Thinking about retirement? Don’t forget about your tech.

Thinking about retirement? Don’t forget about your tech.

Thinking about retirement? Don’t forget about your tech.

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technology and retirees, boss magazine

By Anne-Frances Hutchinson

Here’s an open secret about Americans on the cusp of retirement age: They know how to use technology. Having been in the workforce as the digital age gestated from a fever dream into the driver of nearly every aspect of work and life in the developed world, this cohort understands its transformative power at a level digital natives have yet to grasp. Over the next decade, roughly 132 million Americans 50 and older will spend over $84 billion annually on technology.

As they approach retirement, affluent, well educated seniors are still driving technological development, participating in the digital economy as it grows and changes, and preparing for an aging process that will be largely dependent on emerging technologies to increase satisfaction, comfort, and life expectancy.

However, one of the profound changes retirement brings is access to technology. Leaving the workplace can mean losing a wealth of expensive support, from high speed internet connections and the software programs that allow seamless communication, to hardware that can be impossible to afford on a budget. And yes, that includes the person in IT who knows how to convert documents into PDFs. (Here’s another deeply held secret from a boomer: They absolutely know how to do that. They just love to see your reaction when they ask for your help. Eyerolls are always funny.)

technology and retirees, boss magazine

Teasing aside, here are five critical considerations to make before transitioning out of the tech rich workplace.

  1. Make cyber security a priority. The loss of a workplace IT infrastructure means heightened exposure to hacking, so deepening your personal knowledge about security breaches and investing in affordable, personal use security tools is a must. Don’t be put off by any implied condescension you might perceive by seeking simplified help – Internet 101.org is a great place to start the process.
  2. Forget about remembering passwords. Leaving the office shouldn’t mean swapping strong protection of digital assets for passwords that are easy to remember and a breeze for hackers to exploit. Encrypted password managers such as 1Password provide affordable protection, generous storage, and email support.
  3. Enroll in autopay. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean the bills stop. Making sure they get paid automatically, on time, every month will take a huge weight off your shoulders. On the flip side, any income you have still have coming in: social security, a pension, etc., you can arrange to be automatically deposited in the account of your choosing. Being retired means you should be out there enjoying life, not spending several hours a week doing amateur accounting.
  4. Set up online trading. You want your money to last through a long retirement. Now that you have more time, you might want to take a more hands-on approach to your investments. Services such as Ally Invest and E-Trade make it simple and easy to manage your portfolio and do self-directed trades on a daily basis.
  5. Compromise smartly. The temptation to sacrifice capability for cost can be very compelling, especially when it comes to smartphones. While there is a fun new crop of flip phones hitting the market that may take you back to the simpler days of flip up and gab, like the updated foldable Motorola Razr, prioritize the features that are most important to you — whether it’s a great camera, the ability to use multiple apps, or mil-std ruggedization — and make sure the phone of your choice makes the grade. You’ll want something that can still keep up with your lifestyle and let you video chat with the grandkids.
  6. Think before you ditch. Switching away from a “does it all” desktop system to a tablet or laptop may make sense from a portability standpoint, but be sure your computer investments match the quality of life you’re expecting. Desktops can be much cheaper to buy than laptops, giving you the freedom to buy both. Desktop performance is better, more flexible, and far more robust than tablets; laptops that offer equivalent desktop performance are typically cumbersome and heavy despite being optimized for mobility. If you’re a gamer, crafter, or have a penchant for art, having a desktop in your post-work tech arsenal will be a very worthwhile spend.
  7. Plan your digital estate. You’re planning to leave your work environment, not your entire life, but now is the time to think about what may happen to your digital identity and it’s a risky aspect of estate planning to neglect. In the Digital Cheat Sheet, Everplans recommends the following steps to take:
  • Make a list of all your digital assets and make a plan on how they should be accessed after your passing. This includes your personal data, passwords, and hardware.
  • Choose an executor for these assets who will follow your wishes on erasing, preserving, or sharing data, and with whom you want your digital legacy to be shared.
  • Store this information where it can be readily accessed by a trusted family member, attorney, or your appointed executor.
  • Legalize your wishes. With the exception of Louisiana, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia, there are state provisions for digital asset legalization. Work with your estate planner to incorporate your digital assets into your will. Remember: Never include passwords or private data in your will, as it is a public document that anyone can access.
technology and retirees, boss magazine

Retirement isn’t the end of your life, it’s the beginning of enjoying what you’ve worked so hard for. Set yourself up for success much the same way you did in your career. There’s a whole world of things to do that you might have missed out on. A smart retirement will enable you to make the most of your time while living on the go. Get after it!

