Sarah Wolf, Attorney
Protecting Loved Ones, Assets & Aspirations Via Estate Planning


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He spent years scrimping and saving. But without a will, where’s his money going?


(Spoiler: the money went to someone who thought he was already dead!)

The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit

by Claire Martin for Bloomberg Business

On the afternoon of Aug. 22, 2015, Dale Tisserand and Melani Rodrigue opened the front door to a small white house in Corning, Calif., a town of 7,500 about 115 miles north of Sacramento. The women, who’d been given the keys by local police, are investigators for the office of the Tehama County Public Administrator. They knew the owner had died in the house the previous week and that his name was Eugene Brown.

The neighborhood mail carrier was the one who’d called the police. Every day, Brown would wait for her in a chair by his door, and the two would exchange pleasantries. But for the past five days, there’d been no sign of him. Police did a welfare check and discovered his body in a pool of dried blood by the toilet. Members of the coroner’s office who were dispatched to the house determined that he died of a stroke, but not before breaking his nose in a nasty fall. They did a quick search for a will and contact information for family members and friends—return addresses on envelopes, phone numbers jotted on scraps of paper. Not finding anything, they called (Bloomberg article continued here)

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A dying mother wrote her children letters, leaving a gift of love for years
Before dying of brain cancer at age 56, Jacqueline Zinn wrote letters to each of her children, including daughter Mary Kathryn. (Doug Zinn)

Before dying of brain cancer at age 56, Jacqueline Zinn wrote letters to each of her children, including daughter Mary Kathryn. (Doug Zinn)

By Steven Petrow

Contributing writer - Washington Post

My friend Jacqueline Zinn was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a brain cancer, in 2013; she died 18 months later, at age 56, leaving behind a husband and four kids. Jacquie was a triathlete who knew a thing or two about endurance, and she managed her treatment — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy... Washington Post article continued here…

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One Woman Helps Others Make Sure End-Of-Life Planning Is 'Good To Go'
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Only one-third of Americans older than 65 have living wills. That's according to a survey published last year in the journal Health Affairs. Not surprisingly, younger people are even less likely to have made preparations for their death. One woman in Los Angeles has made it her business to help people get their affairs in order.

Every month or so, 49-year-old Amy Pickard hosts a potluck gathering at her apartment.

"They've been described as death Tupperware parties," she explains. 

Guests bring food that reminds them of a deceased loved one. Continued…

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Ghosting Identity Theft
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Identity thieves sometimes target the deceased, adding greater pain to the already difficult grieving process. Deceased identity theft, also known as ghosting identity theft, can occur in a number of ways. Criminals may watch the obituaries, locate grieving family members, and physically steal death certificates. They can also get this information online, such as through the Social Security Death Index, which was created to enable genealogy research. Sadly, sometimes relatives may even commit identity theft of a deceased family member. Read more…

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Treat Yourself to a Clean Space

An article from ABCNews

What is 'Swedish death cleaning' and should you be doing it?

Go ahead. Clean your closet like there's no tomorrow.

Marie Kondo asked us to part with anything that didn’t spark joy when we touched it. The Bullet Journal turned scrapbooking into an organization system. So it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that one of these days you’ll find yourself partaking in a new cleaning exercise designed to essentially help you prepare for death.

No, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. It’s actually quite practical.  READ MORE

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Why are nursing homes drugging dementia patients without their consent?
(Washington Post illustration; iStock images)

(Washington Post illustration; iStock images)

It helps control the residents, and institutions are rarely punished. 

by Hannah Flamm August 10

(Hannah Flamm, an immigration lawyer at the Door’s Legal Services Center, reported on the misuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes while she was a fellow at Human Rights Watch.)

A year and a half ago in a Texas nursing home, I met an 84-year-old resident with dementia named Felipa Natividad. Her sister, Aurora Suarez, told me that the staff dosed Natividad with Haldol, an antipsychotic drug, to ease the burden of bathing her. “They give my sister medication to sedate her on the days of her shower: Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” Suarez said. “They give her so much she sleeps through the lunch hour and supper.” A review of Natividad’s medical chart confirmed the schedule. Read more… 

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Reflecting on the Queen of SOUL & R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Washington Post article)

  I wasn't surprised that Aretha Franklin didn't have a Will.  You probably don't, either.


By Michelle Singletary
Aug 23 @ 4:48 pm

All you can do is learn from other people’s mistakes.

I, like so many others, adored Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul’s songs dominate several of my iTunes playlists. When someone makes me mad, I play her version of “Respect.”

But I lost a little respect for her financial acumen when a recent court filing in Michigan by her four sons revealed that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 at 76, didn’t have a will. She reportedly had amassed a fortune of tens of millions of dollars.


I wasn't surprised.

Just how many more stories are we going to report about famous people who didn't take the time to have a will prepared?

Mouths dropped when it was discovered that the legendary musician Prince, who died in 2016, didn't have a will either. His lack of planning has led to multiple claims against his multimillion-dollar estate.

I was surprised to learn Prince didn’t have a will, given that he was famously fixated about maintaining control over his music.

The fact that people who made money didn't take some of their earnings and do some estate planning leads me to the conclusion that it's not about the money. These stars -- even if they died broke -- at some point had enough cash to hire an attorney and get even the most basic will written. So why didn't they?

