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  • Archive for November, 2011

    The Smart Way to Leave an Inheritance to Unprepared Children

    Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

    Most parents (even parents of adult children) want to provide for their children—but not necessarily right away, and maybe not all at once. According to a recent article in Barron’s, “A growing number of parents are shunning the time-honored practice of handing big inheritances to their children when they turn 21. Instead, they’re waiting until the kiddies are in their 30s and 40s.”

    The reason for this is that more and more parents are coming to realize that there is a learning curve associated with handling large sums of money, and dropping a large inheritance in your child’s lap may be giving he or she more than they can reasonably handle all at once, essentially setting your child up for failure. “Premature distributions to heirs can have the same effect as the jackpot has on lottery winners… The money becomes a burden, and your child may not fully develop into the adult you hope to raise.”

    Luckily, if you don’t want to bequeath a fortune to your children all at once, you have a number of options for ensuring your children are provided for and eventually receive the inheritance you intend for them. As mentioned in the Barron’s article, some of the most popular strategies include passing an inheritance through either a revocable or an irrevocable trust. A trust allows a parent to transfer assets to their children while still retaining control of when and how the assets will be distributed. Of these two options, a revocable trust can provide more flexibility, while an irrevocable trust can provide more asset protection, although both kinds of trusts provide a measure of each. You will want to discuss with your estate planning attorney which option will work best for your family.

    With either trust option parents can choose to simply keep the inheritance in trust until the child reaches a certain age, or distribute funds slowly over the course of time, to better acquaint the recipient with the responsibilities of wealth. However you choose to structure your estate plan, our firm can help you accomplish your goals for yourself and for your children.

    A Mother’s Thoughts on the Struggle Between Adult Children and Their Aging Parents

    Monday, November 28th, 2011

    Salon.com recently published a touching and illuminating article about Baby Boomers and their aging parents—about the transition from being the cared for child to the caregiving adult, and how Boomers are dealing with this new development. This is not the first article to be written on the subject, but this one is unique because it is written by one of the parents.

    Author Lillian Rubin writes that she can see the growing worry in the eyes of her 63 year old daughter, “who wants me — her 87-year-old mother — to be in touch when I leave town, even if only for a few days or a week, who calls when she’s traveling though she never did before, whose anxiety announces itself over the phone lines when we haven’t talked for a while: ‘Are you OK?’ I tell her I’m fine, ask her to stop worrying. ‘It’s my turn to worry,’ she replies.”

    Even when their parents still have the ability to care for themselves, Boomers can’t help but worry about what might be coming down the road, and when the shoe might drop. This worry can have the effect of putting adult children on edge, and making their parents feel smothered. Rubin writes movingly—and fairly—about the struggle on both sides of the divide. “Parents commonly resist their children’s attempts to intervene, but they are often in denial about the depth of their decline and can’t or won’t see what’s plain to others: They need help. If children back off from the conflict, their parents can fall through the cracks. If they don’t, parents are often resentful and difficult.”

    Rubin admits that she has no easy answers, that every family will need to search for their own solution, but our firm knows that finding a solution is easier if you don’t have to do it alone. Having a solid estate plan is not going to solve all the problems between parents and their children, but having a good Advance Healthcare Directive and Financial Power of Attorney can certainly make both parent and child feel a little more secure. Furthermore, opening the lines of discussion for these two documents can clear the way for other important discussions down the road.

    This Holiday Season an Estate Plan is the Perfect Gift

    Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

    The holiday season is upon us, and as others rush about the malls and the internet looking for gifts, we can recommend a unique, useful and memorable gift that will be perfect for any loved one: An Estate Plan!

    Before you roll your eyes at the idea, consider this: An estate plan is something every person needs, whether it’s your single younger nephew, your older sister with her two young children, or your retired, aging parents. Furthermore, although everyone needs an estate plan, many people (wrongly) consider it a luxury, and put off creating one—often until it’s too late.