Death and our digital ghosts

Death and our digital ghosts

Death and our digital ghosts

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When we die, our data lives on. Our blogs, vlogs, social media accounts and emails we sent can be a permanent digital legacy. You might be tempted to stick your head in the sand just reading that, but it’s possible – and probably advisable – to plan a dignified digital demise.

Photograph of model railway scenery depicting a walled cemetery containing seven graves. Models of a man holding flowers and a clergyman strand over the graves. Three of the headstones are made of actual size USB memory sticks standing on their ends. On the sticks is the text, USB 3.0, 32GB.

In one of the artists’ studios below London’s neoclassical arts hub Somerset House, I am handed a curious object: a USB stick completely encased in clear epoxy. Printed on it is the French phrase “ne me quitte(s) pas” (from the classic love song by Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel). This is a demonstration model of what participants receive in the performance of ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ by Audrey Samson.

At a series of installations across the globe, the Canadian artist has been offering “digital data funerals”, where she dons a gas mask and protective gloves to symbolically dispose of all or a portion of someone’s online life, loaded onto one of these memory sticks, which she immerses in a block of fast-hardening resin.

As Samson makes clear with the somewhat ironic ritualistic aspect of ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, erasing such data is actually very difficult. And this raises some equally difficult questions. It is not an issue that has troubled me duly until now: yes, I have noted down a few important log-in details for my missus, but beyond that have not thought at all about what will happen to my emails, digital images and postings spread across various social media accounts. Would I want them saved as a memorial or wiped away to save someone else the hassle?

How we face mortality and its commemoration is changing as our lives become increasingly digital: should we plan for what happens to our digital assets? And are social media platforms worthy places for memorials?

Living on through social media

Artists and academics have been musing on such questions since the early days of the internet, although new media companies have been slower to adapt their services to the fact that users die off and that people may actually care. Instead, these companies seem more concerned with their bottom line: in November 2019, Twitter threatened to purge inactive accounts, ostensibly to free up names for new users, but is now rethinking the plan after a backlash from those seeking to maintain posts from the deceased.

Other providers approach the challenge in different ways: Google offers the Inactive Account Manager service, while Facebook introduced the legacy contact option – allowing a trusted party to take control of someone’s page – in 2015. Before that the choice was either freezing an account as a memorial or deleting it.

Since Samson devised ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ in 2014, she has seen how the public’s awareness of issues surrounding data politics has grown. “In the very beginning it was 99 per cent ‘I have never considered this before’,” she says. “Probably this year most people have heard about it, but maybe not thought about it profoundly. They’ve not dealt with it in the way many people haven’t sorted out their wills.”

It is often news stories that have captured people’s attention, sometimes via tragic events, such as the death in 2014 of Hollie Gazzard. The Gloucester hairdresser’s Facebook page was memorialised after she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, unfortunately leaving pictures of the pair together that the site refused to take downuntil Hollie’s parents organised a publicity campaign involving an 11,000-signature petition.

Dr John Troyer, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, has been getting to grips with such issues for the best part of two decades, though the reality hit home when his sister Julie tragically died of brain cancer in 2018. Although she had not made any plans for her digital assets, Troyer found he could control his sister’s Facebook account from her phone, installing himself as legacy contact to access photos for their parents, contact her friends and raise money to pay for expenses.

Yet even an expert such as Troyer was not prepared for every eventuality, forgetting that when he accessed her account, Julie appeared to her contacts to be online. Luckily, a mutual friend got in touch straight away so he could disable that function. “I was in the situation of knowing exactly what to do, but also finding it extremely bizarre to be in the middle of it. There’s stuff that wasn’t done, but looking back, that’s OK. At the time, grief magnifies it like you wouldn’t believe.”

