Digital Assets and Your Estate Plan: Navigating the Virtual World


As we navigate deeper into the 21st century, the line between our physical and digital lives increasingly blurs. Today, our digital assets, ranging from social media accounts and digital photographs to cryptocurrency and online businesses, form a significant part of our legacy. However, when it comes to estate planning, many overlook these virtual valuables. As a result, managing digital assets has become an essential component of comprehensive estate planning. In this article, we'll explore the importance of including digital assets in your estate plan and provide guidance on navigating the virtual world posthumously.

Understanding Digital Assets

Digital assets encompass a wide array of online accounts and files stored on digital devices or the cloud. These include, but are not limited to, email accounts, social media profiles, digital photos and videos, blogs, domain names, financial accounts (such as PayPal or online banking), and digital currencies like Bitcoin. As our reliance on technology grows, so does the value – both monetary and sentimental – of these assets.

Despite their increasing importance, digital assets are often overlooked in estate plans, mainly due to their intangible nature and the rapid pace of technological change. Failing to account for these assets can lead to complications, including loss of valuable or sentimental digital property, identity theft, and the inability of loved ones to access important information.

Incorporating Digital Assets into Your Estate Plan

To ensure your digital assets are appropriately managed and distributed according to your wishes, consider the following steps:

  1. Inventory Your Digital Assets: Start by creating a comprehensive list of your digital assets, including usernames and passwords. This list should be kept in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box, and updated regularly.
  2. Understand the Terms of Service Agreements: Many online platforms and services have specific terms of service agreements that address what happens to accounts after a user's death. It's essential to review these agreements to understand your rights and limitations in passing on digital assets.
  3. Appoint a Digital Executor: Designate a trusted individual to manage your digital assets after your death. This digital executor should be tech-savvy and understand the value of your digital property. Their responsibilities will include accessing, managing, and distributing or deleting digital assets according to your wishes.
  4. Provide Access: Ensure your digital executor has the necessary information to access your digital assets. This might involve storing passwords in a secure password manager or providing instructions on where to find them.
  5. Leave Instructions: Clearly outline your wishes for each digital asset in your estate plan. Do you want certain accounts deleted, memorialized, or passed on to family members? Specific instructions will guide your digital executor in managing your digital legacy.
  6. Legal Considerations: Consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure your plan complies with current laws and regulations. The legal landscape around digital assets is continually evolving, and professional guidance is crucial in navigating these complexities.

Effectively managing and incorporating digital assets into your estate plan requires not only organizational skills but also a deep understanding of the legal landscape. As laws vary by state and are continually evolving to keep pace with technological advancements, having an up-to-date estate plan that includes your digital assets is more crucial than ever.

Legal Challenges and Solutions

The legal challenges surrounding digital assets primarily stem from issues of access and privacy. Laws such as the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) have been enacted in many states to provide fiduciaries lawful access to digital assets while respecting the privacy and intent of the decedent. However, the application of these laws can be complex, and not all digital assets are covered uniformly.

To navigate these challenges:

  • Understand State Laws: Work with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws in your state regarding digital assets. They can provide guidance on how to structure your estate plan to ensure your digital executor can legally access your digital assets.
  • Utilize Online Tools: Some social media platforms and online services offer "legacy" or "inactive account manager" options that allow you to designate someone to manage your account after your death. These tools can be a valuable part of managing your digital legacy in accordance with the platform's policies.
  • Consider a Trust: For high-value digital assets, especially those that generate income such as a blog or online business, placing these assets in a trust can be an effective way to ensure they are managed according to your wishes. A trust can provide a clearer legal path for transferring control of digital assets compared to a will.

Communicating Your Wishes

Communication is key to ensuring your digital estate plan is executed as intended. Discuss your plans with your digital executor and loved ones, making sure they understand the importance of your digital assets and your wishes for them. While the conversation about digital assets may be new territory for many, it’s an essential part of modern estate planning.

