Business Consultants & Certified Public Accountants

Do You Have A Will? And, If So, Is It Up To Date?

If you’re anything like me, by now you have broken all of your New Year’s resolutions. Actually, if you’re like me, you’ve stopped making any New Year’s resolutions (can’t stand the failure rate).

But please don’t fret, there is still plenty of 2016 left for you to redeem yourself. You still have time to review, update or prepare your will. But what if you’re thinking that considering your will was not on your list of resolutions? What then? I really don’t care, because it should have been on your list of resolutions. It should be reviewed every few years to make sure your final directives really say what you want.

So, when is the last time you considered your will? Do you even have a will? If you have a will, do you know what it says? Does it still say what you would like it to say?

What happens if you don’t have a will? Many people are surprised to find that if you’re a Pennsylvania resident and haven’t written your own will, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has written one for you. If you die having written your own will (called testate), then you can appoint your own executor and dispose of your assets as you wish (as long as what you direct is allowed by law). If you die without a will (called intestate), then your estate is required to follow the Pennsylvania laws of Intestate Succession. Therefore, if you die without a will, your executor is determined by the Courts and your assets are disposed of as required by these intestate laws, none of which may be what you would have wanted.

In addition to what your will directs (or in spite of what your will directs), some assets will be transferred based on how they are titled. Real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, and retirement accounts are good examples of this. You may direct in your will that a piece of real estate gets transferred to a certain person. However, depending on how you have the real estate titled, it may go to someone else. The titling of property will generally take precedence over what your will states. Your will may also direct that your bank accounts all go to your spouse or be split evenly between all of your beneficiaries; however, if you have the account titled in joint names or as a payable-on-death (POD) account, it will follow what is on the account. Another item we see a lot is accounts with beneficiary designations. Again, generally upon your death these retirement accounts, life insurance contracts, annuity contracts, and IRA accounts will be paid to the named beneficiary no matter what your will says. A quick item related to this is to check these beneficiary designations. Are the named beneficiaries still alive and still the people you want to be beneficiaries? You may be surprised at the number of ex-spouses that are still (mistakenly) named as beneficiaries on life insurance policies.

I find that generally no one likes to talk about their final wishes and what will happen when they are gone. So why am I pushing such a grim subject? Unfortunately, a couple of years ago one of my new clients was tragically killed in an accident at work. He had a wife and three children. I was surprised to learn that he and his wife had never gotten around to preparing a will. So, unfortunately, in addition to all of the terrible problems dealing with the accident, the lack of a will caused many additional problems and issues that needed to be dealt with.

So this is now one of my soap box items for all of my clients. I want you all to have a will and know what it says. I realize that there are many more issues that may need to be considered in your will, especially if you have minor children, but please do not let this stop you from preparing a will. Even a simple will is better than no will. Although there may be plenty of 2016 left, none of us knows how much time we actually have to get this done. So do it now!

Please let us know if you would like some help with this. We may be able to help you work through some of the various options including coordinating your will with the titling of your assets and review various tax consequences and gifting alternatives.

–Ted Landis
Shareholder

Ransomware: Could Your Data Be Held Hostage?

If you are browsing the web precariously, opening mysterious emails, or downloading suspicious files, you might pay the price…literally.

Ransomware is a malicious type of software that once loaded on your computer, encrypts your data and holds it hostage until the ransom fee is paid. It’s quite simple, really. You sit down at your computer with your morning coffee and see an email which appears legitimate, asking you to download a .zip file or even a simple document. Of course, the situation can vary. The sender could be claiming to provide UPS or FedEx information regarding an important delivery or a bank or credit union sending you a routine financial statement.

Once the file is downloaded to your computer and opened, the infection has already started and it displays no immediate evidence. Behind the scenes, the ransomware encrypting all of your applications, files, and even system files which can disable certain functionality of your operating system. You won’t find out that your system has been infected until you see the infamous ransom note demanding a non-negotiable payment in the form of bitcoin with a countdown of the time remaining to pay up or your data will be encrypted for good.

You might think that they are bluffing, but do you really want to wait to find out?

Before you hand over a large sum to the cybercriminals, paying the pricey ransom isn’t your only option. I recommend talking to your IT department or an IT professional before performing any actions when you know you are infected. One option is to reformat your hard drive and restore from a backup that was created before your computer had become infected; that is, if you created a backup. If not, unfortunately your options are even more limited.