Troyer keeps a document with his own wishes and a spreadsheet of account details, and since his sister’s death he has reminded his parents to write theirs down as well.

Messages from the grave

Nowadays, holding details of online accounts and instructions for their disposal is a service increasingly offered by legal firms that deal in estate planning. Other companies also offer to store personal data in secure places, though Troyer warns that some of these organisations have already disappeared. “This has always been my challenge to companies that want to offer such a product: how does your service work in 10 or 20 years?” While executors of a will are compelled by law to carry out your instructions as far as possible, private firms are not so legally bound.

Other firms offer the ability to communicate once we have gone, by storing message videos to be sent to selected people at a future date, say from a parent to a child for an important birthday. Dr Stacey Pitsillides, a senior research fellow in design at Northumbria University, has been putting this possibility to the public in her ‘Tickets for the Afterlife’ events and has found them potentially more engaging than earlier examples, such as leaving letters.

“In some ways, we’ve always been able to do that, but the voice is a very powerful aspect, along with the idea that you send it at a particular time to a particular person.” Though again, the longevity of such enterprises remains an issue. “That’s what’s interesting about these companies that use words like ‘future’, ‘eternity’ or ‘for ever’. They claim to be quite solid, but that can be quite questionable.”

Planning your digital death

Our data, then, faces disparate threats from unthinking or unreliable service providers: treasured memories or mementos could be wiped clean without our assent, or thoughts and images that we would prefer to have edited could be indelibly fixed. Perhaps it is best that we take a proactive approach, as suggested by several protagonists in Oreet Ashery’s film ‘Revisiting Genesis’.

Here, the artist explores how dying people come to terms with their digital legacies through the interactions of various characters, including nurses and carers. One suggests Samson’s data funeral to a patient as a means of sloughing off their online baggage. Another raises a more positive possibility: sharing such information via an augmented-reality gravestone that gives mourners the option of accessing digital content in traditional places of commemoration, namely graveyards and gardens of remembrance.

Such technology already exists. Nowadays, when you order your gravestone or plaque, you could opt to add a Quick Response (QR) code. These markers are more familiar from accessing special offers in adverts, but here are cut into stone or metal, allowing mobile devices to link to online information, such as videos or biographies.

A real-life example is the memorial in a Southampton graveyard to Henry ‘Harry’ Witt, a stoker who died aboard the Titanic. Tracy Dunne, mother-in-law of a descendant of Harry, suggested the upgrade when a new memorial at the family grave was needed. It links to a website containing Harry’s career records and other memorabilia.

One problem with the use of such technology is the speed of change in IT: will QR codes last as long as graveyards? Tracy, though, finds the system works for her family’s situation. “We may change it in the future, but there are guided walks around the cemetery and we do get plenty of hits. It’s online so you don’t have to go the burial site, so we have family members in Australia that can look up the page, so it will remain online even if QR codes go out.”

Using dead people’s data

Looking further ahead, Ashery also examines futuristic possibilities such as uploading memories to create digital avatars for future generations to interact with. Though this isn’t yet a possibility, people are already being invited to export biographical information and other data that could be used to create such a phenomenon. Dr Pitsillides finds the concept useful for starting a wider debate about identity.

“Engaging the public in these issues brings to light other questions: it is not just what these technologies do and how they change our rituals and practices, but how they make us reflect on ourselves and what it means to be human.”

For Ashery, there are even more pressing concerns: “Everything we do online is extracting data from us, which not only contributes to ideas of algorithms, artificial intelligence and prediction of behaviour, but it’s used for financial gain, to foresee market trends and voting intentions. Before we had magic and séances; now we have technology taking that role. We have to be aware and critical of the extension of capitalism into death. We have to learn how to have control.”

An unsent SMS, a message on a tractor, a poem: the courts say a valid will can take many forms

An unsent SMS, a message on a tractor, a poem: the courts say a valid will can take many forms

An unsent SMS, a message on a tractor, a poem: the courts say a valid will can take many forms

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When a man died by suicide in 2016, a friend found an unsent SMS on his phone:

Dave Nic you and Jack keep all that I have house and superannuation, put my ashes in the back garden with Trish Julie will take her stuff only she’s ok gone back to her ex AGAIN I’m beaten. A bit of cash behind TV and a bit in the bank Cash card pin 3636 MRN190162Q 10/10/2016 My will

Following a dispute between the man’s widow and his brother and nephew, the Supreme Court of Queensland decided the message was a valid will.

