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.

Guest Blog by Julie Avellino | Life is always changing…

Life is always changing and as adults nearly every change has a real estate component. Big changes, positive and negative, often catch us off guard. Occasionally, we are given the luxury of planning for a big change. Whether you have the chance to plan or not if you’re at a personal crossroads it’s important to take a deep breathe, step back and take deliberate action so that you find the opportunities hidden within the change. A few phone calls should be placed asap; to a lawyer, a realtor and to your financial planner/banker. If you don’t have these people in your life already now is the time to build your team of trusted advisors who have only your best interest in mind and who have been through similar scenarios many times before with their clients. A team of trusted advisors does not include co-workers, friends (tangible or virtual), strangers or even most relatives; each of those groups will have their own baggage and experiences, they instinctively want to be involved which often leads to riling things up and they will impose their experiences on you. When life is giving you a change it is also presenting you with a chance to manage that change and its outcome to best suit your unique needs. Don’t let the opportunity get clouded with the anecdotes of others. Lean on and confide in your trusted advisors.

realtorlogoAs a Realtor and a divorce coach I often work with clients who are at the end of a marriage (I also work with clients who are experiencing other life changes such as downsizing, retiring, selling “mom’s house”, etc).  Often times selling the family home becomes part of the divorce agreement but there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in that transaction. I am typically the only advisor who represents both parties during a divorce, since they will find their own team of attorneys, financial advisors, etc.  Here is where I work not just as a Realtor but also in a capacity to manage the process of the sale and to limit the impact of the transaction on the family. As a Divorce-Realtor I take great care to get both parties to agree the items needed to be accomplished with the sale of the home. I will also speak with attorneys and financial advisors to give them my professional opinion on the value of the home as it sits today as well as the value of the home should deferred maintenance be addressed or updates be made.

Perhaps the most common question I get from divorcing couples is about whether or not to invest in a major renovation before selling the property.  I think this is the result of HGTV and its constant stream of “flip” shows. This decision can have great financial impact on the couple and I give it thorough research before giving my final recommendation. Here’s a look into some of my process:

1)      What condition is the home in now? If the property is in great disrepair and will limit the buyer pool to cash buyers only, deferred maintenance should be addressed if financially possible.

2)      If the home is dated and minor updates (removing wall paper, painting, landscaping) will have an impact on the selling price and length of time the property is on the market they improvements should be done if financially possible.

3)      If one party is interested in doing a major renovation project (remodel the kitchen is the common one) we need to dive deeper in the motivation.

  1. Does on person really not want to sell the house? Is this a stall tactic?
  2. Is one person trying to spend money prior to the divorce to avoid having to split savings?
  3. Is there enough upside benefit in the post-renovation sales price vs. the length of time to complete the project to warrant the project?
  4. Who is doing the work? Will the project be a DIY disaster with low budget finishes and shoddy workmanship? Can the couple agree on reputable, licensed contractors?
  5. Who will manage the project and who will decisions on cost overages be managed?

These are just a few of the scenarios I walk through with my divorcing clients so that I can provide them with a clear financial picture as it relates to their shared property.  If you have a property in Connecticut that needs to be sold and aren’t sure what steps to take first to ensure you get top dollar at sale, we should talk. I’d be happy to help you determine what the next best steps are for you and your family.

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Julie Avellino is a licensed Realtor in Connecticut and has been selling residential real estate for 11 years. In addition to working with divorcing couples, first-time sellers and first-time buyers as a Realtor Julie is also an inspirational writer and speaker addressing topics including divorce, children, entrepreneurship and life in general from her unique perspective.  Julie’s love of photography supports all of her interests by showcasing her listings professionally as well as supporting her writing pieces. You can learn more about how Julie can help you with your real estate needs at www.FirstTimeSelling.com and you can read her writing, learn about her divorce coaching programs and see her other creative work at www.julieavellino.com  Julie can be reached at justsayjulie@kw.com or call or text at 203-414-9479.

