing to leave her out.” You don’t need to over justify, but you are simply explaining to those reading your will after you passed why you left someone out.

What is an In Terrorem Clause?

During probate, anyone who would have received an inheritance in the absence of a will has a right to object by default. In Robin’s case, in the absence of a will, her estate would be divided equally between her two biological daughters, leaving them both with the right to object. This could lead to litigation and lots of problems.

What is an In Terrorem Clause

An In Terrorem clause is designed so that if a rightful heir objects to the will, then they receive nothing. However, in this particular case, the daughters already get nothing. So, is there really anything to lose by objecting? Honestly, not really.

This clause is typically stronger if, instead of omitting a person, the person you would like to leave out instead receives less of a percentage of the estate. In Robin’s case, let’s say that she decides to leave 75% of her estate to her overseas daughter and 25% to her estranged daughter. This way, if the estranged daughter objects, she gets nothing. The risk of loss is greater than if she was simply omitted in the first place.

If you plan to go this route, there is an argument that you need to leave them an amount large enough to dissuade from objecting. It can be small, but not too small ($10 for example, isn’t enough to dissuade them). Depending on the size of the estate, this amount could be $1,000, $10,000, or even $100,000.

However, in Robin’s situation, she doesn’t want to leave anything to the estranged daughter and leaving her $10,000 is contrary to what she wants. It’s not going to feel great to leave her money as a type of advanced extortion.

Setting up a Trust for Grandchildren

In Robin’s case, we came up with an elegant solution to disinheriting a child, which is to set up a trust for her grandchildren. Robin’s goal isn’t to disinherit the family, she just isn’t happy with the daughter. Therefore, she is going to skip her daughters and give to her grandchildren. Not only does it keep her estate in the family, but it will also create less conflict within the family.

Setting up a Trust for Grandchildren

Additionally, the daughters are less likely to object, since the estate will go to their kids. Robin is happy with this solution, as it will keep the peace and keep the money in the family.

Another bonus is that trusts come with huge benefits: trusts protect the assets. For example, if the grandchildren get married and divorced, the trust is protected. A trust is essentially a gift in addition to the monetary gift.

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E193 What Happens When Your Partner Dies and You’re Not Married

E193 What Happens When Your Partner Dies and You’re Not Married?

It’s not uncommon for couples to forgo marriage. Instead, they choose to live their lives together as
partners and significant others. But what does that mean for the other person when their partner dies?

In this particular situation, “Ed” wants to leave his estate to his long-time girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to
make one lump sum payment. Ed wants to leave her a set amount per month when he dies. We will use
Ed’s situation to explain how an inheritance works with non-married partners.

Should a Girlfriend Get Inheritance?

Should a Girlfriend Get Inheritance?

Should a Girlfriend Get Inheritance?

Depending on the situation – absolutely, but the courts see it differently. Although many couples live as if
they are married, there is nothing official to legally bind them. So, while the other partner may want them
to inherit their estate, the laws dictate otherwise.

If there is no estate plan in place and the decedent died without a Will, then the reality is that the partner
will receive nothing. Unfortunately, the laws do not include a non-married partner when distributing an
estate without a will.

In the absence of a Will, the decedent’s next of kin would inherit the estate. By default, this would be the
kids, grandkids, extended family, and so on, but not the partners. This may be completely contradictory to
the decedent’s wishes, as the case with Ed.

While Ed intends for his girlfriend to inherit his estate, he will also need to evaluate and ask himself “are
my heirs ok with this?”

What is the Best Way to Leave an Inheritance?

In this situation, as Ed wants to leave his estate to his girlfriend and does not want to leave a lump sum, a
Trust is recommended. A Trust acts as a wrapper for your assets; protecting them after you die. The trust
distributes your estate as you wish, and in this case, it’s to be distributed over time in monthly increments
to his girlfriend.

What is the Best Way to Leave an Inheritance?

A Trust is actually a gift in and of itself. It is asset protection that your partner can’t buy for themselves.
Not only does a Trust protect your assets, but it eliminates risk factors such future divorce, bankruptcy,
creditors, and IRS. For example, if Ed’s girlfriend gets remarried, then divorced, the Trust protects the
assets from being distributed to the ex-husband.

How to Control How Heirs Spend Your Money

A Trust can limit how the money is spent. After all, it’s your estate and legacy. By articulating your wishes
in a Trust, you control how the money is used, who it is used for, and when it can be used.

With a Trust, you have the ability to use your money to afford your heirs a good life by limiting the
recipient’s spending to health, home, education, etc. This is actually quite broad, as many expenditures fit
into this category, such as a new home and college.

How to Control How Heirs Spend Your Money

Another bonus – limiting spending with a Trust helps to control free-spenders, gamblers, and addicts.

How Do Trust Funds Pay Out?

A trust can set a specific dollar amounts or a percentage to be distributed. In Ed’s situation, he has
decided to allocate $1,000 per month to his girlfriend. While this is great for the current financial climate, it
does not consider inflation. In 10 to 15 years, $1,000 could feel like $500 or less. Therefore, some opt to
give a percentage. Then, as the Trust grows and normal inflation occurs, they will grow together.

How Do Trust Funds Pay Out?

A trust can be paid monthly, quarterly, or annually. The drawback to annually, is that it feels like a lump
sum. Generally, payouts are done monthly. People often as us, “how do you get the money – do you
have to call someone every month to receive it?” The short answer is “no.”

It is very easy to setup direct deposit or automatic checks. The administrator of the trust typically sets this
up in the beginning and the recipient receives their payments automatically, without asking.

