September 19, 2017

Equifax Data Breach: What to do if your credit has been compromised

by Seena Gressin

Re-posted from the Federal Trade Commission Website

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.
There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)
    • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
  • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
    • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
    • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

 

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

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Every year I re-read the Declaration of Independence and meditate on the amazing freedoms I enjoy (and sometimes admittedly, take for granted). This year I have been studying the history of Bankruptcy in America and came across this wonderful book called Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence by Bruce H. Mann.

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After reading a bit of this book, I realized how incredibility blessed we are to have the laws that allow us to file Bankruptcy with ease of process, and without judgment or fear. It wasn’t always that way and not everyone who suffered from crushing debt was given that second chance. It took years and a lot of legislation to get the laws where they are today; the laws that protect debtors from their creditors.

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I believe the secret to happiness is the freedom of choice. When you choose to take the first step to get out of debt you begin on the road to financial freedom. Bankruptcy will help you keep your home, relieve you of unsecured debt, keep your utilities on and give you the freedom to start over. It was the best thing that ever happened to me (read my personal Bankruptcy story here) and was my own declaration of independence.

25% Off Estate Planning / Reminders & Announcements

For the month of January 2017, all Estate Planning Packages are 25% off.  They include a Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.  Also, we are announcing that we are moving from 74 Cherry Street to 50 Cherry Street, Milford, CT as of February 1, 2017, and we will be starting a new Blog/Vlog Series in February 2017 regarding the entire Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process!!

My Gift to You and Yours!

 

Everyone over the age of 18, especially parents of young children, need a simple Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney (these documents together are formally called an “Estate Plan”).

Estate Planning can be given as a gift to others and/or it makes a great New Year’s Resolution for yourself.

As a mother, and an attorney, the importance of planning for the future is at the top of my list!

Therefore, my gift to you this holiday season is 25% off all estate planning packages for the month of January 2017.  Please feel free to share this with your friends and family.

The process of making an Estate Plan is as easy as 1-2-3: First we talk, then I create the documents and lastly, you come in to visit me and sign them.

To arrange a free consultation in person or over the phone, call our office at 203-713-8877.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday!

With much love & gratitude,
Theresa Rose DeGray
Attorney at Law

PS: Stay tuned for lots of exciting announcements, information, seminars, videos, blogs and much more in 2017!

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3 Essential Tips for Hiring the Best Probate Lawyer

Last week, I talked about some of the benefits of hiring a probate attorney. If you’re sold on the idea of hiring a probate attorney to help you through the Will or probate process, but you’re not sure how to go about hiring the best attorney, this post is for you! I’ve come up with some great tips to follow when hiring a probate lawyer that will ensure that you find the best probate lawyer for you.

  1. Ask the right questions. Once you have a few free consultations set up, you want to ask the right questions during these consultations, to make sure that you fully understand the attorney’s qualifications. Ask questions such as:
  2. Find lawyers that offer free consultations. If you’re like me, you don’t like making impulse buys. You want to do your research and figure out who the best attorney is for you. The good news is that you can actually do this! If you find lawyers that offer free consultations, you can meet with several lawyers before deciding which one you want to retain. At no cost to you, you can get your questions answered and get a feel for the lawyer you’re meeting with and decide if you want to retain that lawyer or not.
    • How long have you been a probate lawyer? You want to find a lawyer that has experience in the field so that you know he or she has worked with cases similar to yours. Experience can make a lawyer a valuable asset.
    • Do you have any client testimonials? Client testimonials, whether on file or on a website, can give you the information that you need from people who have been in your shoes. If you see reviews from many satisfied customers, the lawyer is probably effective and efficient.
    • What would you do in _____ situation? Test out a situation and see how the lawyer responds. Especially if there are uncommon aspects to your probate process or Will, see how the lawyer would handle that situation.
    • What do you charge? If the attorney beats around the bush or won’t give you a straight answer, they might have hidden fees. If a lawyer is upfront and honest about their fees, you can probably trust the quote that they give you.
  3. Check out the reputation. Client testimonials are great ways to get a feel for customer satisfaction, but they’re not the only way. Sometimes, lawyers will only show you the best reviews that they get, not necessarily the reviews that give the most accurate picture of customer satisfaction. For this reason, you should consider asking friends or coworkers for suggestions of probate lawyers that they have used in the past. This feedback will probably be honest and it will come from people that you can trust.