Introduction to the Probate Process

The death of a loved one can be an incredibly devastating and traumatic time for close family and friends. Unfortunately, the mourning process is oftentimes complicated by things like planning the wake, planning the funeral, choosing a coffin, making sure the burial plot is in order, writing the obituary, etc. Once all of the wake and funeral arrangements are made, there is still the issue of distributing property and assets based on the Will left behind. While this might seem an unpleasant and overwhelming task, it is important to “probate” the Will. This article will cover the basics of that process.

Probating a Will basically means executing the deceased’s wishes in the Will. If the deceased owned property, it will be distributed based on the Will that he or she left behind. Probating the Will essentially means passing property titles onto heirs and determining how the assets will be divided among family members.

To probate a Will, an executor is determined. This person is in charge of managing the distribution of property based on the deceased’s Will. Basically, the executor just has to follow the instructions left by the deceased and make sure that his or her interests are honestly represented and carried out.courts

Probate can be a long and expensive process depending on what the deceased (referred to as the decedent) left behind. If a Will was left behind, transferring the ownership of property can be slow and costly. It is much easier and quicker to do if the decedent has a living trust.

The following things can be accomplished in probate:

  • The decedent’s property is identified and an inventory is made of it
  • An appraisal is made on the property
  • Taxes and creditors are paid with the decedent’s assets
  • Retirement accounts and life insurance are given to the joint owner or heirs

Probate must occur in the county where the decedent has property, not necessarily where he or she was at the time of his or her death. In order to probate a Will, a probate petition must be filed with the court. Roughly a month to a month and a half after this petition is filed, there will be a legal hearing to determine how the property will be divided.

As mentioned above, probating a Will is generally a long and slow process that can become expensive. If you want to avoid probate, you should use a living trust. Using a living trust is the most common way to avoid probate.

If there is no living trust or if you want to probate the deceased’s Will, it can be a confusing and tedious process. This is where a probate lawyer comes in. I can help you through this process and make it as painless as possible. For more information, you can contact me for a free consultation. I will answer any questions that you have at no cost to you!

Back To School Shopping On A Budget

Back to school shopping is no doubt a pain for all parents. If you’re watching your finances, school supply shopping can be even more difficult. However, back to school shopping on a budget can be a breeze if you do it right. Below are some tips every parent should incorporate into their August-September back to school shopping for their children.

  • Set a budget. Go into the back to school shopping season with a specific budget. Let your children know what the overall budget is and that there will be no going over it.
  • Make a list! Get a list of supplies that your children need from each of their teachers. Before you go out and purchase everything, go through your home and look for things you may be able to cross off the list. Look at what school supplies your children have left from the previous year and what things you may be able to reuse. Also separate the list into needs and wants. Get all of the essentials for your child and in order to keep under budget, consider skipping some of the “wants” on the list.
  • Don’t go right to Staples for your child’s school supplies. Get things like pencils and pens from your local Dollar Store.
  • Buy your child a bookbag that will last! Brands like L.L Bean and Jansport have a lifetime guarantee on all their bags so buy one that your child can use year after year so you will definitely get your money’s worth.
  • Reuse! Buy your children plastic folders instead of cardboard and such. The plastic will be reusable for years after the purchase as long as your children take care of them.
  • Look through your children’s closet and see exactly what they need so you may plan ahead. Avoid shopping in August for clothes. If you can, wait until mid September or around that time in order to hit the sales that go on after stores think that everyone in town has already completed their back to school shopping. Alternatively, your family can go clothing shopping for fall clothes at the beginning of the summer in order to take advantage of some deals.
  • Try shopping at local thrift stores or outlet malls. Some thrift stores sell name brands for cheap and outlets always have good deals on clothes and shoes.

 

Back to school shopping no longer needs to be a dreadful, money-sucking event that happens at the end of every summer. If you use these helpful tips, you will succeed in getting all the supplies your children need, but also stay well under your budget.

This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.