Planning Your Estate is Just the Beginning…

Many people come into our offices thinking that the estate plan we help them create will be quick, easy, and above all the end of the line. They hope that once this item is crossed off the to-do list they can breathe a sigh of relief and never think about it again. For some people this is exactly what happens, but others find that the creation of an estate plan serves as jumping off point for other important planning strategies: Retirement planning, investment planning, Medicaid planning and long-term care planning are all important issues every family will have to eventually consider.

Most of these issues are at least somewhat familiar, but long-term care still presents a number of questions for many people: What exactly is it? Will I need it? Who will provide it? And how will I pay for it? In an effort to shine some light on the still murky issue, the AARP has published an article that helps answer these questions in a clear and concise manner. The article also addresses issues such as the difference between public and private services, and when you may need to utilize one or the other.

Answering the difficult questions, however, is only the first step. “Using a combination of support—family and friends, community services, private funds, and government assistance, if necessary—provides a balanced approach to getting the help you need in the setting of your choice.” Once again, having a plan is essential to ensure that you retain control over your own finances and care far into the future.

Michael Jackson’s Death Leaves A Legacy of Questions

Michael Jackson’s death on Thursday shocked the world. As fans and mourners line up to pay their respects (and snap up Jackson music and merchandise) the question now on the minds of many is: What will happen to Michael Jackson’s estate and to his children?

It is still too early to know what legal steps Jackson may have taken to dispose of his estate and protect his three young children. But the truth is that even if Jackson does have all the requisite estate planning documents in place, execution of his wishes is not likely to be simple. According to this article in the associated press Jackson was deep in debt at the time of his death—so much so that one source wonders, “[will there be] anything left after you pay off the debts?”

But the more immediate question for many people—especially parents—is what will happen to Jackson’s children? Jackson had full custody of his three children (two by ex-wife Debbie Rowe and one by a surrogate mother, both of whom gave up their custodial rights), and although no guardianship documents have yet been revealed, according to news sources “it was Jackson’s intention for his children to pass to his mother, Katherine,” should anything ever happen to him. However, rumors that Rowe plans to battle for custody, and that the 79 year old Katherine may be in poor health, promise that this too is not likely to be a straightforward process.

It seems that the days of simple wills are a thing of the past. Even for your average Joe, blended families, shared assets, and traded debts make the execution of an estate plan more convoluted than ever. Does this mean we shouldn’t even try? Quite the contrary. It means that it’s more important than ever to document your wishes for your children, family and estate.

A Matter of Faith: Advanced Health Care Directives and Religion

The subjects of life and death are not generally considered legal topics, but rather spiritual ones; they push us to examine the very nature of humanity and the existence (or not) of a soul, touching on our most deeply held beliefs. As a document that deals directly with these issues in the most personal manner, the Advanced Health Care Directive (also known as a Medical Power of Attorney) is not one to be taken lightly by attorney or client. Some clients come into the process strong in their beliefs and choices and knowing exactly which language to include; for others this may be the first time they have considered the subject in such a personal way, and may require more time and discussion.

The links provided below provide philosophical discussion and official views and language for most of the major religions practiced in our society. Although much information is available, the official views of some faiths were more difficult to find than others. If your religious views are not included here please contact the head of your church or your own spiritual leader for guidance.

How Far Would You Go to Leave a Legacy for Your Children?

As an estate planning firm our job is to help people find the best way to leave an inheritance to their loved ones; but the inheritance you leave your children can end up making a huge statement about your core family values. When planning your estate it is important to ask not only “how?” to leave a legacy, but also “why?”

These are two questions that New York Times writer Stephen Amidon has spent a lot of time considering for his Op-Ed piece “My Children Made Me Do It”. Amidon begins pondering the “how?” by bringing up recent newsworthy subjects Bernie Madoff and Tom Daschle, reminding us that any legacy these two leave will be far more than mere money—and not necessarily beneficial. A parent will do just about anything for his children, writes Amidon, “…the one thing that is sure to get me thinking I should do something I really do not want to do — or perhaps even something I should not do — is the desire to endow my brood. All manner of behavior that would otherwise be considered contemptible seems to be justified in the name of inheritance.” But will it have been worth it?