Franklin and Prince and so many others like them had to know that -- because of their celebrated status -- their name, music or likeness would be worth something after they die. There are plenty of

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I wasn’t surprised that Aretha Franklin didn’t have a will. You probably ...

examples of estates -- Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson -- escalating in value after the artist passed away.

What are we to conclude about the lack of estate planning among the rich and famous?

I believe they just didn’t care enough that their death would leave behind a legal mess. Even when you have a will, some heirs will play out long, unresolved personal issues by suing each other. Trust me. Been there. Done that. And got some court battle scars to prove it. (I won’t reveal more because I don’t want to be sued!)

But at least a will gives the courts a sense of what a decedent wanted. With no will, you die "intestate," and this means the state dictates how your assets will be distributed. Is that what you want?

Gallup conducted a poll two weeks after Prince died. The results were troubling -- an overwhelming majority of Americans don't have a will.

Only 44 percent of survey respondents said they had a will that dictated how they wanted their assets handled after their death.

The share of Americans who have a will has been trending downward. In 2005, it was 51 percent, according to Gallup.

"Prince's main legacy will undoubtedly be his music, but his unexpected death might leave him with another: an example of what can happen when someone dies without a will," wrote Jeffrey Jones, a senior editor for Gallup in releasing the will results.

The older you are -- and the more income you have -- influences whether you have a will. People 65 or older were more likely to have a will -- 68 percent compared with 14 percent for those younger than 30, Gallup found. This makes sense.

Yet, for younger adults who are already married or have children, it doesn't make sense. Especially if you have kids, there is much more at stake in terms of who will care for them and with what money.

Fifty-five percent of people with an annual income of $75,000 or more said they had a will. This percentage should be so much higher, because the more you make, the more your estate might be worth, and this increases the likelihood people will fight over your stuff -- even a relatively modest amount. When heirs end up in protracted legal proceedings, it erodes the value of an estate.

The estate attorneys I've interviewed don't want to be in the middle of what can become epic court battles. The money they earn representing folks may be good, but they say watching family members go at each other is dreadful.

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I wasn’t surprised that Aretha Franklin didn’t have a will. You probably ...

In an upcoming column, I'll provide some advice on writing a will, but for now I need you to understand why this is one financial move you should make a priority. If you don't buy into the why, you won't do it.

So, let me ask you one question: Do you love your children/family?

Because if you care about their well-being, and you want to minimize the drama after you die, you need a will. Tomorrow isn’t promised.



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Attorney General Warns of Scam to Steal Identities & Money


From the office of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on August 24, 2018

Beware: Con Artists Are Using Fake Oregon Department of Justice Documents to Steal Your Money and Identity


We heard yesterday about a new scam that is circulating the country, and it made us immediately concerned. At least one person has already lost her life savings! Once again, this one uses us -- the Oregon Department of Justice -- to try to scam its targets out of their hard-earned money. So, please keep reading...

The scam is designed to get you to think you are a victim of identity theft. In fact, you are not! But you may soon be if you follow their instructions, which are aimed at getting access to your social security number, bank and retirement accounts, and other personal records. 

At first glance, the documents the scammers use appear to be official: They have an Oregon Department of Justice seal, an Oregon Department of Justice address, and references to what look like real Oregon state criminal laws. The truth is that they are fakes! 

Here's some of what we have learned about how the scam works: the target of the scam receives a phone call from a man claiming to work for a federal agency-a fake government agent! He tells her that somebody has stolen her identity and is trying to break into her bank account. In order to keep her bank account safe, the target of the scam is told she needs to wire all of her funds to another account in a foreign country. She is sent wire transfer instructions and told she needs to complete two documents from the Oregon Department of Justice and mail them to the address of the Department of Justice in Portland listed on the documents. 

"These documents are fake." said Attorney General Rosenblum. "If someone calls you claiming to be a government official, says there is some sort of emergency, and asks you to transfer or wire funds, he is a fake government agent. Just hang up the phone! It is a scam!" 

How to protect yourself:

Government officials will never call you and ask you to transfer or wire money. Most importantly, the Oregon Department of Justice will never ask you to complete forms that ask for bank accounts, Social Security numbers or other very personal data like this.

Once money has been wired overseas, it is very difficult to recover. Please help us spread the word. 

If you think you have fallen victim to this scam, contact the Oregon Department of Justice online at or by phone at 1-877-877-9392.

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Wishing You a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!

We'd like to thank all of our clients who have trusted and referred us to their friends and family over the years.  Without you, there would be no "us", so thank you for supporting us.  

We know visits with us are often about serious, life and death matters, which aren't always fun so we thought we'd pass along some humor about a serious subject.

One of our clients shared this video of how a few people in New Zealand are taking estate planning to a whole new level with "coffin clubs", making and decorating their own boxes.

Casket burials are being re-examined by some who do not want to occupy a metal box in a concrete vault for centuries to come.  They cite various reasons from "want to be fed to the worms", i.e., composted back into the earth for ecological concerns to economic pressures of a costly casket.  


Here's a 4 minute musical that had our office cracking up. Watch how these New Zealand kiwi's are redefining death.

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