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

YYY: Annuity, Fiduciary, Inquiry?

Annuities drive me crazy when discussing an estate plan. As Ron Lieber of the New York Times explains it here (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/your-money/annuity-explainer.html) annuities are a form of insurance, not investment, but annuities are so oversold as a type of investment that you would never know that they have their place.

My favorite part of the article is buried at the bottom—questions you should ask before purchasing an annuity. Here are the gems:

Aren’t you going to spend hours asking me about my assets, goals, dreams and fears before you sell me something this important? And will you agree to act in my best interest — as a so-called fiduciary — and sign a pledge saying so? If not, why not?

These are huge questions, and whether the fiduciary status applies has gained significant traction in the past few years because of 1) various bad actors treating clients like walking commission machines and 2) the proposed fiduciary duty rule the Department of Labor began to roll out. This potential sea-change has caused many in the financial sector to quake in their boots because of the likely reckoning they realized they would face once their clients realized their trusted “advisor” was more like a used car salesman.

If you aren’t sure about annuities or where you stand with your advisor, give this article a read and send it to your kids. If you have questions about how annuities play into your estate plan, feel free to send them my way.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

Preparation: The Value of Time in a Busy Life.

I recently read that 6 in 10 Americans don’t have their estate planning done. I've heard a lot of reasons for not making an estate plan, but the most common things I hear from clients are either "I haven't gotten around to it" or "I don't have an estate." 

I'm quite familiar with the idea of being too busy, but the most recent episode of this in my life holds an important lesson about estate planning. Last week, my wife’s grandmother passed away and we were traveling to Alabama for the funeral. My young son and I were both recovering from being sick and I am trying to get my business up and running at the same time. I felt slammed. I can’t speak for all the things going on my in-laws’ lives, but I’d feel safe to wager that they’re just as busy and are adding in the additional stress of grieving for a beloved mother, grandmother, and aunt.

During this extremely busy and sad time, my father-in-law was grateful. Why? His mother preplanned everything years ago. She’d picked her casket, service music, and all the other details down to the thank you cards. Now, instead of grieving while fielding the barrage of questions and decisions that come with a death, he could focus on his family. She’d given him and his sister the gift of time. She’d taken a significant burden off his shoulders and kept him from having to forever ask himself if he’d done things the way she would have wanted. That’s quite the gift.

Funeral planning is a part of estate planning, but the work done by funeral directors usually doesn’t overlap with the estate planning done by an attorney. I often ask a client if he or she wishes to be buried or cremated and if there are any specific funeral requests he or she wants to include in the documents I prepare. Other aspects of estate planning, such as a letter explaining how sentimental items should be divided and why they matter, or a medical directive explaining your treatment preferences so loved ones do not have to guess, are a similar gift of time and knowledge to a busy family.

When I hear that someone hasn’t gotten around to their planning or they think they don’t have an estate, I think of situations like this. You may not think you have much, or don’t see when you can squeeze in your planning, but for your family, even modest estate planning is a huge gift. If you own a home, you have an estate. If you have children, you have answers to their questions about what to do. It’s not surprising that many clients are finally spurred to make their plan when a family member dies without one: that’s often when reality hits you in the face.

If you don’t think you’ve got the time because your life is too busy, you’d be surprised how easily you can get your planning done. For example, I can video chat or meet at your home with an evening appointment. I know other professionals that are flexible too. With a good team, you can handle your preparations before you’ve even realized it.

Please get in touch if you have any questions, and feel free to share this with your friends.

See you on the trail!

Post by Peter Harrison

Emergency preparedness should extend to your estate plan

Is your estate plan ready to survive a disaster? If something happened to you or your home, how would you respond? That’s what emergency preparedness is about. Here are some tips:

First, figure out how you will store your important information, such as in a fireproof strongbox or in cloud storage.

Second, figure out what you need to store. I found a similar article here with a great list: account numbers, usernames, and passwords to your most important accounts, copies of insurance policies, contact information for your advisors, and copies of your estate planning documents.

Third, think about how you will access your documents in various scenarios and what you’ll need. What works for one family or one disaster scenario may not work for another. Medical emergency? Probably don’t want to have the medical directives and health insurance documents in a safety deposit box that you can’t access during non-banking hours. Break-in or theft? Probably don’t want all your personally identifiable information or passwords in an easily steal-able container like a purse or on a list under your keyboard. Fire, tornado, or flood? Probably want to have the insurance documents stored off-site or online. Also consider writing down the contact information for your advisors (financial, insurance agent, estate planner, etc.) in case your phone is damaged or lost.

A word about online storage. Putting things online will probably fit many scenarios, but don’t forget that you’ll need to be able to access it. For example, the elderly couple in the article about what to store lost everything to Hurricane Florence, including the computer that had all the account numbers and passwords to their information. Their daughter had to impersonate them to gain access to needed paperwork. A better solution could have been to use an online password-keeper service, so the couple could simply access the password keeper program and be able to more quickly recover their documents.

Finally, while you’re in emergency preparedness mode, don’t forget to do/review the rest of your emergency preparedness planning. This includes the basics like your evacuation plan. To find out more about how to make your emergency preparedness plan, go to https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.

If you want to discuss how to do more emergency preparedness for your estate plan, feel free to contact me.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison

National Institute on Aging Publishes Article Regarding Long-Distance Caregiving and Sharing Duties

The National Institute on Aging recently published an article about how long-distance caregivers can support local caregivers. Highlights from the article include:

  1. Discuss and plan the division of labor before there is an emergency;

  2. Play to your strengths where possible (e.g. financially savvy people should manage bills);

  3. Know your limits; and

  4. Don’t forget to plan respites for the primary caregiver. Caregiving is exhausting work.

Having a semi-regular family meeting to discuss these issues can be a great opportunity to make sure a family stays together through the stressful times of caregiving for a family member. I’ve seen too many situations devolve when the family didn’t communicate and feelings of resentment and unfairness crept in, destroying family bonds.

The article can be found here.

Leave a comment if you would like to see more articles like these, and be sure to sign up for the latest.

See you on the trail.

Post by Peter Harrison