The case represents a growing body of legal decisions reflecting how the digital age is challenging the courts.

Read more: Five things to do before you die – because planning your eventual demise takes preparation

The changing definition of the word ‘document’

The courts have had to consider whether DVDs and digital videos , iPhone notes , Microsoft Word documents , encrypted computer files and other digital artefacts count at valid wills or amendments.

In the UK, the Law Commission is reviewing the law of wills to decide whether it should reflect the ubiquity of digital technologies.

Except in very limited exceptional circumstances, a will is a document. To be a valid formal will, there are certain requirements: it must be in writing, on paper, signed by the testator, witnessed by other people, and formally executed. Specific formal language is encouraged.

In law, documents – more than witnesses or physical objects – have become the most important form of evidence.

But in the digital age, the distinction between a document, a witness and real evidence is becoming more difficult to perceive, and pointless to sustain.

What we understand as a “document” has expanded to include a potentially limitless range of digital forms and devices.

Challenges abound. Digital documents are long, ubiquitous, intangible, difficult to authenticate, easy to duplicate and modify. They sometimes bring more questions than answers.

The case of the unsent SMS

The Supreme Court of Queensland had no difficulty in finding that the unsent text message was a document. However, it was not a formal will. Informal wills can still be valid in some circumstances. The court noted that the unsent message was identified as a will, dated, contained the deceased’s initials and date of birth (“MRN190162”).

It identified most of his assets, included clear wishes about their distribution, provided a pin code and gave instructions about his ashes.

The court also considered his state of mind at the time of his death, determining he had sufficient capacity to make a will. It considered the fact the man didn’t send the text message: did it mean that his will was still in draft form and did not reflect his final wishes?

The court accepted evidence that he did not send the message so that his family would not interrupt his suicide. Despite lacking nearly all of the formalities of a will, it was found to be his valid last will and testament.

A court might look for clues wherever possible – even in the deceased draft messages folder.

The case of the tractor fender will

Courts have had to consider whether an eggshell , a tractor fender, a petticoat hem graffiti on a wall , and a poem might be valid wills.

In 1948, Cecil George Harris died following an accident on his Saskatchewan wheat farm. He had been trapped underneath his tractor for 12 hours in torrential rain. His wife and neighbours eventually found him during a lightning storm. Despite their best efforts, he died of his injuries.

Two of his curious neighbours went to examine Harris’ stricken tractor and found that message he’d scratched into the paint on the fender:

In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris

An extract from ‘In Case I Die In This Mess’, an episode of the podcast History Lab, from Impact Studios at the University of Technology, Sydney.

The neighbours removed the fender after his funeral and conveyed it to a local lawyer. It was eventually held to be Harris’ last will and testament. Because this case is now a quirky landmark of Saskatchewan succession law, the fender and the knife Harris used to carve his message are now on display in the library of the University of Saskatchewan law school.

What would the deceased have wanted?

Grief, generosity, love, regret, hate, spite, retribution, eccentricity: the full gamut of human emotions are revealed in a person’s will, and in the conduct of their beneficiaries and descendants after death.

Probate courts are required to walk into this emotional minefield, and ask: what would the deceased have wanted?

When a deceased person hasn’t left a will, or they’ve left one that’s deficient, the court looks for clues.

And, as history tells us, the courts have often acted with considerable sensitivity and flexibility in trying to do justice to the dead.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

In Case I Die In This Mess was made by Impact Studios at the University of Technology, Sydney – a new audio production house combining academic research and audio storytelling. It is the first episode in a four part series titled ‘The Law’s Way of Knowing’, available for download through the award-winning UTS History Lab podcast.

What Is Estate Planning, and Who Needs It?

What Is Estate Planning, and Who Needs It?

What Is Estate Planning, and Who Needs It?

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Estate Planning

Estate planning is the process of setting up how your assets and property will be distributed upon your death. Through these plans, you can ensure your assets are given to the people and organizations you care about. Additionally, estate plans can minimize the amount of taxes your estate and family will incur once you’re gone. Estate planning is a necessary venture even for those who aren’t particularly wealthy, but it’s also a complicated one. Consider working with a financial advisor if you need help setting up an estate plan or managing inherited money.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the series of preparation tasks that dictate how your assets will be dispersed upon your incapacitation or death. Put simply, estate planning means electing heirs for your estate.

Everything you own is part of your estate. That means property like real estate, in addition to cars and other valuables. Your estate also includes financial products, like stocks, bonds, life insurance, retirement savings and bank accounts. Things you share, like joint accounts, count too. Even if something only has sentimental value, you’ll want to specify its bequest. This ensures that your loved ones receive your assets instead of a probate lawyer or the IRS.

Estate planning entails far more than just creating a will. It may also include:

  • Assigning a power of attorney and healthcare proxy to make decisions on your behalf
  • Creating trusts
  • Establishing guardians for living dependents
  • Appointing or updating beneficiaries on life insurance plans and retirement accounts
  • Making funeral arrangement
  • Preparing for estate taxes, potentially by scheduling annual gifting

Steps for Creating an Estate Plan

Before you begin your estate plan, take inventory of your assets. Create a list and include corresponding values for each item. You’ll also need to ask yourself who you want to leave your assets to and how you want to divide them. After you’ve decided all of the above, you can begin the following process:

  1. Draw up your last will and testament. In it, you should name an executor, assign a legal guardian for any minor children and establish any necessary trusts.
  2. Your will doesn’t account for everything. Now, you’ll need to review all your plans, accounts and shared assets to assign or update beneficiaries.
  3. Assign a power of attorney and healthcare proxy to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot.
  4. Write a letter that includes any information that hasn’t been accounted for. This may include desired funeral arrangements or the bequest of sentimentally valuable assets.
  5. Ensure that all documents are organized, properly notarized and stored someplace safe, like your attorney’s office or safety deposit box. This includes a list of your digital assets and passwords.

Estate planning is typically an ongoing process. While you should start estate planning as soon as you acquire assets, it likely won’t end there. You should review your estate plan every few years, whenever you experience a life-changing event or in the event that Congress makes any changes to estate tax law. This will ensure your plan reflects your current desires and goals.

How to Choose an Executor

Estate Planning

In addition to drawing up your will and trusts, you’ll also have to choose an executor. Your executor will be responsible for administering your assets after your death and ensuring your final wishes are met. An executor’s duties may include:

  • Filing court papers to begin the probate process
  • Taking inventory of the entirety of the estate
  • Distributing assets to named beneficiaries
  • Filing final personal income tax returns
  • Paying remaining bills, including taxes and funeral costs

Often, people choose a family member, such as a child or spouse, to fill this role. You can also select a friend. What’s important is to make sure you pick someone who is dependable, trustworthy and organized. Also consider a person’s age and health, as you want your executor to be around after you’re gone. If your chosen executor lives in a different state, be sure to check your state’s laws as there may be requirements regarding an out-of-state executor.

Will I Need to Pay Estate Taxes or Inheritance Taxes?

Another big piece of the process is estate taxes. If you don’t plan accordingly, taxes can take a big bite out of your estate. Your assets can be taxed in two ways: estate taxes and inheritance taxes. With estate tax, the tax is taken out of the estate before it’s divided up and distributed to beneficiaries. Inheritance tax, on the other hand, is levied after the inheritance is distributed to beneficiaries. While estate tax is taken directly out of the estate, beneficiaries are responsible for paying inheritance tax.

Inheritance tax is only levied by states, but both the federal government and states may collect estate taxes. As of 2020, the federal estate tax only applies to estates worth more than $11.58 million. Here’s a breakdown of each tax on the state-level:

Estate Tax (13 states)– Connecticut
– Washington, D.C.
– Hawaii
– Illinois
– Maine
– Maryland
– Massachusetts
– Minnesota
– New York
– Oregon
– Rhode Island
– Vermont
– Washington

There are steps you can take to mitigate the estate tax so more of your assets go to your beneficiaries. For instance, you can gift portions of your estate to your family ahead of time instead of waiting until you die to give everything away. Other tactics include setting up an irrevocable life insurance trust, making charitable donations, establishing a family limited partnership and funding a qualified personal residence trust.

