Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What are Signs of Identity Theft?

Identity thieves are searching for ways to use your personal information, charge purchases in your name, steal your medical account information and get your tax refunds.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Beware These 8 Signs of Identity Theft” reports that consumers filed more than 1.4 million identity theft reports with the Federal Trade Commission in 2020—twice as many as in 2019. You should watch out by knowing these warning signs identified by the FTC.

  1. You see changes in your credit report. When you check your credit, look through the report for anything out of place, such as charges and accounts that you don’t recognize. This can be proof that an identity thief has accessed your credit accounts or opened new accounts in your name. Check your credit report regularly. It’s easy to do online. You’re entitled by federal law to one free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit-reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). In the pandemic, you can get a free report every week.
  2. A merchant declines your check. If you balance your checkbook and pay bills on time each month, you may be surprised if a merchant refuses a personal check. However, it may signal that a thief has been using your bank account or opened an associated account in your name.
  3. You see unexplained charges. Look through your bank and credit card account statements for unusual charges for withdrawals you don’t recognize and can’t explain. If you’re a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. You can also contact the three major credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. This prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. You can now place and lift a credit freeze for free.
  4. You get no mail. A thief may be intercepting your mail, if your bills or other correspondence don’t come as expected.
  5. You receive calls from debt collectors. If you’re diligent in paying your bills, and you get a call from a debt collector, it could be about debts that were incurred by someone else in your name.
  6. Your health insurer rejects a claim. Your insurer’s records could show that you’ve reached the limit of your benefits. This can occur if thieves target your medical account and take advantage of all the benefits, so you can’t make a legitimate claim. Don’t click on unfamiliar or potentially suspicious links.
  7. You get an unexplained medical bill. You may get a bill from a doctor for services you didn’t use. If so, be suspicious because a thief may have accessed your health insurance information and used it to receive medical care, sticking you with the bill.
  8. You see suspicious changes in your medical records. Another tip-off that you’ve become a victim of fraud is if your medical records include a health condition that you don’t have. This could damage your ability to get the care that you need.

Act quickly if identity theft occurs and report it.

Reference: Money Talks News (Aug. 10, 2021) “Beware These 8 Signs of Identity Theft”

estate protection

Act Quickly to Protect an Estate

For most families, the process of estate administration or the probate of a will starts weeks after the death of a loved one.  However, before that time, there are certain steps that need to be taken immediately after death, according to a recent article “Protecting an estate requires swift action” from The Record-Courier. It is not always easy to keep a clear head and stay on top of these tasks but pushing them aside could lead to serious losses and possible liability.

The first step is to secure the deceased’s home, cars and personal property. The residence needs to be locked to prevent unauthorized access. It may be wise to bring in a locksmith, so that anyone who had been given keys in the past will not be able to go into the house. Cars should be parked inside garages and any personal property needs to be securely stored in the home. Nothing should be moved until the trust administration or probate has been completed. Access to the deceased’s digital assets and devices also need to be secured.

Mail needs to be collected and retrieved to prevent the risk of unauthorized removal of mail and identity theft. If there is no easy access to the mailbox, the post office needs to be notified, so mail can be forwarded to an authorized person’s address.

Estate planning documents need to be located and kept in a safe place. The person who has been named as the executor in the will needs to have those documents. If there are no estate planning documents or if they cannot be located, the family will need to work with an estate planning attorney. The estate may be subjected to a probate proceeding.

One of the responsibilities that most executors don’t know about, is that when a person dies, their will needs to be admitted to the court, regardless whether they had trusts. If the deceased left a will, the executor or the person who has possession of the will must deliver it to the court clerk. Failing to do so could result in large civil liability.

At least five and as many as ten original death certificates should be obtained. The executor will need them when closing accounts. As soon as possible, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies, pension plans, insurance companies and others need to be notified of the person’s passing. The Social Security Administration needs to be notified, so direct deposits are not sent to the person’s bank account. Depending on the timing of the death, these deposits may need to be returned. The same is true if the deceased was a veteran—the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) need to be notified. There may be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is necessary, even in a time of grief, to protect a loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help through this process.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 17, 2020) “Protecting an estate requires swift action”

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