Share Your Passions As Well As Your Assets

Do you have a hobby that you feel passionate about?

Do you love reading and collecting books? Are you a rabid coin or stamp collector? Do you find peace and tranquility out tending your garden?

Whatever it is that you love; you can bet the people who love you are aware of it. These are the people who join you on your wilderness hikes; the one who might give you a rare baseball card for your birthday; or the friend who goes with you to the antique car show because he knows hobbies are better when you have someone to share them with. These friendships last a lifetime, and yet these friendships are often forgotten when people create their wills and divvy up their estates.

Many people go to their estate planner with their descendents and their financial assets foremost in their minds, and that is as it should be; but your estate plan can be more than a just a way to distribute property to the next generation, it can also be an opportunity to say thank you to the people who have touched your life—by sharing with them the accoutrements and paraphernalia of your hobbies and passions.

You can express how much you appreciate your best chess opponent by leaving her your favorite chess board, or encourage the interest of a young philatelist nephew by bequeathing to him your extensive stamp collection. All you need is an estate plan which includes a personal property memorandum—and which is correctly designed to recognize and refer to that memorandum.

Our office can help you create an estate plan that not only ensures the protection of your heirs and property; it also helps you leave a meaningful ‘thank you’ to the people who matter most.

When Families Disagree About Elder Care, Try Mediation Before Litigation

Siblings trying to come together to help mom or dad through the aging process will often run into more road blocks than they expect; and quite often these road blocks are internal. Can mom stay home for a few more years, or does she need round the clock help? Should the sister who lives down the street from dad get financial reimbursement for driving him to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store four times a week? How do you tell mom you think it’s too dangerous for her to drive by herself anymore?

These kinds of questions (and more) can end up leading to huge family fights, and in some severe cases, to litigation. This article in Smart Money suggests that when siblings can’t agree on elder care for aging parents, there is an alternative to litigation: An Elder Mediator.

Elder Mediators are mediators who specialize in elder law, caregiving, and elder decision-making issues. These mediators can “help families work through concerns — and fights — involving caregiving, inheritance, living arrangements, estate planning and related issues.” In fact, bringing an elder mediator into a family disagreement at the right time can save the family from a bitter and lengthy court battle, and therefore save hundreds of dollars in court and/or attorney’s fees.

The question then is when is the right time to hire an elder mediator? A mediator might be needed to help adult siblings scattered across the country come to an agreement over very different opinions about the best care for mom or dad. “Elder mediation is sometimes called adult-sibling mediation… While sisters and brothers typically know each other (and how to push each other’s buttons) well, they rarely have occasion to work together to solve problems. A parent in need of help can set off some nasty disagreements.”

That’s not all; Elder Mediators can also help children and parents in dispute come together in conversation and see eye-to-eye. “Adult children may find themselves united on a particular issue, only to face an unyielding parent. But often the parent simply wants to be heard… The mediation process, ideally, gives everyone an equal voice.”

You can locate an Elder Mediator in your area by clicking here; or to find out more about whether an Elder Mediator might be able to help your family through some tough decisions or disagreements, please contact our office.

Support for Caregivers of Blended Families

Our firm works frequently to help divorced or remarrying couples update their estate plans to protect their new blended families, so we know just how significantly the stress of divorce, family upheaval, and tighter finances can impact a family, and how those effects can last years into the future. We have seen firsthand how the effects divorce can continue to make waves 20 or even 30 years down the road—not just on the divorced couple, but on their grown children now acting as caregivers.

Adult children of divorced parents often find themselves caring not only for mom and dad when they get older, but also for stepmom, stepdad and sometimes even another stepparent from yet a third or current marriage. Dividing time (and often finances) between so many parents with new and special needs can quickly take its toll, as can the family politics that come with adult siblings, half siblings, and step siblings.

With all of this complexity and intermingling family ties, it is more important than ever to have conversations about estate planning and long-term care with parents and siblings before mom and dad (and stepmom and stepdad) get to an age where they need in-home or around the clock nursing care. This article in a recent issue of the CSA Journal (from the Society of Certified Senior Advisors) gives tips on how to conduct a meeting of blended families to discuss the care of parents and stepparents.

While open communication between blended family members is key, a good estate plan can also go a long way towards eliminating potential fighting and confusion by clearly defining who will be making financial decisions and who should be making health care decisions when mom or dad become incapacitated. A caregiver agreement can also provide clarity, as well as financial assistance to the one sibling who inevitably ends up shouldering most of the care giving burden.

If you are a part of a blended family talk to your parents and siblings now about any challenges the future may bring—and how to meet those challenges together.

To Tell or Not to Tell About Inheritance; Sharing Your Estate Plan with Your Heirs

Should you talk to your heirs about your estate plan?

The subject of inheritance is one that most people studiously avoid for a number of different reasons: superstition, fear, lack of knowledge, or a desire for secrecy. Many adults were raised to believe that money was a private affair, and that talking about it was inappropriate; but beyond that, many people simply fear that if they talk about their estate plan with their heirs they will meet with resistance, disagreement, or in a worst-case scenario—their heirs will try to counter the estate plan with legal action of their own.