Risks of Not Creating an Estate Plan

If you don’t come up with an estate plan, your state will take control upon your incapacitation or death. If you become disabled, the court will determine how your assets will be used to care for you through a conservatorship or guardianship. Similarly, if you die without an estate plan in place, your state will distribute your assets according to its probate laws.

As you might have guessed, these scenarios can have significant downsides, as you will lose control over who is in charge of your care or how your assets are distributed. If you have minor children, the court will take control of their inheritance. In the instance that both you and your spouse died, the court would appoint a guardian for your children.

In other words, estate planning is crucial no matter your age or level of wealth. You want to have a say in where your assets end up and ensure your loved ones are adequately cared for should something happen to you.

DIY Estate Planning vs. Hiring an Estate Planner

Estate Planning

You can do estate planning on your own with thorough research. However, know that there are risks to DIY estate planning and it can be overwhelming. An estate planning professional, like a financial advisor or attorney, can help. A planner has years of education and experience, while you usually only do this once. Estate planning laws are very specific and vary state by state. One mistake and your whole plan could be invalid or work differently than you want.

As your estate grows in size, estate planning becomes more complicated and the need for a professional becomes greater. This is especially true if you have children under the age of 18 who would need to be provided for and taken care of. If you own a business, own property in more than one state or don’t have obvious heirs, an estate planner’s expertise will come in handy.

In addition to elucidating the process and taking work off your hands, an estate planner can help you save money. Federal and state governments tax your asset transfer through estate taxes. A planner can help you to mitigate or avoid these costs, as well as avoid probate and protect your assets from your beneficiaries’ creditors.

How to Find an Estate Planner

If you’ve decided you don’t want to handle estate planning alone, there are a number of ways to find a qualified estate planner. Both estate planning attorneys and financial advisors can be helpful in the process. Ideally, your financial advisor and attorney will work hand-in-hand to make sure you’re making the best estate planning decisions for your situation and have your assets in order.

A lawyer can help you with everything from creating a will and drafting living trusts to developing a plan to minimize estate taxes and preparing powers of attorney. To find an estate planning lawyer, check with the state or local Bar Association. Also take note of certifications, like the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils’ Accredited Estate Planner designation, which indicate expertise in the area.

Your financial advisor can also help you find a qualified attorney to draw up your estate planning documents. Additionally, a financial advisor can help you better define your objectives before legal documents are drafted and also ensure your estate planning documents align with your goals.

Bottom Line

There are few financial endeavors that are more important than creating an estate plan. Having a complete and secure estate plan in place when you pass away will leave your loved ones in a much easier spot. Without an adequate estate plan, you run the risk of forcing your family into an extended trip to the probate courts, where they’ll undoubtedly incur legal fees and may not receive the full inheritance you intended for them.

DIY estate planning, with the help of estate planning software or websites, is an option for simpler estates. But you may be better off working with an advisor or an estate-planning attorney. If you go this route, do your due diligence, asking them about their practice, fees and background. One way to compare multiple financial advisor options is with SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool.

Estate Planning Tips

  • For many Americans, the prospect of planning out your entire estate can seem overwhelming and difficult. That’s where a financial advisor that specializes in estate planning can help. SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can set you up with three personalized financial advisor options in just 5 minutes.
  • If you have a sizable estate, estate taxes on either the state or federal level could be hefty. However, you can easily plan ahead for taxes to maximize your loved ones’ inheritances. For example, you can gift portions of your estate in advance to heirs, or even set up a trust.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/DNY59, ©iStock.com/Aslan Alphan, ©iStock.com/Weekend Images Inc.

Becca Stanek is a graduate of DePauw University. Becca is an experienced writer/editor who serves as a retirement expert for SmartAsset. She’s passionate about helping people understand the sometimes daunting ins and outs of personal finance. Becca is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. Her work has also appeared at Time, The Week, Mic and The Washington Monthly. Becca grew up in the Midwest and now lives in New York City.