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E188 Erica’s Court-Appointed Stranger

E188 Erica’s Court-Appointed Stranger

Erica Loberg shares the story of her mom’s court-appointed stranger, and what she would to do differently to avoid a court-appointed conservator.

Erica first shared her full story at NextAvenue.org.

About Erica’s mom

Erica's mom

When all this happened, Erica’s mom was 70 years old.  She was not diagnosed with dementia, technically. But for years Erica’s dad had handled everything. So when he passed away, it created a vacuum for mom’s care.

How did she end up with a court-appointed guardian?

Unfortunately, Erica’s family was divided on how best to care for mom. So their uncle (mom’s brother) stepped in and hired his own attorney. And that attorney recommended an independent, court-appointed conservator to have legal authority over Erica’s mom.

Once that lawyer got the ball rolling, there wasn’t much discussion or debate. This was happening. And before they could get their bearings, Erica and her sisters were in court.

What was so bad about mom’s court-appointed stranger?

First, he was a total stranger. Neither mom, nor Erica, nor any of the family members had ever met this person. And even after he received his court-appointment, he only met Erica’s mom once.

Second, Erica discovered that he had a history of complaints. She spoke with the families of several of his past conservatees, and they had one message: keep him away if you can!

As for his actions:

  • He isolated mom from her daughters
  • He changed mom’s phone number several times to hinder contact
  • He cleaned out mom’s house, disposing of all family and sentimental items
  • He ordered renovations to the house, not for mom’s benefit, but to generate rental income or sell (once he moved mom to a nursing home)
  • The court-appointed stranger was able to coerce mom into all these steps with the constant threat that he would move her into a nursing home, otherwise

How did Erica finally get rid of the conservator?

Erica contacted every agency and authority she could think of: from the court, to the police, and even the FBI. Finally, she had a breakthrough when she complained to the county Probate Investigator’s Office.

After some struggle and negotiations, they were finally able to rid themselves of mom’s nightmare court-appointed stranged.

What Erica would do differently?

  1. Discuss with mom her wishes and intentions. And not just when a crisis is at hand. Do it way before mom or dad is on the verge of losing capacity
  2. Help mom and dad make a will or estate plan
  3. The rest of family needs to keep their act together. Conflicts will only get everyone dragged into court,

More about Erica

Read the full version of Erica’s story at NextAvenue.org.

Erica is also an author, and published a book of poetry inspired by her experience titled “I’m Not Playing

I'm Not Playing

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E187 3 Best Free DIY Will Software

E187 3 Best Free DIY Will Software

Many people who ask me to be their executor commonly make their will using do-it-yourself methods. DIY estate planning can be tricky, so here are some tips on how to maximize the chances your DIY estate plan will actually work.

Our Methodology

We created identical estate plans using 3 popular free DIY will sites. Here is the fictional persona we used:

  • John Doe is a solo ager. That is, he’s unmarried with no children
  • Unless your will is super-simple, you should work with a lawyer. So John’s plan is very basic: he’d like to give his estate in equal thirds to two friends and one charity
  • John would like to nominate me as his professional executor
  • John will hire a lawyer to supervise his signing, as we recommend. Therefore, we did not review each site’s signing instructions

We generated John’s will on the 3 free sites. Then, my trusted colleague Maureen Pritchard, Esq. and I reviewed the results.


free will logo

Our top pick for DIY will software is FreeWill.com. The site is well-designed, and pleasant to navigate, and John’s will had zero errors.

The only caveat is the constant requests for donations. The site was funded by various charities, and they’re not shy about asking to be named in your will. We were interrupted several times with prompts asking if John would like to add charitable beneficiaries to his will.

But if you’re thick-skinned and can ignore the pushy requests, or if you plan to give to charity anyway, this is a great choice.


  • Very professional product. The will did not have any typos or substantive errors
  • Well-designed site. A very pleasant user experience
  • Includes health care documents, too


  • Barrage of requests for charitable donations
  • Your will includes signatures lines and initials on each page. These are not legally necessary, and feel like overkill


DoYourOwnWill.com logo

DoYourOwnWill.com is truly a 100% free option for making a DIY will. You don’t even have to give you email address (unless you want to save your will). This means that you’re not even paying with your personal data.

But, just as in most of life, you get what you pay for. It may be completely free, but it has a few problems.


  • 100% Free. Not even an email required
  • Most private option
  • Easy-to-follow user-interface
  • Includes health care documents, too


  • Several typos in John’s will. Despite the typos, the will was substantively fine
  • John’s burial instruction is written into his will. In real life, this doesn’t make much sense, since in many cases no one even looks at the will until after the funeral,.


RocketLawyer.com logo

RocketLawyer is the most well-known brand on this list but be prepared to be up-sold from their free option to one of their more profitable packages.

It doesn’t feel like they spent a lot of effort on this free version. The user-experience is very clunky, and John’s will has substantive errors. Maybe the plan is to nudge free users to a better, paid version?



  • RocketLawyer is big name in legal DIY
  • You may already have a RocketLawyer account and feel comfortable with their platform


  • You must create an account, and it feels like you’ll get up-sold a lot
  • John’s will had a substantive error (the will treated the charity as an individual. Not necessarily fatal, but can cause headaches later during the probate process)
  • We couldn’t find healthcare documents as part of the free package

There are many DIY estate planning sites out there. We hope that our review and recommendations will help you pick the one that’s right for you. To learn more about the process of planning your estate, complete the info below to receive a FREE copy of my best-sellingbook.

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