Finding the right probate lawyer can be a difficult process, but it doesn’t have to be! If you follow these tips, you will be able to find the right lawyer for you! To set up your FREE consultation with me, click here!

Why Hire a Probate Lawyer?

One question that you might have as you create your last Will or sift through the Will of a loved one is – do I really need a lawyer to help me with this? Legally speaking, you do not NEED to hire a lawyer to assist you in creating a Will or probating a Will. However, having an experienced and dedicated probate lawyer working with you on these tasks has many benefits. Understanding these benefits will help you decide if you want to hire a probate lawyer or not.

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Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help you draft your Will

If you are considering hiring a lawyer to help you draft your Will, consider these benefits:

  • Lawyers know more than you do: Would you think to include a clause saying that it is ok for your family to use informal probate in your Will? Would you remember to write in your Will that the probate bond can be waived? There are a million little things to include in your Will that you are probably not aware of. Because probate lawyers are experienced with the law and have experience drafting Wills, they will know exactly what to include or leave out in your Will.
  • Make it easy for your family: One benefit of hiring a lawyer to help draft your Will is that this will make your Will as specific and easy-to-follow as possible. When you pass on, this will make the process of probating your Will as simple as possible for your family and the executor.
  • Get your questions answered: It’s natural to be confused about the process of writing your Will. In addition, drafting your Will can be an overwhelming process. To make this process as easy as possible, it’s best to have a lawyer who is experienced and who can guide you through the process. Having someone that you can go to with questions at any time is a valuable benefit of hiring a probate lawyer.

Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help with the probate process

There are several benefits to hiring a probate lawyer to help you through the probate process, including:

  • Filing paperwork: Your probate lawyer can help you file the probate petition and other paperwork. During this difficult time, having assistance with the paperwork can be a big help.
  • Help for the executor: The executor has a huge job in executing the demands of the deceased’s Will. Even executors with the best intentions can make mistakes or become stressed by the process. A probate attorney can keep the executor on track and work with him or her to ensure that the Will is executed properly. This means that all parties (creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, executor, etc.) can be happy when the estate is settled.
  • Professional resource: Again, a probate attorney can help you through this process due to his or her knowledge and experience. If you need questions answered, guidance, or peace of mind, you can get it from a probate attorney.

There are many benefits to hiring a probate attorney. For more information about what I can offer you, contact my office today!

5 Must-Read Tips for Creating Your Will

Creating your Will is probably not an exciting experience. Facing your mortality and the task of splitting up your assets can seem depressing, however, it is an extremely necessary thing to do to ensure that in the event of an accident your family will be provided for and your wishes can be carried out. Here is a list of 5 things to keep in mind when drafting your Will so that you can avoid some common mistakes.