While in some families and circumstances these fears are justified, in most circumstances being silent about your estate plan can have disastrous consequences. A refusal to talk about money or your estate plans with you children means that they will have a difficult time following your wishes in regards to your medical treatment or protection of your assets should disaster strike. Most adult children are actually eager to fulfill their parents’ last wishes, regardless of how it may or may not impact their own inheritance.

Furthermore, your plans for leaving a legacy for your children or grandchildren may clash with their own needs or plans. For example, you may want to leave extra money to a grandchild with special needs, but if that child is receiving government benefits, leaving a significant inheritance in their own name could disrupt that. Discussing your plans with your children ahead of time can prevent situations like this from occurring.

So the answer to the question above is yes, you should talk to your children or heirs about your estate plan if you can. Talking about it will not only make it easier for them to follow your wishes, it may even help you determine how you want to make the best difference in the lives of your heirs.

Family Caregivers Search for Resources and Support

As people in the U.S. continue to live longer, and as our aging population grows, more and more adult children are finding themselves straying from their own goals and career paths in order to provide caregiving services to elderly parents or grandparents. It should come as no surprise to our readers that, according to a recent article in USA Today, “family members [of aging parents] provide a staggering $450 billion worth of unpaid care annually.”

This trend has resulted in a growing concern for the caregivers themselves, who have a tendency to take on more and more responsibility for others at great cost to their own health and financial future. “Although they often don’t identify themselves as ‘caregivers,’ more than 42 million Americans perform some form of consistent care for older or impaired adult relatives or friends, according to a 2009 estimate. It can range from paying bills, to driving Mom to doctor appointments, to more hands-on care such as bathing, and even tasks once left to nurses such as the care of open wounds… the stress and the time involved can take a toll on the caregivers’ own health and finances as they put off their own doctor visits, dip into their savings and cut back their working hours.”

AARP has recently sponsored an ad campaign aimed at letting caregivers know that they aren’t alone, that they don’t have to neglect their own health and finances for the sake of their loved ones, and that there are resources out there to provide help and support.

We hope that our readers will consider us a resource as well. Whether you need to petition for conservatorship, execute a power of attorney, or find a care manager to help you locate service providers in your area, our office can help.

An Advance Healthcare Directive Can Make a Difficult Conversation a Little Bit Easier

Does your family know your preferences for end-of-life care in case of emergency? Are you sure? If you haven’t created an Advance Healthcare Directive or spoken to your loved ones specifically about this issue, then chances are they don’t know your wishes, no matter how close you believe you are.

Our firm understands that opening up a conversation about DNR directives or end-of-life care can be difficult and awkward. Thinking about your own death, or the death of someone you love is painful. But the arguments—and potentially lengthy court battles—that can occur between caring relatives when these issues are not discussed will be even more painful. If the tragic Terri Schiavo case taught us anything it should have taught us that a difficult conversation now can save our loved ones years of pain and hardship later on.

We may not be able to save you from a difficult conversation, but this article from ABC News might help you get the conversation started. The first suggestion is to put your wishes in writing and then mail a copy of those wishes to your loved ones or to your healthcare agent. The article suggests a resource workbook which can be found online, but an even better option would be to execute an Advance Healthcare Directive with your estate planning or elder law attorney.

Executing and Advance Healthcare Directive not only provides you with an opportunity to say to your loved ones “I want to talk about this;” it also ensures that there will be no legal obstacles if tragedy should strike and you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions.

Once your loved ones know your preferences for end-of-life care this opens the door for them to ask questions if they have any, and even perhaps express their own views and preferences. Your primary care physician should receive a copy of your Advance Healthcare Directive as well. Confirm that your physician will be able to honor and respect your wishes if and when the time comes.

For more information about Advance Healthcare Directives, or talking to your family and friends about end-of-life decisions, please contact our office.

Finding A Trustworthy In-Home Caregiver May Not Be As Easy As It Sounds

As American seniors age and find that they need more and more help with daily tasks, many of our parents and grandparents are choosing NOT to go into nursing or retirement homes, opting instead to age at home with the help of in-home care. Of course, deciding that you want to age at home is one thing, but finding the right in-home aide—and figuring out how to pay for that aide—is easier said than done.

Hiring a home health-aide means bringing a stranger into your home during a vulnerable time; and according to this recent article published on the Northwestern University website, not all aides or agencies are created equal. “A troubling new national study finds many agencies recruit random strangers off Craigslist and place them in the homes of vulnerable elderly people with dementia, don’t do national criminal background checks or drug testing, lie about testing the qualifications of caregivers and don’t require any experience or provide real training.”

While it’s true that finding a trustworthy and experienced aide may be difficult, the good news is that there are plenty of excellent caregivers out there, and simply knowing the right questions to ask can make your search a whole lot easier. The article mentioned above lists 10 questions to ask an agency before hiring a caregiver, including questions such as:

* How do you recruit caregivers, and what are your hiring requirements?

* What types of screenings are performed on caregivers before you hire them? Criminal background check—federal or state? Drug screening? Other?