    You may be thinking, No, an estate plan is too personal (too expensive, too morbid) to give as a gift. But we can safely say that not one of these excuses is true. If you feel an estate plan is too personal a gift, we recommend giving a gift certificate good for the cost of a basic plan, which the recipient can then design and add to according to his or her needs. If you feel an entire estate plan is too expensive a gift, you may want to consider paying for a portion of the plan, or for the first consultation with an attorney, just to get your loved one started. And if it’s morbidity that you’re worried about, perhaps giving a “Loving Family Legacy Plan” sounds more appealing.

    This year, don’t give a gift that will impress for a moment but be forgotten within a week; instead, give the gift that will protect your loved one—and their loved ones!—and will last for years to come. Give the gift of an estate plan.

    What To Do When You Discover That Mom or Dad Is Not Okay

    Monday, November 21st, 2011

    In this day and age many families are spread across the country, with these winter holidays being their only chance to see each other during the year. This means that many adults are planning a trip this holiday season to visit aging parents they haven’t seen in months—or possibly haven’t seen in over a year! But what many people don’t anticipate is how much can change over a year, or even during a few short months. It is not unusual for adult children to find that their aging parents are not doing as well as they thought.

    If a visit to your aging parents this holiday season brings up worries or concerns for you, or if you aren’t sure what to do or where to start, we have a few tips and suggestions that might help. Of course, every family will be different, but these suggestions can get you started down the road to ensuring your parents have the help and care they need.

    1. First and foremost, talk to your parents.—some elderly people may be in denial about how much they need help, but many recognize when they begin losing the ability to care for themselves, and appreciate the opportunity to express their concerns and look for assistance.

    2. Talk to your siblings—if you’ve noticed mom or dad aren’t doing so well, your siblings have probably noticed something too. Talking about the situation together may help you get a clearer picture of exactly what’s needed, and you may be able to plan the next steps together.

    3. A recent article on the New York Times New Old Age Blog recommends contacting a geriatric care manager—this is someone who can work with you and your siblings together, someone “who can assess the situation, come up with a plan and supervise its execution.”

    4. As also mentioned on the New Old Age Blog, sometimes the best thing to do is not to come in during the holidays and make snap decisions or sweeping changes, sometimes the best thing you can do is to make small, slow changes. The article points out that “engaging a bill-paying service or a chore service, a transportation program, a few hours a week of a home helper to handle laundry and shopping” can often make a huge difference.

    5. Ask your parents if they have some kind of estate plan, or at the very least encourage them to have an advance healthcare directive or living will. If they do not have any kind of powers of attorney, try to help them find an estate planner or elder attorney they can trust and feel comfortable with, who can ensure they have the legal protections they need.

    Not All Families Are Warm and Happy—How to Disinherit a Family Member

    Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

    Much is made every November and December about spending time in the warm presence of your family, appreciating and caring for each other. If you belong to a close family we have plenty of posts on our blog about how you can protect and care for your family with an estate plan. But the sad truth is that not all families are happy, and estate planners learn that not everybody wants their parents or siblings (or even, on rare occasions, their children) to benefit from their wealth upon their death.

    It’s not as unusual as you may think for someone to ask “How do I make sure my money won’t go to my family when I die?” The answer to this question is actually very easy—if you’ve had the foresight to create some kind of estate plan, that is. Without any kind of estate planning (a will or a trust, for example) the law automatically distributes your estate to your closest living relatives upon your death. But the simple act of creating a will or a trust can prevent this automatic distribution from happening.

    A will or a trust can be as basic or as complex as you choose. Simply naming the people or organizations of your choice as your heirs is often enough to ensure that your wishes are followed, but if you are worried about relatives who may contest your wishes you may want to ask your attorney about stronger measures, such as including a disinheritance clause or a no-contest clause in your will or trust. This can be as simple as including a single sentence stating “I have specifically chosen not to provide for my brother John.”