The answer to that question depends in great part on how you answer “why?” Do you want to leave your children a Rockefeller fortune? Merely give them a little breathing room? Or perhaps you agree with Amidon that “there is often something not quite right about these fortunate sons of the baby boom…— there is something missing here, the sense of accomplishment derived from patient effort.” Thus your goal is less financial and more about values.

For most people the goal is actually far simpler, at least in the beginning—they want to have enough themselves to not be a burden on their children.

Whatever your goals, with enough thought and discussion your estate plan can reflect and achieve them. The first step is to ask yourself the important questions. “Why?” is a question for you alone, but “how?” is something our firm can help you with.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

“We are pleased to inform you of the result of the Lottery Winners International programs… Your address attached to ticket number 2051146 won in the second category, you have therefore been approved to receive a sum of 1,000,000.00 Euro. Congratulations!!!”

You probably recognize the paragraph above from a common mail/e-mail scam letter. This letter (or something like it) makes the rounds quite frequently in an attempt to part unsuspecting people from their money. Most of us simply trash the letter and move on, but the elderly are more likely to fall victim to the scam and end up losing hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars before they realize they’ve been duped. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells the story of one of these elderly victims and his family’s attempts to save him from the con artists:

“In less than a year, this Ivy League-educated professional sent at least $23,000 to slick con artists who came to know his personal interests, as well as his bank-account, credit-card and other personal information.”

The article states that the elderly are more likely to fall victim to these scams if they live alone, are grieving for a lost spouse, or have started to lose cognitive capacity. Luckily, there are ways to protect a loved one from scammers; protections from con artists and creditors can be built into trusts and estate plans, or in extreme situations a trusted family member can be given power of attorney over bank accounts and financial matters.

If you are worried about a loved one and would like to take more immediate action, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Sign up phone numbers on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry.

  • Gather scam mail in one envelope and place it in your mailbox with the note “Forward to Postal Inspector—suspected mail fraud.”

  • Place a short “I’m sorry, I’m too busy to talk right now. Thank you for your call” script by the phone to help respond to telemarketing calls.

If the fraudulent activity continues you can call the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center at 1-800-646-2283. But the best thing you can do for your loved one is to be patient, supportive, and aware.

Summer is a Time for Giving

Summer is a time for iced tea and watermelon, long days in the pool, vacations at the shore… and for many people summer is also a time to volunteer for your favorite charity. With school out and free time at a maximum the time is ripe to get to know your community—and contribute with a donation of time.

Whether by volunteering your time in a soup kitchen, helping out at grandma’s nursing home, teaching handicapped kids to ride horses, or donating a percentage of your income, a majority of the population chooses to give back to their community in some way. There are organizations and websites (such as dedicated solely to helping us in our charitable endeavors. And the good news is that a Living Trust can help you continue giving even after your death.

With a Living Trust you as grantor can choose to give any amount of your estate to your favorite charity. Some people leave a specific dollar amount; others leave a percentage of their entire estate. And you can name your one favorite charity or divide the amount among many charities. A Living Trust gives you endless possibilities to take care of the important people—and causes—in your life.

Communication is Key When Planning for the Future

How often do you and your spouse talk about the financial aspect of your retirement? For that matter, how often do you talk about finances in general? New Research by Fidelity has found that an alarmingly high number of couples barely communicate about their finances at all. In fact, “only 15 percent of couples feel confident that both of them could assume responsibility for their joint finances if necessary”.

Retirement planning is one of the leading areas in which spouses have a failure to communicate, according to the research. After the recent market turmoil, people have new and greater concerns about their ability to retire comfortably, but they aren’t talking about it. And lack of communication means a lack of planning: “Although couples agree about their top financial concerns in retirement, they have not developed better planning habits. In fact, nearly 10 percent fewer couples report they had completed critical plans – be that a retirement plan, an estate plan, or a will — as compared to 2007.”

Although the temptation to bury your head in the sand may be strong, talking with your spouse—and then with a trusted professional—to create quality retirement and estate plans is essential, and will bring incredible comfort and security to you and the rest of your family. If talking about finances is not something that comes naturally to you and your spouse, a good way to get started is to make an appointment with a professional who can lead you through the process together.