Updating Your Digital Estate Plan

Just as with any aspect of estate planning, your digital estate plan should not be static. Regular reviews and updates are necessary to accommodate new digital assets, account closures, changes in laws, or adjustments in your personal wishes. An annual review of your digital estate plan, in conjunction with your broader estate plan review, can help keep everything current.

In Conclusion

In our digital age, including digital assets in your estate plan is not just advisable—it’s essential. By taking steps now to organize, protect, and plan for the management of your digital assets, you ensure that your digital legacy is preserved and that your loved ones are not left with the burden of sorting out your digital life in addition to their grief.

At Donohue, O'Connell & Riley, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complexities of estate planning in both the physical and digital realms. Our team of experienced attorneys is here to guide you through the process of including digital assets in your estate plan, ensuring your legacy is fully protected. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you secure your digital and traditional assets for the future.

April 3, 2024

Wills & Trusts, legal Document Hygiene

Spring Cleaning Your Legal Documents: What to Keep, Update, or Discard


Spring signifies renewal and rejuvenation, making it the perfect time for a thorough cleaning, not just of our homes but also of our legal documents. As we sift through the physical and digital piles of paper that contain our most crucial information, it's vital to understand what to keep, update, or discard. This task, while seemingly daunting, is essential for maintaining an organized and effective legal and estate plan. Donohue, O'Connell & Riley is here to guide you through this process, ensuring your legal documents reflect your current wishes and circumstances.

Understanding the Importance of Legal Document Hygiene

Just as neglecting the upkeep of your home can lead to disarray and dysfunction, ignoring your legal documents can lead to outdated information that complicates your estate plan. This can cause unnecessary stress for your loved ones during already difficult times. Regular reviews and updates align with life's inevitable changes, such as marriages, births, purchases of property, and more.

What to Keep

Certain legal documents should always be kept up to date and in a safe, accessible location. These include:

  • Wills and Trusts: Your will is the cornerstone of your estate plan, outlining your wishes for asset distribution and guardianship of minors. Trusts, if part of your estate plan, require similar safekeeping.
  • Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directives: These documents designate individuals to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. They are vital for ensuring your wishes are respected.
  • Life Insurance Policies and Retirement Account Information: Keeping these documents current ensures that your beneficiaries are correctly listed and that your estate plan aligns with these designations.
  • Property Deeds and Vehicle Titles: These documents prove ownership and should be kept updated to reflect any changes or transactions.

What to Update

Life's milestones prompt a review and potential update of your legal documents. Consider updates if you've experienced:

  • Changes in Relationship Status: Marriage, divorce, or the death of a spouse or partner can significantly impact your estate plan.
  • Changes in Assets or Financial Status: Acquiring or disposing of significant assets like homes, vehicles, or investment accounts warrants an update to your legal documents.
  • Changes in Family Structure: The birth of children or grandchildren, adoption, or changes in guardianship preferences necessitate revisions to ensure your documents reflect your current wishes.

What to Discard

Safely discarding outdated legal documents is just as important as knowing what to keep. Holding onto old versions of vital documents can lead to confusion and possibly the execution of wishes that are no longer relevant. Here's what you might consider discarding:

  • Outdated Wills and Trusts: Once you've updated your will or trust, there's little reason to keep the outdated versions. Ensure you destroy these documents securely to prevent any confusion about your current intentions.
  • Old Financial Records: While it's important to keep some financial records for tax purposes, generally, you can discard bank statements, credit card statements, and utility bills that are over seven years old.
  • Expired Policies: Any expired insurance policies, including those for health, auto, and property, can be discarded. These documents are no longer relevant and only add to clutter.

Digital Documents

In our increasingly digital world, it's crucial to apply the same principles of 'spring cleaning' to your digital estate. This includes:

  • Emails: Regularly review your email for any digital receipts or statements that can be archived or deleted.
  • Online Accounts: Make a list of all your online accounts, including social media, and ensure your digital executor knows how to access these in line with your wishes.
  • Digital Assets: Cryptocurrencies, blogs, or online businesses should be included in your estate plan, with clear instructions for your heirs or executors.