  1. Don’t forget the executor and a backup executor. The executor of your Will is very important, as he or she will distribute your assets and be in charge of your estate after you pass. Don’t leave this job up to chance – you should carefully decide who you want to take on this role. To be safe, you should also appoint a backup executor to make sure that you will have someone you trust representing your interests no matter what. For help determining your executor or executors, you should check out this post.
  2. Specify your beneficiaries. You should be clear about who you are leaving what in your Will. For example, if you have several children, specify by name who will receive what aspects. Also consider the fact that “children” can be confused with godchildren or stepchildren once you are gone. Be as specific as possible when naming your beneficiaries so that there will be no confusion in the future. Also, if you specifically leave someone out of your Will, such as a child or spouse, you might want to include the reason why so that the executor doesn’t assume that this is a mistake and name these people as beneficiaries anyway.
  3. Update your Will. Things change over time. It is important that you update your Will to include new children and assets or to remove people such as an ex-spouse. When you experience any major life change – whether personal or financial – you should update your Will.
  4. Provide for the “what-ifs”. Consider situations such as a beneficiary dying or unexpected debt that has to be taken care of. Including these scenarios will ensure that executing your Will goes as planned.
  5. Don’t forget about the IRS. You shouldn’t necessarily assume that your estate won’t be a part of the estate tax system. You should provide for this possibility when writing your Will.

While drafting a Will is not necessarily a cheerful event, it is necessary. Your Will is an important document because you can’t be sure of how long you will live or how people will interpret your assets after your death. If you have wishes as to how your assets will be divided, you shouldn’t take any chances. Write them down in your Will and make sure that your beneficiaries get what they deserve. For help drafting your Will, you should look to a lawyer. Lawyers have experience with Wills and will probably think of important aspects of the Will that you might forget. Having some guidance in this process can ensure that everything goes smoothly. For help drafting your Will, you can contact me here.

Formal Probate vs. Informal Probate

There are two major kinds of probate – formal probate and informal probate. These types of probate are similar but they have a few distinct differences that should be noted. If you are trying to split up the assets of a deceased loved one, and you and your family are considering using the informal probate process as opposed to the formal one, there are some things that you should know.

Probate vs. Informal Probate

Probate, as I’ve mentioned, occurs when an executor files a probate petition with the court and handles the affairs of the deceased according to his or her Will. Informal probate is similar to probate, but it differs in that it can be done without the supervision of the court.

When to use Informal Probate

If you and your family are considering using informal probate, there are some things that you should consider. Informal probate works best in situations where the assets amount to $50,000 or more. All parties (creditors, heirs, executor, etc.) must agree to the informal probate process, and it must be stated in the Will of the deceased that informal probate can be used. If at any time a party in the proceedings decides that he or she wants to switch to formal probate, he or she can file a petition with the court to allow for formal administration. If you decide to use informal probate, you do not have to hire an attorney, but it is still advised that you do so. At any point during the informal probate process, you can hire an accountant, a tax preparer, or a probate lawyer to assist you in understanding the finances and law involved with the estate.

Deciding to use informal probate will depend on your individual situation. If the Will that is left behind by the deceased is a complex document with room for interpretation and questions, you might want the court to give guidance where there are questions. In this case, you should use probate. On the other hand, if the deceased’s Will is clear and straightforward, you might not need the help of the court. In this case, using informal probate can help to make the probate process faster.

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Formal probate and informal probate are similar, but depending on your personal situation, one might be more effective than the other. If you are trying to determine which form of probate will be more useful for you and your family, it is in your best interest to contact a probate lawyer. He or she can consider your individual circumstances and make an informed suggestion based on it. A probate lawyer, like me,  can also answer your questions and make this process run smoother in general. Contact me here.

Choosing an Executor for My Will

Choosing whom to name as the executor of your Will is a big decision. You are essentially deciding who will be in charge of your affairs once you are gone. You need to pick someone that you trust not only as a person, but someone you trust to be organized and prepared to take on this responsibility. This article will serve to help you decide how to choose your executor and who would be a good person to choose.

Who can I choose?

Before we get into who you should choose as the executor of your Will, let’s talk about who would qualify as your executor. Many people think that they can only pick a family member to be the executor. This is not the case. While many people do choose a family member to serve as their executor, you can pick a person or an entire trust company. If you have a large and complex estate with a lot of property and assets, you should consider choosing a trust company to be your executor. If you have a smaller estate, you can choose a relative or a friend, so long as he or she is at least nineteen years old.