Talking about money doesn’t have to be scary. Learning together and making plans for the future will not only strengthen your financial situation, it can also strengthen your relationship.

New Website May Help Caregivers Breathe a Sigh of Relief

If you provide care for an elderly relative or a special needs child you know how much work is involved in just getting away for an afternoon or evening, let alone planning for their care if you were to pass away. First you have to find a caregiver qualified to handle your charge’s more demanding needs, then there are lists upon lists of “what if” situations, a strict regimen of prescription medicines, and of course all of the little quirks and routines that must be strictly followed. And after all that, just when you feel comfortable leaving your loved one in the care of someone else… your “babysitter” moves away and you have to go through it all again.

What if there was a way that you could not only keep a record of all details, regimens and instructions, but also an easy way to update and communicate that information to any and all caregivers when anything changed? And would it be too much to ask to have this record somehow linked to all the latest research, resources and best-practice recommendations? Apparently it is not too much to ask, because this is exactly what the new online service, CareGiver360®, claims to provide.

CareGiver360® is the brainchild of Ken Ziel, father of a special needs son, who worried about what kind of life his son would have if anything were to happen to Ken. After much research, Ken started CareGiver360®, “an easy to use, interactive Web service that lets you create a secure Personalized Care Guide to help you manage the care of your loved one. CareGiver360® provides a wealth of caregiving resources through its searchable online library. You can draw upon this valuable resource to supplement your personal experience to create a customized, comprehensive care guide.”

CareGiver360® is a fairly new tool, but it sounds so good one has to wonder why nobody came up with the idea before. We would love to provide our clients and readers with helpful reviews, so if you’ve used the service please leave a comment letting us know how it worked for you. And we ought to mention that the service isn’t free, but at just under $10/month it’s probably not going to break the bank either.

There’s No Place Like Home

The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home (or the decision to leave your own home and move to a nursing facility, if you are making the decision yourself) can be one of the most difficult and harrowing decisions we ever make. Stories about disreputable facilities where seniors are neglected or abused are all too common, and even if months of searching lead to the discovery of “the perfect” care facility—the shining grain of wheat among the chaff—it’s normal to be apprehensive about exchanging the comfort and independence of home for the unknown in the hands of strangers on the nursing staff. This feeling is magnified if the senior being moved is essentially alone, with the next generation of friends and family scattered across the country.

To ease the transition, and to assure all involved that grandma will be well cared for, many families are opting to hire a Geriatric Care Manager. Traditionally (although Geriatric Care Management is an emerging field, so the term must be used lightly) GCMs have been a resource for seniors and their families; someone on the inside who knows the system and can help navigate, finding the best care and services for each individual situation. But some families are now asking the GCM to continue advising the family even after grandma has settled into the nursing home, to ensure that their loved one continues to receive the best care possible. At the very least the GCM may recommend hiring a professional caregiver to check in with grandma at the nursing home daily or weekly, to observe the quality of care she is receiving and keep family members informed.

If you are interested in learning more, or if you’d like to find a Geriatric Care Manager in your area, go to the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers online. And if you are someone who doesn’t need a GCM quite yet, but would like your family to have help navigating the confusing field of nursing care when the time comes, call your attorney and ask to include a mention of it in your estate planning documents.

Knowing you are not alone, and having help from someone on the inside, can bring a world of comfort to you and your family.

Internet Tools to Improve Your Personal Finances

The realm of personal finance is in the midst of being revolutionized. The crash on Wall Street has made many armchair investors mistrustful of professional financial advice, and many people are now taking the time to manage their own personal finances with the focus shifted from investing and earning to budgeting and saving. The problem is that after all the effort people put into learning how to spend and play the market from their laptops, many now don’t know how to budget and save responsibly.

This is where the revolution begins.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal has collected some of the best websites on the internet to help you keep track of and plan your finances. These online tools run the gamut of personal finance categories; from budgeting your household expenses to creating a financial plan to managing personal loans between friends and family. And these aren’t just educational resources, these are interactive tools to help you implement the processes you prefer—and many of these tools are free.

We hope our readers will find these resources helpful, but if you are one of those who would still like the advice and services of a professional financial planner and aren’t sure who to trust, please contact our office. We work with a number of reputable financial professionals, and would be happy to recommend one who would fit your family’s needs.