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Frequently, when a relative passes away in Maryland and elsewhere, family members are not sure how to handle distribution of some of the assets. All kinds of digital assets, including online pictures, bank data, high-tech phones, and more are a lot to sift through. Dividing up this property can place added stress on relatives, already mourning the loss of a loved one, when a will or other estate planning document does not detail what is to occur.

The family pet is often an overlooked problem. Many people are including estate planning wishes concerning a beloved animal, including such things as veterinary care and end of life decisions. Relatives might disagree about how to care for a pet, and it could end up in the pound or going to that one relative who does not hold a special fondness for your pet absent arrangements made in advance.

Further, many individuals do not have a living will because they think it is too costly or they are simply putting off taking decisive action. Such a document typically appoints a trusted person to make health care decisions when the individual creating the document is no longer able to make them. The living will can specify under what conditions a person is to act and can also detail what is to happen in certain situations.

The question of who gets what is not a new problem in Maryland, but it is becoming more pressing because the number of American-held digital assets is growing. Add in the growing number of unmarried folks, including domestic partners and couples that are postponing marriage, to families in which couples combine from past relationships, and who deserves what gets even more confusing and stressful. A will can clearly detail what is to be done in most situations.

Source: USA Today, "Times change wills, yet many Americans don't have one," Christine Dugas, April 29, 2012

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