If you cannot find anyone to act as your executor, you can have the Public Trustee be the executor of your Will. You will want to contact the Public Trustee before you actually naming it in your Will.

Who should I choose?

Ultimately, you want to choose someone that you can trust as your executor. To this end, consider the following when deciding who to name as your executor:

  • Ask someone who’s not in your family. A close friend or a business associate that you know on a personal level would be a good choice for an executor. Sometimes it is easier for friends or business partners to be unbiased when carrying out your wishes than it is for family members.
  • Ask a family member. When considering who you can trust the most, many people choose their spouses, parents, or children. For this reason, many people choose adult relatives to act as their executors.
  • Ask professionals. Like I said, large and complicated estates are oftentimes best handled by trust companies. Likewise, you can choose a lawyer, trust company, or financial expert to take care of your estate if you feel it will be too much for your friends or relatives to handle.
  • Age. Being an executor is a great responsibility. While your executor can be 19 years or older, you might want to choose someone who is older than 19 or 20 and mature enough to handle this job.
  • Qualifications. You don’t have to hire someone with a lot of law or financial experience, but you should choose someone who is mature and responsible. So long as your executor has access to advisors, he or she does not have to be a professional.

As you can see, choosing your executor is a largely individualized process. The right choice for you might be different for someone with a different family situation and estate. When choosing your executor, consider the size of your estate and the character of the person you choose. So long as they are honest, trustworthy, organized, and responsible, it doesn’t really matter if they are your friend, family member, or a professional. For more information, contact me here.

Information on Probate Bonds

Taking on the role of the executor during the probating of a loved one’s Will can be a big job. As the executor, you are responsible for putting the deceased’s affairs in order and distributing property and assets to the rightful inheritors. In last week’s post, I talked about fiduciary duty – the requirement for being an executor that states that you will be fair and honest in your role as executor. Unfortunately, sometimes executors make mistakes or even purposefully tamper with the distribution of property and assets. For this reason, executors generally have to pay a probate bond in order to protect both creditors and heirs from accidental or purposeful negligence on the part of the executor.

We all know what a regular bail bond is. If someone is arrested for a crime, depending on the severity of this crime, they can post bail and be released from jail until their court date. A bond is paid when the accused gives money to the court as a condition of his or her return. For example, if bail is set at 10,000, the accused will have to give the court $10,000 in order to be released. If he or she does not return for trial, he or she forfeits the money given as the bond. The concept behind a probate bond is similar. In order to ensure that the executor does not take money that was supposed to be given to heirs or creditors for him or herself, a Judge will oftentimes order a probate bond to be paid by the executor as an act of good faith. If the executor is in charge of a $20,000 estate, he or she will have to pay a bond of $20,000. The executor will get this money back if and when the property and assets are distributed properly. If they are not, the heirs and creditors get to keep the probate bond.

Problems with Probate Bonds

While protecting the creditors and heirs and ensuring that they get what they are entitled to is a good thing, sometimes obtaining money for a probate bond can be difficult. An executor raising money for a probate bond will in many cases have to essentially take out a loan to pay for the bond. This is tricky because the executor can be denied the loan, the loan can take a long time to obtain, and the executor oftentimes has to add more money to the bond if years go by and the estate is not settled. This can put a lot of pressure on the executor.

Waiving the Probate Bond

Because there are so many potential problems with probate bonds, many attorneys will waive the bond requirement when they draft Wills. Another way that the bond can be waived is if all of the heirs agree to have this done. For example, if “Ben”, the executor of his mother’s Will is an heir to the Will along with his two brothers, all three brothers can agree to trust that Ben will fulfill his duties as executor and they can waive the probate bond.

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In theory, probate bonds are useful, as they protect the interests of the heirs and creditors while a Will is probated. However, in practice, the money for probate bonds can be difficult to raise, and if the executor is a loved one, the bond is oftentimes unnecessary. For more information about probate bonds, contact me here.

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