    We understand that not all families are the same, and not all people will want their wealth distributed in the usual manner. If you have a unique family situation, or unusual circumstances or requests, please don’t hesitate to contact our office. We can help.

    How to Give Help to Family without Neglecting Your Own Financial Needs

    Monday, November 14th, 2011

    As the cost of a college education skyrockets, and the unemployment rate for new college graduates holds steady at a depressing 17 percent, more and more grandparents are feeling the pressure to help their college age grandchildren pay for college expenses, or help with student loans after graduation.

    While college students (and their families) could certainly use the help, is lending financial assistance a good idea for grandparents? This article in the Wall Street Journal says maybe not. “Some grandparents are making financial mistakes that could put their own financial future in jeopardy. Promising too much to grandchildren, not saving enough for their own possible health-care needs and paying off their grandchildren’s loans are some of the mistakes well-meaning grandparents are making”

    For grandparents who would like to lend a helping hand to their children and grandchildren, but are worried about neglecting their own financial futures, our office would like to suggest that there are a number of ways to help without shortchanging yourself. The WSJ article suggests that grandparents can “give support in other ways such as volunteering with their grandchild or encouraging them to pursue an education.”

    Another option is to spend your money wisely during your lifetime and make arrangements with your estate planner to leave the remainder of your fortune where it will do the most good after your death. If your grandchildren are still young you may want to have their inheritance used to fund an education trust, or specify that it is to be used to pay off any existing student loans. If you have older grandchildren you can provide invaluable financial assistance by specifying that an inheritance should be used to pay for their children’s college education, giving them some breathing room during those lean financial years.

    However you choose to be of assistance to your children, grandchildren, or even your great-grandchildren, our office can help you accomplish your goals. Call us today.

    NOW is the Time to Think About Long-Term Care

    Friday, November 11th, 2011

    As Baby Boomers begin to retire and to think about life after retirement, many find that one of their primary concerns is that of long-term care. Some news sources seem to think that paying for long-term care is going to be a number one issue in the coming years, not only for elderly individuals and their families, but for our society as a whole.

    “The cost of long-term-care itself is not trivial. Nursing homes cost on average $87,235 annually… One year in an assisted-living facility is now $41,724. Adult day services are $70 per day, and home health aides cost $21 per hour… How can the country deliver and finance long-term-care for its rapidly aging population?”

    It is comforting to know that AARP takes a somewhat less dramatic view of the issue. While they do agree that most seniors will at some point face the need for long-term care—“even if you’re in good health today, there’s a good chance that you’ll eventually need some type of long-term care, at least for awhile”— they urge people to take a pragmatic approach… and to start planning as early as possible. “The cost goes up with age, but it’s still affordable for many people over age 65. Once you hit the mid-70s, though, the cost of a good long-term care policy becomes very expensive, and it may be difficult to qualify for [it].”

    An elder law or estate planning attorney is another resource for seniors and their families who are trying to plan ahead for the possibility of paying for long-term care. We specialize in helping you sort through your options, get your financial ducks in a row (right now and years down the line), and apply for government benefits, if necessary.

    Don’t let the need for long-term care catch you by surprise. Contact our office to start planning now.

    What Kind of Support Will You Have During Your Retirement?

    Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

    Planning your retirement can seem fairly easy at first. As long as you’re careful to live within your means retirement can be a time of freedom, and the ability to explore interests you didn’t have time for before. But as this article in U.S. News and World Report reminds us, that freedom can eventually run out. “Most people retire when they are still healthy and can take care of themselves in their 60s, but you need to plan for a time when you might need more support.”

    The article has some good suggestions about how older retirees can plan ahead to set up support systems when they need them. Some of the suggestions are time-honored solutions, such as living with family in a multi-generational household, but others are less obvious—although just as valuable.