* Are the caregivers insured and bonded through your agency?

* If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, will a substitute be provided?

* Does the agency provide a supervisor to evaluate the quality of home care on a regular basis? How frequently?

Hiring a caregiver or aide to come into your home can be fraught with stress and second-guessing, but knowing that you don’t have to go through it alone—that there are trustworthy friends, agencies and advisors who can help you—can not only make the process a whole lot easier, but can also make you and your entire family feel much more comfortable with the person you eventually choose to hire.

The Most Important Part of an Estate Plan is the Memories

Most people, when they design their estate plan, think primarily about the large financial assets: Real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, family businesses, etc. But any estate planner will tell you that the most heart-wrenching family rifts and disputes are not over money, but over the little things that end up having little or no monetary value at all.

The family bible, mom and dad’s wedding bands, grandma’s heirloom hope-chest—these are the items that end up costing families more in harsh words, hurt feelings, and legal fees than any expensive property or valuable bank account. This is because these are the items that, although they may have a low financial value, have a high emotional value for families; a fact that many parents or grandparents don’t consider when they’re making out their wills or trusts.

Instead of leaving heirs to decide among themselves (read as: fight among themselves) after your death who gets photo albums, jewelry, furniture and handmade artwork; consider talking to kids and grandkids about this memorabilia and emotional heirlooms right now. Keep in mind that this might not be an easy conversation to initiate. Most kids are reluctant to talk about—or even think about—their parents’ eventual passing; and many parents have found that they have to broach the subject more than once before their kids are willing to talk about it.

Another option is to privately make up your own list of which heirlooms you’d like to go to which heir (in legal terms this is called a Personal Property Memorandum) and then show it to your heirs ahead of time. This gives heirs the opportunity to voice their preferences or concerns while you’re still alive; but in many cases simply knowing that you put time and thought into the giving of each heirloom makes heirs more likely to accept and appreciate your gifts when the time comes to receive them.

Contact our office for more information about how to execute a personal property memorandum, and how it can benefit your heirs and loved ones.

How to Protect Your Partner Even if You Choose Not to Marry

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of senior couples choosing to cohabitate instead of marry (or remarry) has risen significantly. Although this may seem like a shocking choice that goes against tradition, the truth is that there are quite a few reasons why senior couples might choose not to tie the knot:

* Tax disincentives

* Loss of military and pension benefits

* Keeping medical expenses separate

* Keeping any current debt separate

* Asset protection for the benefit of children or grandchildren

Any couples who do decide against marriage, however, will need to take extra steps to protect their partner and preserve any traditionally spousal privileges you would like your partner to have. For example, in case of accident or emergency, do you want your partner to have the same access to medical information that a spouse would have? Do you want your partner to a voice in making medical decisions if you are unable to do so?

Seniors will also want to consider the subject of real property and living arrangements. If something were to happen to you or your partner, would the surviving partner be able to remain in the home? Would he or she at least have time to find another living situation? Most people would like to think that relatives who inherit shared property will be compassionate toward the surviving partner, but this is not always the case.

Fortunately, there are ways for seniors who choose to cohabitate instead of remarry to arrange their affairs in such a way that they preserve the benefits of staying legally single, but provide their partner with traditionally spousal benefits. The best way to do this is through excellent estate planning. Our office can help seniors create a plan that will protect their rights, protect assets for their heirs, and protect the rights and well-being of their partner as well. Contact us for more information.

Recent Polls Reveal the Tide is Turning Regarding Retirement Living

Where do you plan to live when you retire?

50-somethings and near retirees used to dream of moving to Arizona, California or Florida when they retired; planning to give up the responsibilities of mowing lawns and shoveling snow for a more leisurely life of regular golf-games and walks on the beach; but recent studies indicate that this trend to move to traditional “retirement states” is changing.

According to a recent article in CBS MoneyWatch, retirees are reconsidering where they want to spend their golden years. “Among U.S. workers age 55 and older, almost two-thirds — 62 percent — think that when they retire they will continue to live in their current state of residence. . . That’s up 20 percent from a similar survey taken just two years ago.”

While some of this change has to do with different states’ income tax and estate tax laws, the CBS article points out that most of it has to do with a shifting attitude toward retirement. “More and more Americans [are moving] away from the traditional definition of ‘all play and no work’ during their retirement years to start second careers or continuing to work in some manner. In fact, 50 percent of [survey respondents] report that they work part-time or are starting new businesses or careers.”

What this means is that more and more retirees are looking to make only small changes as they move from full-time work to part-time retirement. Many are staying in their city of residence and choosing to simply give up a larger family home in lieu of a smaller two-bedroom home. Some retirees are moving away from their lifetime city of business and residence to move closer to family and work remotely as contractors.

Wherever you choose to spend your retirement, you’ll want to know your state’s rules and regulations regarding gift and income taxes, estate planning, powers of attorney, health care, and government resources. Contact our office—or your own local elder law attorney—to ensure that you’re familiar with local laws, and taking advantage of every opportunity available to senior residents.