How to Organize

Organizing your legal documents doesn't have to be a daunting task. Consider these steps:

  • Create a dedicated space for physical documents, such as a fireproof safe, and inform trusted family members or executors where it is.
  • For digital documents, use secure, encrypted storage options and ensure that your executor or a trusted individual knows how to access them.
  • Maintain a comprehensive list of all your important documents, both physical and digital, and review it annually to ensure it remains current.

In Conclusion

Spring cleaning your legal documents ensures that your estate plan accurately reflects your current situation and wishes, providing peace of mind to both you and your loved ones. Regularly reviewing, updating, and safely discarding outdated documents can save your family unnecessary stress and confusion during challenging times.

At Donohue, O'Connell & Riley, we understand the importance of keeping your legal affairs in order. Our team is ready to assist you with reviewing your estate plan, ensuring it aligns with your current wishes and circumstances. Contact us today to ensure your estate plan is as refreshed and rejuvenated as your home feels after a good spring clean.

Remember, an up-to-date estate plan is one of the most loving legacies you can leave your family. Let us help you protect what matters most.

March 20, 2024

Estate Planning

Estate Planning and Love: How to Protect Your Spouse and Family


In the journey of life, love and protection for our spouse and family are often at the forefront of our priorities. As we grow older, one of the most profound ways to express this love and care is through thoughtful estate planning. Estate planning is not just a financial task; it’s a heartfelt gesture of ensuring that your family is taken care of even when you are not around. Let’s explore the essential components of estate planning that intertwine with love to protect your spouse and family.

Understanding the Essence of Estate Planning

Estate planning involves more than just distributing assets after one’s passing. It’s a comprehensive process that includes appointing guardians for minor children, ensuring the financial stability of a surviving spouse, and preserving assets for future generations. It also involves making critical decisions about your own healthcare and end-of-life care.

Protecting Your Spouse

The first step in protecting your spouse through estate planning is to ensure they have the financial support they need if you pass away before them. This can be achieved through:

  • Life Insurance: A life insurance policy can provide immediate financial support to your spouse, helping them manage living expenses and maintain their standard of living.
  • Trusts: Setting up a trust can be an effective way to manage and protect assets. A marital trust, for instance, can provide income to your spouse with the remainder going to other beneficiaries after their death.
  • Joint Ownership: Consider assets owned jointly with your spouse, ensuring they have immediate access without the need for probate.

Securing Your Children’s Future

Estate planning is also crucial in securing your children’s future, especially if they are minors or have special needs. Consider these steps:

  • Guardianship: Designating a guardian for your minor children in your will is crucial. This ensures they are cared for by someone you trust in your absence.
  • Education Trusts: Setting up trusts for your children’s education can ensure they have the resources they need for their academic pursuits.
  • Special Needs Trusts: If you have a child with special needs, a special needs trust can provide for their care in a way that doesn’t disqualify them from receiving public benefits.

Incorporating Healthcare Decisions

Estate planning also includes making decisions about your healthcare, which is a form of love and care for your family. By outlining your wishes through healthcare directives, you relieve your family from the burden of making tough decisions during emotional times.

  • Advance Directives: These documents specify your wishes regarding medical treatment and life-sustaining measures.
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney: This allows you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.

Addressing Complex Family Dynamics

In today’s world, family structures can be complex. Whether it’s a blended family, estranged relationships, or second marriages, your estate plan should address these dynamics clearly to avoid future conflicts.

  • Clear Wishes: Be explicit about your wishes in your will to prevent misunderstandings and disputes among family members.
  • Separate Trusts: In blended families, consider setting up separate trusts to ensure that children from previous marriages are treated fairly.

Regular Reviews and Updates

Life is ever-changing, and so should your estate plan. Regularly reviewing and updating your plan ensures that it aligns with your current life circumstances and reflects your wishes accurately.

  • Periodic Reviews: Review your estate plan every few years or after significant life events like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or the death of a loved one.