    One of these less obvious solutions is group living, or cohousing. “A cohousing building caters to community-minded residents who usually share many common rooms including a big communal kitchen, dining area, play room, and family room where residents can get together and socialize. This kind of community is much more close-knit and the neighbors will notice if you need help. . . Cohousing units generally have no staff and the residents take care of themselves and each other.”

    Cohousing may be an ideal solution which offers freedom and support at the same time. But if you do decide that cohousing is the route you want to take, you may want to consult with your estate planner or elder law attorney ahead of time. Group living situations may require a buy-in or financial partnership and is not something to be entered into lightly. Any deeds or contracts should be reviewed by a legal professional before permanent steps are taken.

    For more information about senior living options please contact our office. We are here to help.

    5 Things To Discuss With Your Doctor On Your Next Visit

    Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

    Ensuring you get the medical care you want in an emergency is a team effort which includes your attorney, your doctor, your healthcare agent, and your family and loved ones. But none of these people can be part of the team if they are unaware of your preferences. Here are five things to discuss with your doctor to make sure he or she is in the loop:

    1. Your Advance Health Care Directive or Living Will. If you have already created a health care directive or living will we strongly suggest you give your primary care physician a copy of the document. It can be even more helpful to briefly discuss the document with your doctor and have him or her sign off on it, if possible. This prevents any unwelcome surprises, should an accident occur.

    2. Your wishes for medical treatment if you are incapacitated. Part of creating an Advance Health Care Directive is outlining your wishes for medical treatment if you are incapacitated. This is more than just making a decision about a DNR (discussed in item #5), this also includes what medications or treatments you would like to receive and under what circumstances, it includes where you would like to receive long-term treatment if necessary, and it includes who you would like to be involved in medical decision-making (from your spouse, to your parents, to your favorite doctor or doctors.)

    3. Your health care agent. This is the person who will be making medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. We are not suggesting you bring your chosen agent in to meet your doctor, but briefly telling your doctor who the person is (your spouse, your brother, your daughter) and why you chose them can make all the difference.

    4. Your HIPAA Authorization. This is the document that gives medical staff permission to share information about your health status with certain people. You can sign a generic HIPAA Authorization with your attorney as part of your estate plan, but it is likely that your physician and your local hospital will have their own forms to be signed. Ask your doctor how to ensure that the right people are getting the right information in case of emergency.

    5. The inclusion (or lack) of a DNR statement in your medical file. We always hope that this will never be necessary, but we all learned our lesson from the Terri Shiavo case and know that it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your end-of-life wishes. Talk to your doctor about under what circumstances you would or wouldn’t want life-saving treatment, and the best way to include these wishes in your health care directive AND in your medical file.

    Estate Planning with a Chronic or Terminal Disease

    Friday, November 4th, 2011

    We mention often on our blog that each family will have unique circumstances and unique estate planning needs—this is especially true of families in which one member has a chronic or terminal disease such as cancer, diabetes, or, as mentioned in this article in Forbes, multiple sclerosis.

    For most people, the documents in their estate plan constitute a “someday” or a “what if” scenario, but for those people with chronic or terminal diseases the documents in their estate plan address issues that are much more immediate and certain. For this reason, the advice in the article mentioned above focuses mainly on doing whatever you can to take control of your estate planning, health care, and financial affairs right now. Some of the suggestions include:

    * Finding financial and estate advisors who are comfortable discussing your situation, and can help you customize your plans to fit your needs.

    * Customizing your estate planning documents, including your will, trust, or living will.

    * Signing important forms right now, while you still can.

    * Making use of your temporary or limited powers options in your healthcare and financial documents, giving your chosen agents the limited power while you are temporarily incapacitated to “pay your bills and file your taxes but not sell your house or make gifts of your assets.”

    Living with a chronic or terminal disease is a unique situation and requires unique planning and preparation—planning that is best done right away, for the good of your family and for yourself. If you have questions about estate planning with a chronic or terminal disease please don’t hesitate to contact our office—we can help.