How Blended Families and Remarriage Can Address Finances and Inheritance Issues

The holiday season is a popular time for people to get engaged, including people who have been married before. If that’s you, understand that blending families means you’ll need to deal with inheritance and finance issues, says U.S. News & World Report’s article “6 Financial Considerations for Remarriage.” The best time to have these conversations is before you walk down the aisle, not afterwards.

Look at your budget and talk about how things will work. That includes day-to-day expenses, monthly expenses and large purchases, like houses, vacations and cars. Talk about a game plan for going forward. Will you merge your credit card accounts or bank accounts? What about investment accounts?

Financial obligations outside of the marriage. Two things to check before you wed: your divorce papers and the state’s laws. Does anything change regarding your spousal support (alimony) or child support, if you remarry? It’s unlikely that you would lose child support, but the court may determine it can be reduced. The person who is paying child support or alimony also needs to be transparent about their financial obligations.

Review insurance and beneficiaries. One of the biggest mistakes people make, is failing to update beneficiaries on numerous accounts. If your divorce papers do not require life insurance to be left for your spouse on behalf of your children (and some do), then you probably want to make your new spouse the beneficiary of life insurance policies. Investment accounts, bank account, and any other assets where a beneficiary can be named should be reviewed and updated. It’s a simple task, but overlooking it creates all kinds of havoc and frustration for survivors.

What will remarriage do to college financing options? A second marriage may increase a parent’s income for college purposes and make children ineligible for college loans or needs-based scholarships. Even if the newly married couple has not blended their finances, FAFSA looks at total household income. Talk about how each member of the couple plans on managing college expenses.

A new estate plan should be addressed, even before the wedding takes place. Remember, an estate plan is for more than distributing assets. It includes planning for incapacity, including Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR), powers of attorney for finances and for health care, designations of guardianship or consent to adoption, various trusts and if needed, Special Needs planning.

Create a plan for inheritance. If either spouse has children from a prior marriage, an estate plan is critical to protect the children’s inheritance. If one spouse dies and the surviving spouse inherits everything, there is no legal requirement for the surviving spouse to pass any of the deceased’s assets to their children. Even if you are in mid-life and death seems far away, you need to take care of this.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who can help you create the necessary documents. You should also talk with your children, at the age appropriate level, about your plans, so they understand that they are being planned for and will be taken care of in the new family.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Nov. 18, 2019) “6 Financial Considerations for Remarriage”

Suggested Key Terms: Remarriage, Power of Attorney, Guardianship, Adoption, Trusts, Inheritance

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What If Only One Parent Is Willing to Plan?

Making matters much worse for one family, is the fact that while the mother is willing to speak with an estate planning attorney and make a plan for the future, the father won’t even discuss it. What should this family do, asks the article from titled “Estate Planning: Can one spouse plan?”

Planning for your eventual demise and distribution of your worldly goods isn’t as much fun as planning a vacation or buying a new car. For some people, it’s too painful, even when they know that it needs to be done. There’s nothing pleasant about the idea that one day you won’t be with your loved ones.

Although contemplating the reality is unpleasant, this is a task that creates all kinds of problems for those who are left behind, if it is not done.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for one parent to recognize the importance of having an estate plan and the other parent does not consider it to be an important task or simply refuses. In that case, the estate planning attorney can work with the spouse who is willing to go forward.

Some attorneys prefer to represent only one of the spouses, especially in a case like this. Spouses’ interests aren’t always identical, and there are situations where conflicts can arise. When a couple goes to the estate planning attorney’s office and wishes the attorney to represent both of them, sometimes the lawyer will ask for an acknowledgment that the lawyer is representing both of them as a couple. In the event that a disagreement arises or if their interests are very different, some attorneys will withdraw their representation. This is not common, but it does happen.

The estate planning lawyer usually prefers, however, to represent both spouses. Married couple’s estates tend to be intertwined, with real property jointly owned as husband and wife, or husband and husband or wife and wife. Spouses are usually named beneficiaries of life insurance and retirement accounts. Even in blended family situations, this holds true.