Navigating the Legal Landscape

Estate planning can be complex, especially when it involves significant assets, business interests, or complicated family dynamics. Seeking professional guidance is crucial in navigating the legal landscape and creating an effective estate plan.

  • Legal Expertise: Partner with an estate planning attorney who understands your unique family situation and can provide tailored advice.

A Legacy of Love and Protection

Estate planning is ultimately a profound expression of love and protection for your family. It’s about making thoughtful decisions today that will safeguard their tomorrow. At  Donohue, O’Connell & Riley, we understand the importance of family, legacy, and peace of mind. Our team is dedicated to guiding you through the estate planning process, ensuring that your plan is a true reflection of your love and care for your family.


Whether you’re starting from scratch or need to update an existing plan, contact us today. Let’s work together to create an estate plan that not only protects your spouse and family but also honors the legacy you wish to leave behind. Contact us to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards securing your family’s future.

February 1, 2024

Special Needs Trusts

Special Needs Trusts: Ensuring Care for Disabled Loved Ones


When it comes to providing for a disabled loved one, there are many considerations to take into account to ensure they receive the care they need without compromising their eligibility for vital government benefits. One key tool in achieving this balance is a Special Needs Trust (SNT). An SNT allows a person with a disability to have an account that can pay for supplemental needs while still qualifying for programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What is a Special Needs Trust?

Special Needs Trusts, also known as Supplemental Needs Trusts, are carefully crafted legal arrangements. They are designed to hold assets for the benefit of an individual with disabilities, without disqualifying them from receiving public assistance. This trust can be used to pay for expenses that government benefits do not cover, such as personal care attendants, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and other life-enhancing expenditures.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

There are primarily two types of Special Needs Trusts:

  • First-party trusts: These are funded with the beneficiary’s own assets, perhaps from an inheritance or a legal settlement. They must include a payback provision to reimburse Medicaid upon the beneficiary’s death.
  • Third-party trusts: These are funded with assets belonging to someone other than the beneficiary, typically parents or other family members. Unlike first-party trusts, they do not require a Medicaid payback provision.

Why Establish a Special Needs Trust?

The reasons for establishing an SNT are numerous, but they revolve around the beneficiary’s quality of life. Here are a few:

  • Protecting Eligibility for Public Benefits: Properly structured, an SNT will not affect a disabled individual’s eligibility for benefits like Medicaid or SSI.
  • Providing Financial Security: An SNT ensures that the beneficiary has the financial means to pay for additional services and care that are not covered by public assistance.
  • Peace of Mind: For family members, creating an SNT is a proactive step in planning for the future care of their disabled loved one.

Choosing the Right Trustee

Selecting a trustee is one of the most important decisions in creating an SNT. A trustee manages the trust’s assets and makes all decisions related to disbursements. The trustee should be someone who is not only trustworthy but also has an understanding of the beneficiary’s needs and the complexities of government benefit programs.

Setting Up a Special Needs Trust

Establishing an SNT requires careful planning and adherence to legal standards. Here's an overview of the process:

  1. Assess the Beneficiary’s Needs: Determine what the beneficiary's future needs may be, including medical care, living arrangements, and personal care.
  2. Choose the Type of Trust: Decide whether a first-party or third-party trust is more appropriate based on the source of the funds.
  3. Select a Trustee: Choose a responsible party or professional to manage the trust.
  4. Create the Trust Document: A legal document must be drafted by an attorney that specializes in disability and trust law.
  5. Fund the Trust: Transfer assets into the trust, being careful not to interfere with benefit eligibility.

Considerations for a Special Needs Trust

When planning for an SNT, it’s important to consider:

  • The long-term needs of the beneficiary.
  • Current and anticipated future assets.
  • Eligibility for government benefits.
  • Who will manage the trust after the primary caretaker can no longer do so.

Conclusion: Plan with Confidence

A Special Needs Trust is a vital tool for ensuring the well-being of a disabled loved one without jeopardizing their access to public benefits. While the process may seem complex, with the right guidance and planning, you can secure a stable financial future for those who need it most.

If you’re considering setting up a Special Needs Trust, Donohue, O’Connell & Riley can provide the expertise and support necessary to navigate these delicate matters. Contact us to discuss how we can tailor an SNT to fit the unique needs of your family and provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved one is cared for.


January 22, 2024

New Year's Resolution, Medicaid

New Year's Resolution: Preparing for Medicaid's Five-Year Lookback


The new year brings an opportunity for resolutions to ensure future well-being and financial security. For many seniors and their families, understanding Medicaid's five-year lookback period is an essential part of that preparation. Let's delve into what the five-year lookback entails and how you can prepare for it as part of your New Year's resolutions.

What is Medicaid's Five-Year Lookback?

Medicaid's five-year lookback is a rule that applies to those seeking long-term care through Medicaid. When an individual applies for Medicaid, any gifts or transfers of assets made within the five years prior to the application date are scrutinized. If ineligible transfers are found, they can result in a penalty period during which the individual is ineligible for Medicaid benefits.

This policy aims to prevent people from reducing their assets simply to qualify for Medicaid coverage. The lookback period is intended to ensure that Medicaid helps those who genuinely need assistance after spending their own resources.

The Importance of Timely Estate Planning

Understanding the five-year lookback rule underscores the importance of timely estate planning. Engaging in proactive planning can help protect your assets and ensure eligibility when the time comes. Consider the following points:

  • Asset Transfers: Gifting assets or transferring them to a trust can be a wise move, but it must be done with an eye on Medicaid's timeline to avoid penalties.
  • Trusts: Irrevocable trusts can be an effective tool for managing assets outside of your estate, but they must be established and funded five years before applying for Medicaid.
  • Legal Guidance: Navigating Medicaid rules can be complex, and missteps can be costly. Legal advice is invaluable in crafting an estate plan that aligns with Medicaid regulations.

Proactive Strategies to Consider

As you look ahead to the future, consider implementing these strategies to prepare for Medicaid's lookback period:

  1. Early Planning: Begin your Medicaid planning at least five years before you anticipate needing long-term care.
  2. Consult Professionals: Work with an elder law attorney to understand how the lookback period applies to your specific situation.
  3. Document Everything: Keep meticulous records of all asset transfers and financial transactions to demonstrate compliance with Medicaid rules.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some exceptions to the five-year lookback that allow for asset transfers without penalty:

  • Transfers to a spouse are exempt from the lookback period and do not incur penalties.
  • Specialized trusts for a disabled child or grandchild can also be created without triggering a penalty.
  • Transfer of a home to a caretaker child who has lived in the home and provided care, allowing the senior to avoid institutionalization, may also be exempt.

Penalty Period Calculations

If transfers are made during the five-year lookback period that do not meet exemptions, a penalty period may be imposed. The length of the penalty period is determined by dividing the value of the transferred assets by the average monthly cost of private nursing home care in your state. This calculation yields the number of months the individual will be ineligible for Medicaid.

Navigating the Lookback with Professional Help

Professional guidance is crucial in navigating Medicaid's complex rules. An elder law attorney can provide insights into strategies that may include:

  • Purchasing annuities that comply with Medicaid regulations.
  • Creating caregiver agreements that compensate family members for providing care without violating Medicaid rules.
  • Utilizing Medicaid-compliant promissory notes.

It's also essential to be wary of advice that seems too good to be true or suggests circumventing the rules. This can lead to significant penalties and jeopardize your financial future.

Your Next Steps

As you make your New Year's resolutions, consider the peace of mind that comes with being prepared for Medicaid's five-year lookback. Early and thoughtful planning can secure your legacy and ensure you have the care you need when the time comes. Take action now to ensure your estate is in order as you enter the new year. Remember, the earlier you start, the more options you have. Let’s make this New Year’s resolution count for your peace of mind and security.

If you're looking to understand more about Medicaid planning or need assistance with your estate plan, our expert team at Donohue, O’Connell & Riley is ready to guide you through every step. Contact us today to discuss how we can help protect your future and your loved ones.


January 17, 2024