Estate Planning laughs

Instagram.com nickgalifianakisart

Instagram.com nickgalifianakisart

Good for a laugh but NOT the way proper estate planning should be done. If you worry your family is charging down this path, it’s time to get an elder law attorney involved! Proper duties need to be sorted out, assets protected (for the parents, not as “your” inheritance), and the air needs to be cleared about who is doing what and why others aren’t doing more before these siblings develop permanent bad blood and never speak to each other again.

Post by Peter Harrison.

In case you were curious, here is fine example of a lesson from Bleak House being just as current today (i.e. when families fight, only the lawyers reliably win): https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/your-money/family-estate-court-fight.html. For most estate planning lawyers, while we’re happy to help you in litigation (we have bills to pay too), if it’s your estate, we’d much rather help you avoid the fight in the first place. I steer you away from taking the majority of the conflict-avoiding advice in the article because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there’s a particularly good line about the truth in reducing estate planning conflicts. “Avoiding costly and destructive family squabbles is both straightforward and incredibly complex. Family members must be willing to put in effort that may be unpleasant and difficult.” Call or contact me today if you’d like some help tackling this problem.

 Post by Peter Harrison.

Top 10 Scams targeting the elderly and how to report them.

I had so much response to my post warning about the FTC scam going around (found here) that I decided to dig for some more material. If you know of elder fraud happening now, call the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-855-303-9470, or report it online at https://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.

 Want to know the top 10 most reported scams against the elderly and how they try to get you? Check out the committee’s report at https://www.collins.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20Fraud%20Book.pdf

 Aren’t concerned about fraud against the aging? You should be. According to Derek Schmidt, Attorney General of Kansas who reported to the Committee, “By one estimate, only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is detected or reported. Despite that underreporting, statistically one in every 10 Americans age 65 or older who lives at home will become a victim of abuse.” Statistically, someone you know or love has or will be a victim of elder abuse, which could include being victim to one of these top-10 scams.

 Please call or contact me today if you would like to know how good estate planning can reduce the chances a scam will hit you or your family.

 See you on the trail.

 Post by Peter Harrison.

Here’s an article about wearable tech and aging. I share the views of both sides. This could be the beginning of a revolution in medicine, but if we cannot learn how to properly use it and understand its limitations, it will just become one more bit of static in the background. Something to keep an eye on, though, because falls are devastating to the elderly.

https://khn.org/news/apple-watch-health-apps-track-fitness-falls-heart-problems/

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

The Federal Trade Commission has a public service announcement about the Social Security Administration: they will not call you to threaten your benefits or suspend your number. Here’s an article from the FTC (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/12/what-social-security-scam-sounds?utm_source=govdelivery) with a real call they’ve captured from a scammer.

Don’t be a victim! If you are worried about a call you get from “the SSA,” do as the FTC says. Hang up and call the real number, 1-800-772-1213, to speak with a representative from the Social Security Administration.

Stay safe, and I’ll see you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

Rob Lowe authored an account of caregiving from the front lines in Newsweek, here: https://www.newsweek.com/rob-lowe-caregiving-guest-essay-1222522. Many caregivers I’ve spoken to would probably find a powerful shared bond in his experience. My own family has similar tales. It’s short, but I urge you to read his words to see why I stress planning so much. Yes, planning is for you, but it’s also about your family who want to care for you while they balance so many other things too.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

Here’s a post on Alzheimer’s developments for 2018 from a fellow law blogger: https://www.farrlawfirm.com/uncategorized/alzheimers-breakthroughs-in-2018/. Highlights include an experimental vaccine against the disease, a potential connection between angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors usually prescribed for high blood pressure and lowered resistance to Alzheimer’s, and an experimental “Alzheimer’s Diet” to reduce the impact our diet plays in the progression of the disease.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

Protecting our most loyal companions

Most of estate planning focuses on protecting and providing for our human family members, but for many people, animal companions are just as loved. What is shocking is the number of people who fail to plan for who will take care of such an important part of the family. I speak from experience here. When I was a newlywed, and shortly after my wife and I adopted two young cats, a family friend’s mother died with a portly dachshund named Peanut. No plans had been made for Peanut, and rather than let her go to a shelter (where she would likely have been put to sleep if no one adopted her), we took her in. Peanut was a wonderful dog, but after a few months, it was clear that she and our cats were not compatible. Nothing would convince them to get along. Thankfully, a coworker did not have cats, and Peanut lived with my old coworker for many happy years.