First seen in 2013, this malicious software has become quite popular to virus programmers because of the potential income. In the news, Ransomware has begun spreading to large businesses, causing havoc and a crippling amount of downtime. Similar ransomware has been created under different names such as Locky, CryptoWall, CryptoDefense, TorrentLocker, TeslaCrypt, VaultCrypt, VirLock, and KeRanger.

Of course, you should not have to use your computer in fear that you may be prone to these infections. There are many preventative actions that can be taken to decrease the chances of encountering ransomware. Most importantly, ensure that you have both an anti-virus program and anti-malware program that have real-time detection which can quarantine the malicious software so that it doesn’t implant itself on your computer. Also, viruses and malware have been known to target out of date browser plug-ins. Be sure to keep your plug-ins up to date and uninstall plug-ins you are no longer using. The most common practice that can protect you is to be smart and cautious when browsing unknown websites or viewing suspicious emails. Don’t open an email from a sender you do not trust and be sure to run a malware scan on any attachment you download. When browsing the web, refrain from clicking and advertisement that are found on the page. These simple methods can absolutely help prevent infection, however, no one is completely immune to an attack. Be sure to backup all of your data on an external device daily. This will limit the amount of data you may lose in case you are forced to reformat your hard drive.

New malicious software programs are written and released every day. You can help prevent them from spreading by being prepared and taking the right action against them.

If you ever encounter suspicious activity on your computer or have any questions about how to protect yourself from ransomware or malware, feel free to contact the PBGW IT Department.

If you are browsing the web precariously, opening mysterious emails, or downloading suspicious files, you might pay the price…literally.
Ransomware is a malicious type of software that once loaded on your computer, encrypts your data and holds it hostage until the ransom fee is paid. It’s quite simple, really. You sit down at your computer with your morning coffee and see an email which appears legitimate, asking you to download a .zip file or even a simple document. Of course, the situation can vary. The sender could be claiming to provide UPS or FedEx information regarding an important delivery or a bank or credit union sending you a routine financial statement.

Once the file is downloaded to your computer and opened, the infection has already started and it displays no immediate evidence. Behind the scenes, the ransomware encrypting all of your applications, files, and even system files which can disable certain functionality of your operating system. You won’t find out that your system has been infected until you see the infamous ransom note demanding a non-negotiable payment in the form of bitcoin with a countdown of the time remaining to pay up or your data will be encrypted for good.

You might think that they are bluffing, but do you really want to wait to find out?

Before you hand over a large sum to the cybercriminals, paying the pricey ransom isn’t your only option. I recommend talking to your IT department or an IT professional before performing any actions when you know you are infected. One option is to reformat your hard drive and restore from a backup that was created before your computer had become infected; that is, if you created a backup. If not, unfortunately your options are even more limited.

First seen in 2013, this malicious software has become quite popular to virus programmers because of the potential income. In the news, Ransomware has begun spreading to large businesses, causing havoc and a crippling amount of downtime. Similar ransomware has been created under different names such as Locky, CryptoWall, CryptoDefense, TorrentLocker, TeslaCrypt, VaultCrypt, VirLock, and KeRanger.

Of course, you should not have to use your computer in fear that you may be prone to these infections. There are many preventative actions that can be taken to decrease the chances of encountering ransomware. Most importantly, ensure that you have both an anti-virus program and anti-malware program that have real-time detection which can quarantine the malicious software so that it doesn’t implant itself on your computer. Also, viruses and malware have been known to target out of date browser plug-ins. Be sure to keep your plug-ins up to date and uninstall plug-ins you are no longer using. The most common practice that can protect you is to be smart and cautious when browsing unknown websites or viewing suspicious emails. Don’t open an email from a sender you do not trust and be sure to run a malware scan on any attachment you download. When browsing the web, refrain from clicking and advertisement that are found on the page. These simple methods can absolutely help prevent infection, however, no one is completely immune to an attack. Be sure to backup all of your data on an external device daily. This will limit the amount of data you may lose in case you are forced to reformat your hard drive.

New malicious software programs are written and released every day. You can help prevent them from spreading by being prepared and taking the right action against them.

If you ever encounter suspicious activity on your computer or have any questions about how to protect yourself from ransomware or malware, feel free to contact the PBGW IT Department.

— Dylan Geisinger
IT Specialist