If the father in the situation above won’t budge, the mother should meet with the attorney and create an estate plan. The problem is, she may not be able to plan effectively for the two most common and usually the most valuable assets: their jointly owned home and retirement accounts.

If the home is owned by the spouses as “entireties property,” that is, by the couple, she can’t make changes to the title, without her spouse’s consent. One spouse cannot sever entireties property, without both spouses agreeing. Some retirement plans are also subject to the federal law ERISA, which requires a spouse’s consent to change beneficiaries to someone other than the spouse.

Even with these issues, having a plan for one spouse is better than not having any plan at all.

The only last argument that may be made to the father, is that if he does not make a plan, the laws of the state will be used, and few people actually like the idea of the state taking care of their estate.

Reference: (Nov. 17, 2019) “Estate Planning: Can one spouse plan?”


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How Can Your Update Your Estate Plan?

Forbes’ recent article, “4 Ways To Improve Your Estate Plan,” suggests that since most people want to plan for a good life and a good retirement, why not plan for a good end of life, too? Here are four ways you can update your estate plan, protect your assets and create a degree of control and certainty for your family.

  1. Beneficiary Designations. Many types of accounts go directly to heirs, without going through the probate process. This includes life insurance contracts, 401(k)s and IRAs. These accounts can be transferred through beneficiary designations. You should update and review these forms and designations every few years, especially after major life events like divorce, marriage or the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren.
  2. Life Insurance. A main objective of life insurance is to protect against the loss of income, in the event of an individual’s untimely death. The most important time to have life insurance is while you’re working and supporting a family with your income. Life insurance can provide much needed cash flow and liquidity for estates that might be subject to estate taxes or that have lots of illiquid assets, like family businesses, farms, artwork or collectibles.
  3. Consider a Trust. In some situations, creating a trust to shelter or control assets is a good idea. There are two main types of trusts: revocable and irrevocable. You can fund revocable trusts with assets and still use the assets now, without changing their income tax nature. This can be an effective way to pass on assets outside of probate and allow a trustee to manage assets for their beneficiaries. An irrevocable trust can be a way to provide protection from creditors, separate assets from the annual tax liability of the original owner and even help reduce estate taxes in some situations.
  4. Charitable Giving. Use charitable giving to update your  estate plan, and you can make outright gifts to charities or set up a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT) to provide income to a surviving spouse, with the remainder going to the charity.

Your attorney will tell you how to update your estate plan in a way that is unique to your situation. A big part of an estate plan is about protecting your family, making sure assets pass smoothly to your designated heirs and eliminating stress for your loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (November 6, 2019) “4 Ways To Improve Your Estate Plan”


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Use this Executor Checklist.

Investopedia’s recent article, “The Executor’s Checklist: 7 Tasks Before They Die,” reminds us that being executor of an estate means significant responsibility. It can be a daunting task, if you’re unprepared. Here are some simple steps to take while the testator is still alive to make the executor’s job easier.

  1. Be sure to Have the Location of the Will and Other Estate Planning Documents. This is a no-brainer. You make the executor’s job easier, if the testator keeps the original will, deeds, partnership documents, insurance policies, or other important papers in an agreed-upon spot, with copies at a backup location.
  2. Retitled Accounts Where Appropriate. If the testator has a spouse, mostly like they want assets to flow directly through to the widow(er), so make accounts as joint and make sure that properties and titles are in both names.
  3. Make a List of the Testator’s Preferences. Another way to make things easy on the executor and the family, is to include funeral preferences, which need to be in writing and signed by the testator.
  4. Draft a Possessions List and Their Recipients. A big issue that many executors overlook is distributing personal possessions that have little financial value but great sentimental value. Along with the testator, an executor can create a list for the dispersal of personal items, as well as a system of distribution. The testator can include their reasoning for who got what gift. Sharing the list with those involved may also eliminate some hurt feelings. An organized dispersal can make an executor’s job easier and help with issues of fairness.
  5. Create an Annual Accounting Sheet and Updating Schedule. If the testator keeps track of the estate electronically on an annual basis, the executor will have a good idea of assets when it’s required. This e-document will also decrease the time spent searching for that jewelry the testator gave to a granddaughter or tracking down the funds that were supposedly in a now-empty investment account.
  6. Create a Sealed Online Accounts Document. An executor should also have a record of the testator’s online presence to deactivate accounts. This document simplifies work for the executor.
  7. Meet the Relevant Professionals. Executors should be familiar with the accountant, estate planning attorney and other professionals the testator uses. They may have further advice specific to the testator’s situation.

Preparation will greatly decease the odds of any complications, when carrying out your duties as an executor. Take these actions while the testator is still alive to help make certain that the executor carries out the testator’s wishes.

Reference: Investopedia (July 11, 2019) “The Executor’s Checklist: 7 Tasks Before They Die”

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What are the 2020 Changes to Medicare Part B?

What are the 2020 Changes to Medicare Part B? The standard monthly premium will be $144.60 for 2020. That’s $9.10 more than the $135.50 in 2019. The annual deductible for Part B will also rise to $198—up $13 from $185 this year.

Roughly 7% of beneficiaries will pay extra from income-related adjustment amounts, says Investopedia’s recent article, “Here’s how much more you’ll pay for Medicare Part B in 2020.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that these increases are because of the rising spending on physician-administered drugs as part of the 2020 Changes to Medicare Part B.

“These higher costs have a ripple effect and result in higher Part B premiums and deductible,” CMS said in its announcement.

Some recipients won’t pay the full $144.60 standard premium, because of a “hold harmless” provision that keeps their Part B premiums from going up more than their Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. For 2020, the Social Security COLA is 1.6%. In 2019, it was 2.8%.

However, higher-income beneficiaries have paid more for premiums since 2007 through monthly surcharges. It’s estimated that 7% of Medicare’s 61 million or so beneficiaries will pay more, due to those income-adjusted amounts. The program uses your tax return from the prior two years to determine whether you’ll pay monthly surcharges.

For Part A, which covers inpatient hospital, skilled nursing, and some home health-care services, most Medicare beneficiaries don’t pay a premium, because they have enough of a work history of paying into the system to qualify for it premium-free.

However, there are deductibles that go with Part A. The amount you’ll pay when admitted to the hospital will be $1,408 next year. That’s an increase of $44 from $1,364 in 2019. That covers the first 60 days of Medicare-covered inpatient hospital care in a benefit period. For the 61st through 90th days of a hospitalization, beneficiaries will pay $352 per day, an increase of a few dollars from $341 in 2019, and then $704 per day for lifetime reserve days, up from $682 this year.

The premiums and deductibles for Medicare Advantage Plans and for Part D prescription drug plans were already finalized earlier this year and are not impacted by this announcement of the 2020 Changes to Medicare Part B.

Reference: Investopedia (November 11, 2019) “Here’s how much more you’ll pay for Medicare Part B in 2020”


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Strategies for the Sandwich Generation

If you are taking care of your aging parents and still helping your own children, you are part of the sandwich generation. If you feel as if you will never be able to go off duty because of all the people who make demands on your time and money, here are some strategies for the sandwich generation.

Quite a few people start having children when they are in their forties. Your parents could already be in their sixties and seventies, when you have toddlers. By the time your children are in high school, you will be in your fifties with parents in their seventies or eighties. You should be focused on plowing lots of money into your retirement account. However, instead you find yourself pulled in many different directions, without the energy or resources you need for yourself.

How People with Adult Children Can Get Pulled at Both Ends

You do not have to be raising young children to be in the sandwich generation. Your children might be adults but need financial help because of student loans or other financial pressures. Additional reasons you might need to assist your adult children include things like:

  • You have a child with a disability.
  • One of your children struggles with substance abuse.
  • You might have a child who does not manage his money well.
  • You have a twenty-something or older child, who is in graduate school.
  • You provide much of the childcare for or you raise one of your grandchildren.

These are only a few examples of the reasons you might find yourself having to lend a helping hand to your parents and your adult children.

The Financial Impact of Taking Care of Two Generations

Any of these situations can put demands on your time, energy and finances. People who take care of their older parents and their own children often suffer as a result. For example, these caregivers drive everyone else to their medical appointments but do not have to time to go for routine checkups. There are not enough hours in the day to go for a walk to de-stress or get physical exercise. Sleep deprivation is common among “sandwichers.”

The financial impact of dual caregiving can be both short-term and long-term. If you are constantly picking up medications and groceries for your elderly parents and helping your children financially, you might find yourself having a cash flow strain. The time the double caregiving takes from your schedule can also make it impossible for you to engage in the amount of gainful employment you would like, so you can increase your retirement savings.

How to Handle the Stress and Exhaustion of Dual Caregiving for the Sandwich Generation

You are not alone. Many people have walked this path before you. They offer these suggestions:

  • Contact your local government agencies, community groups, senior organizations and charitable entities to find as many resources as possible to take some of the weight off of your shoulders. Adult day programs, respite care and other services can be a godsend.
  • Find sources of funding to ease your financial strain. Your aging parents might qualify for more benefits than they currently receive. You can use the website Benefit Finder to locate additional financial help, like Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits and many other programs.
  • Change your expectations. Your house does not have to be perfect. Your teens can get rides with friends, or you can set up a carpool.
  • Set a daily sleep goal of at least seven hours and stick to it. You cannot help anyone, if you get so exhausted that your health deteriorates.
  • Try to find the humor in daily situations.

Remember, this stage is temporary. You are creating memories that you will treasure.


HuffPost. “This Is What No One Told Me About Suddenly Joining The Sandwich Generation.” (accessed November 8, 2019) “Benefit Finder.” (accessed November 14, 2019)


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Retirement Communities: What’s in Your Future?

At some point in life, many people face the decision of moving into retirement communities or welcoming in-home care. Living in these retirement communities can be a step up to aging in a place, where there is actually more independence. This is because you are not busy caring for a house or being confined to a solitary life in a private home. In fact, according to the article “The Many Faces of Aging” from Harrisburg Magazine, it can be a very dynamic option.

Deciding to buy or rent a home in an age-restricted retirement community is a major step toward achieving a new lifestyle. It’s important to consider a number of factors, so you can make the right choice. Here are some questions and answers to consider.

What’s your budget? Make sure that you have the numbers right. Consider additional expenses, like yearly or monthly resident fees. Some luxury retirement communities have equity memberships, which require extra financial investment. Don’t forget taxes.

What are the rules and covenants? Every community will have some kind of homeowner’s association that governs what residents can and cannot do. If you want to have grandchildren stay with you for an extended period of time, make sure that this is permitted in the communities you are considering. The homeowner’s association will implement and enforce restrictions, so know what they are beforehand.

What are the neighbors like? Your future social life is key to your enjoyment of the new community. If you are seeking like-minded people, be sure you’ll know what kind of people live there. Get a sense of the general vibe and personalities. Will you feel included and accepted?

What will a different climate feel like year-round? If you are thinking about moving far from your current home, be sure the new climate suits you. Rent before you buy, if at all possible. A southern home is great during the winter, but if you’re too uncomfortable with summer heat, or living most of your summer in air-conditioned spaces, it may not be for you.

Are there activities you’d enjoy? Make sure the activities you like are offered. If you are a reader, you’ll prefer a community with an active lending library and book groups. A golfer will, of course, want a high-quality golf course (although there will likely be additional fees).

Is good medical care nearby? Every community is different. In large retirement communities, there may be on-site health care services. Some may rely on local ambulance companies and hospitals for all medical care. Medical services that are five minutes away may be a better choice, than those that require a one-hour transport to a hospital.

One of the biggest questions is, can you imagine yourself being happy in the community? If it represents a chance to thrive and grow safely as you age, then it just may be the right place for you.

Reference: Harrisburg Magazine (Nov. 8, 2019) “The Many Faces of Aging”


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What’s Better, A Living Trust or a Will?

Everyone knows what a last will and testament is. However, a will is not always the best way to distribute your assets, explains the Times Herald-Record in the article “Living trusts are better choice than wills.” Most people think that by having a will alone, they will make it clear who they want to receive their assets when they die. However, wills are used by the court in a proceeding called “probate,” if the only estate plan you have is a will. The court proceeding is to establish that the will is valid. Depending upon where you live, probate can take a year before assets are distributed to beneficiaries.

Certain family members must receive notifications, when a will is submitted to probate. Some people will receive notices, even if they are not mentioned in the will. This can lead to all kinds of awkward situations, especially from estranged or unknown relatives. The person who is the executor of the will is required to locate these relatives, and until they are found and notified, the probate process comes to a standstill.

There are instances where a judge will allow a legal notice to be published in a local newspaper, after valid attempts to find relatives aren’t successful. If there is a disabled beneficiary, a minor beneficiary, a relative or beneficiary who can’t be located, or a relative who has been incarcerated, the judge often appoints lawyers to represent these parties’ interests and the estate pays for the attorney’s fees.

Depending on the situation, the executor may be required to furnish a family tree, or a friend of the decedent must sign an affidavit attesting that the person never had any children.

Thinking of disinheriting a child? Anyone who is disinherited in a will, receives a notice about that and is legally permitted to contest the will. That can lead to years of expensive litigation, including discovery demands, depositions, motions and possibly a trial. Like most litigation, will contests usually end in a settlement. The disinherited relative often gets a share of the inheritance, even when the decedent didn’t want them to get anything.

For many families, a living trust is a better alternative. They also serve as disability planning, naming people who will manage the assets of the trust, in case of incapacity. They are private documents, so their information does not become public knowledge, like the details of a will.

A qualified estate planning attorney will help you determine what estate planning tools will work best to achieve your goals, while maintaining your privacy and ensuring that assets pass to heirs in a discrete manner.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Oct. 26, 2019) “Living trusts are better choice than wills”

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Are There Taxes if I Gift to my Grandchild ?

It’s not unusual for a senior to consider gifting her home to a married daughter or to a grandchild. But are there taxes if I gift to my Grandchild ? There are certainly tax consequences to consider.’s recent article on this subject asks “What should I know about taxes before I gift my home?” The article explains that you can gift your home or any other asset to anyone, provided that person is capable of receiving the gift and takes delivery or ownership of it. However, if the grandchild is a minor, the gift would have to be made either in trust with a trustee or through a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account that has a custodian, until he or she attains the age of majority.

The federal government has a gift tax, but not everyone will be subject to the tax. That’s because each year, you can give anyone up to a $15,000 gift tax-free. If you’re married, you and your spouse could each make those gifts, totaling $60,000 per year without any gift tax.

Gifts to an individual more than $15,000 per year that aren’t under an exclusion or exemption are subject to federal gift tax. As a result, you must file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709. However, it’s not likely that you’ll actually have to pay any gift tax, even though you have to file a return. The reason is because under the federal unified estate and gift tax system, each person has a lifetime exclusion from gift and estate taxes of $11.4 million, over and above the annual $15,000 per person gift tax exclusion. That number is doubled for married couples ($22.8 million). So, you can transfer up to $11.4 million, whether as a gift during your lifetime or as a bequest after your death, before any gift or estate taxes are due.

In addition, you can make unlimited gifts to qualified charities without any gift tax consequences. The same is true for gifts to spouses, as long as both spouses are U.S. citizens. Payments of tuition or medical expenses for someone else are also gift tax-free, if they’re made directly to the school or the medical care provider.

As far as whether and how to gift your home, there are income tax considerations to consider. If you sell your home and have a capital gain, you may qualify to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income because the exclusion is up to $500,000, if you’re married and file a joint return with your spouse. To qualify for the capital gains exclusion on the sale of your home, you are required to have owned the home and also used it as your principal residence for at least two of the previous five years.

For example, say that you own a home worth $500,000, and you’ve owned it and used it as your residence for at least two of the past five years. Say that your basis in the home—the amount you paid for it, plus the cost of any capital improvements—is $250,000. As long as you qualify under IRS rules, you could exclude the entire $250,000 gain ($500,000 sale price minus $250,000 basis), when you sell the residence.

If you gift the house to a daughter or anyone else, in most instances, your $250,000 basis would carry over to the recipient. Your daughter and her spouse would then have a $250,000 basis in the house and a potential capital gains exclusion of up to $500,000, as long as they file a joint return, if they then sell it.

If you want to stay in your home, one option is to leave it to your daughter or grandchild in your will, rather than gifting it now. The house would then be stepped up to its fair market value at the date of your death, and your daughter’s basis in the inherited house would then be $500,000 or more—its fair market value when she inherits it—instead of $250,000. This increased basis in the home would decrease the amount of any future capital gains, if the daughter subsequently sold the home.

Another option would be to sell the house now to a third party, leverage the capital gains tax exclusion and then gift the money to the daughter, instead of the home.

The best financial outcome would depend on the parent with the home and her daughter’s individual financial circumstances, future plans and relative income tax brackets. There are additional factors to consider, such as the age of the house, its location and condition, whether your daughter would use it as her primary residence or as a rental and whether you anticipate that the house will increase in value over time.

One final note: if you gift the house to a grandchild, the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT) would apply in addition to the gift tax. This is a separate tax system that applies when gifts or bequests are made to a person who’s two or more generations below the person making the gift or bequest, like a grandchild or great-grandchild. However, many of the same exclusions that apply for gift tax purposes, also apply for GSTT purposes. So, the odds are you won’t have to pay any GSTT.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to help you find the best strategy for you and your family.

Reference: (October 28, 2019) “What should I know about taxes before I gift my home?”


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The Little-Known Option of Selling Your Life Insurance Policy

You might not know that you can sell your life insurance property to get cash now. If this idea appeals to you, make sure you do your research before you exercise the little-known option of selling your life insurance.

Why People Sell Their Life Insurance

The reasons someone might want to part with a life insurance policy, can range from highly practical to downright inadvisable. The bottom line is, not everyone wants to continue paying premiums for a policy that will only benefit someone else. Here are some of the common reasons people give for exchanging their life insurance for cash:

  • The reason you bought the policy no longer exists. Let’s say the judge in your divorce ordered you to maintain a term life insurance policy to guarantee child support, but your children are grown up and long past the age for child support. As long as you have enough in savings or you have paid off the mortgage and other significant debt, the ever-increasing premiums might not make financial sense.
  • The premiums for life insurance often increase as you get older. That policy that only cost you $40 a month when you were in your twenties or thirties, can run you $150 or $200 a month a few decades later. It might be a better use of that money to put it into your 401(K). If you have already retired, the funds you are spending on a life insurance policy could cause you financial stress. You should not do without your medication, for example, so you can pay a life insurance premium.
  • It would be a shame to pay all of those premiums for use and then lose the coverage because you can no longer afford to continue paying. Instead of letting your insurance lapse for nonpayment, explore the possibility of getting some much-needed cash for the policy. You can put that cash into your retirement savings, pay down your mortgage or other debts, or cover large expenses, like medical bills.

How to Sell Your Life Insurance Policy

If you and your financial advisor decide that selling your policy is the right decision, you will need to compare the companies that buy life insurance policies. Here is how the process works. The “life settlement company” will pay you around 20 percent of the benefit value of the policy. The company pays the premiums for the rest of your life and then collects the full amount. The person you designated as the beneficiary will no longer get any proceeds from your policy.

Make sure you deal with a reputable company. Check with the insurance commissioner, consumer protection agency, and Attorney General’s Office to see if the company has a history of complaints or lawsuits. Some of these life settlement companies are reputable firms, but con artists try to defraud people every day through a variety of schemes, including posing as life settlement companies. Because of the high potential for consumer fraud, the federal government regulates this industry carefully.

You might want to talk to an elder law attorney near you about how the regulations of your state differ from the general law of this article.


HuffPost. “3 Not-So-Crazy Reasons To Sell Your Life Insurance.” (accessed October 9, 2019)


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