The news occasionally has stories of large sums going to pets in an estate (one of the most famous being Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble), but for most pet owners, the concerns are more day-to-day than headline worthy. When clients do plan for their pets, most are concerned about whether the beloved pet will be properly cared for and who will look out for the pet during its remaining life. 

Both questions should be answered after considerable thought. Taking in a pet can be a considerable expense. If there is a family member or friend who would love the pet as much as the current owner, the choice is easier, and you can focus on whether funds from the estate should be included to offset care costs. If there is not a clear caretaker choice, additional work is required to try to find someone who is worthy of the task and how much should be left to pay for maintenance for the rest of the pet’s life. This is especially important for people who have an animal with a long lifespan, such as a tortoise or parrot. 

In either case, the nagging question is who will ensure the job is done right and funds are used properly? If a considerable sum is left for the pet’s maintenance (e.g. more than $100,000, some of the funds can be used to pay for the watchful eye to make sure the pet is cared for. The use and potential misuse of funds to provide for a pet are where most articles and stories about pet trusts focus their attention. Pet trusts are useful for these larger sums because you have a trustee to properly manage the funds for a pet’s life, a caregiver to receive and use the funds, and a person to make sure the other two are performing their responsibilities.

When a pet owner does not want to or cannot allocate enough resources to support a pet trust, choosing the right caregiver becomes ever more important, and figuring out how to provide for the pet can require creative thinking. For instance, if a pet owner wants to leave funds for the care of a pet but doesn’t want the potential caregiver to take the funds and leave the animal, the owner could condition the gift on accepting responsibility for the pet.

If you have a pet, consider what will happen to your furry, feathery, or scaly companion in your estate plan, and don’t assume family can step up to provide care. Share this article with other pet lovers you know, and get in touch with me if you want help in adding your most loyal companion to your estate plan.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

It feels good when a multi-billion-dollar company agrees with you. Wells Fargo recently published a handy checklist for doing your estate planning documents, found here. They say a good start for your estate plan consists of ten documents. Number one on the list is your last will, and the remainder of the list includes things like your incapacity documents. It’s a handy tool, and it comes with another critical piece of advice: review your plan regularly.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

The Old Man and the Baby.

Father Time and Baby New Year are back again, and that means it is time for New Year’s resolutions. If you’re looking for a resolution that is easy to check off, can take care of three things in one shot, and can let you sleep better at night, try this one: do (or renew) your estate plan.

A good estate plan can take care of three big things. First, an estate plan can protect assets. If done correctly, an estate plan can shield assets from the creditors of your loved ones when you leave them an inheritance. You can also shield assets from your own creditors to a certain extent. Much of estate planning is identifying threats to you and your family’s long-term happiness and taking steps to eliminate those threats. For example, if you’re worried your children (or grandchildren) won’t be responsible enough to save their inheritance, you could put it in a trust until they reach a certain age where maturity will likely have set in.

Second, an estate plan can provide for your family members, financially and emotionally. For example, I have a letter to my son in my estate plan explaining why I’m leaving him my wedding ring. Sure, it’s my wedding ring, but before that, it belonged to my grandfather, “Pops”. Pops had worn it as a right-hand ring for years, and I’d always admired it. He offered me the ring when I was in college, but I was smart enough to realize that I was too young to be a good steward of it, and refused. When my wife and I were engaged, we couldn’t decide on a wedding band for me until I remembered Pops’ old offer. I summoned the courage and asked if I could use it as my wedding band. I’d barely finished my sentence before he was taking the ring off his hand and pressing it toward me with teary eyes.

Pops has passed since, but his ring is a great reminder of who I am and where I come from. It’s something I want my son, Simon, to have and hopefully see the same value in when he’s old enough. How would Simon know what the ring means in our family if I don’t tell him? That’s something a good estate plan can provide.

Finally, a good estate plan can help you prepare for your own needs while you are still living. As mentioned before, there can be creditor protection in some scenarios, but there’s also the planning for “what-if” scenarios such as periods of incapacity or disaster preparedness. How will you get in touch with your insurance agent if a tornado hits your house? Will your spouse or a trusted child be able to access your accounts to pay the bills if you have a heart attack? Having a good estate plan can provide peace of mind and have you ready to handle a wide array of issues.

If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that sticks and has measurable, meaningful results for yourself and your family, start or renew your estate plan. Let me know if you want me to help.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison