Estate Planning is Like… Visiting a Doctor

“My toe hurts!” That’s what I told the emergency room doctor when I was about 2.5 years old. (I’m the baby in the picture, just a little before this story happened.)

My granddad was headed to the grocery store, and I wanted to go with him. I didn’t have shoes on, but he figured he could just carry me into the store.

Well, as 2-year-olds often do, I wanted to get down and walk on my own. As we were leaving the store, I stepped in front of the automatic door and it cut my foot — right between the little toe and the next toe. So here we were at the ER.

The doctor, trying to be kid-friendly, said in that funny voice most adults use when trying to build rapport with kids, “Ohhhh, do you have an owie?”

Wanting none of that nonsense, I looked him square in the eye and said in an angry voice, “My toe hurts!”

It’s one of those family stories that gets told at gatherings quite often.

When Does It Help to Consult a Professional?

So, what does all this have to do with estate planning?

I love connecting everyday things to estate planning. Read my other analogies here.

Well, when you get hurt you go to the doctor for help.

When you need help with wills, trusts, and elder law issues, you should consult with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney.

Attending one of our workshops is a great way to find out if we’re a good fit to work together. At our introductory workshop, “Getting Started With Wills & Trusts,” you’ll learn about the basics of effective planning, and what you can do to make sure you develop a plan that will do what you want it to when the time comes. You’ll also learn about how our firm works, and there’ll be time to ask me questions.

Click here to see upcoming dates and then give us a call 217-726-9200 to RSVP or schedule an Initial Meeting.

save family farm

Over 55 years old? Three things you should know about nursing home care.

You may be a couple decades away from needing nursing home care, but the sooner you can understand and plan for the costs involved, the better.

Here are three truths every senior should know about nursing homes:

 

1. You’ll probably need nursing home care.

The likelihood you’ll need to pay for this type of care is high: 70% of Americans 65 and older will need some form of long-term care, and 35% will spend time in a nursing home.

2. It’s going to be expensive.

The odds that this care will be expensive? 100%.

Nursing homes in Central Illinois cost about $80,000 per year. That’s roughly $6,500 per month! Most people don’t have that type of monthly income during retirement.

3. Without proper planning, you’ll lose your hard-earned life savings.

If you don’t have enough income to cover the cost of care as you age, you will need to use your life savings and other assets to pay for nursing home care. That means your financial legacy, including things like the family farm, could disappear without proper planning.

Thankfully, with proper planning you can prepare, save your legacy, and get the kind of quality care you or your loved one deserves. Here’s one way to do it.

As a response to the challenges of aging in our current time, our firm has developed a process to plan ahead for the last decades of life, when so many people face financial and physical challenges. Life Care Planning looks ahead to the various stages that individuals and families may go through during the aging process, and creates a plan to make navigating that time a little easier and less stressful. Learn more about the 5 Stages of Life Care Planning here. If you’d like to take the first step toward planning, give us a call at 217-726-9200, and we’ll help you schedule your Initial Meeting.

7 Risks of a Simple Will

Creating online legal documents is becoming more and more common. Despite the convenience of creating a Will without the expense and hassle of meeting with an attorney, there are many pitfalls to creating a simple plan online or even with a more traditional attorney who is just “filling in the blanks” of an already created document.

At Edwards Group, unfortunately, we deal with the problems that arise from simple fill-in-the-blank Wills everyday.

Here are 7 risks of a simple will that you need to consider:

1. Long, expensive probate. Wills are designed to go through probate. The extra expense, delay, and public exposure that go with a court probate process may be avoided when other estate planning tools are used in connection with a Will. Depending on the unique family circumstances that only you know about, avoiding probate may be a good goal to have. An experienced attorney with a comprehensive approach can help you know if avoiding probate should be a priority for you and your family.

2. Unprotected assets. Many Wills do not have adequate provisions for protecting the inheritance you leave your loved ones. Risks such as future divorces, lawsuits, warring siblings, and future financial struggles of your heirs can be mitigated with proper planning ahead of time. Experienced attorneys who practice comprehensive planning can help identify what risks your family may face.

3. Problem executor. Is the executor you chose in your Will the best person for the job? Circumstances can change. Will the responsibility be a struggle for them because of a busy schedule, lack of attention to detail, or inexperience? Our process helps our clients choose the best person for the job, and then keeps the choices updated.

4. Lack of coordination. Is your simple will coordinated with ALL of your beneficiary designations, joint ownership and account titling? Unless you are very intentional about your financial organization, the way you have set up accounts and insurance policies could undo the wishes stated in your Will. It can also cost your loved ones huge amounts of time and money to sort out.

5. Unexpected change in outcome. Have your life circumstances changed since your Will was drafted? Have you gotten married, divorced, had children or grandchildren since your last will was drawn up? Is your wealth greater or less than it was before? If so, any of these factors can impact how things will play out if your old or simple will has to be used. I have even seen grandchildren not get an inheritance that other grandchildren received because of this very thing.

6. Nothing left. Have you planned for possible nursing home costs? Even if your old will if okay right now, your wishes could be undone if high nursing home costs eat up most or all of your savings prior to your death. There is a lot that an experienced elder law and estate planning attorney can do for this situation.

7. Doesn’t do what you think it will.  Laws change frequently. If there have been changes to the law (or even the tax law) since the drafting of your will, this can cause complications or unintended consequences.

The traditional way of preparing a will is oftentimes ineffective. Sadly, many people don’t find this out until it’s too late — and they’ve literally lost the family farm or fishing cabin. Here at Edwards Group, we don’t just fill in the blanks of a boilerplate document. Our process was designed to overcome the pitfalls of traditional planning.

If you’d like to read more about our unique process and how it protects our clients and their loved ones, click here. If you’re ready to schedule your Initial Meeting and get started with effective, comprehensive planning, give us a call at 217-726-9200.

A Quick Planning Tip to Get Organized

Getting organized is a key part of the estate planning process. Estate planning simply means you have a plan to handle your finances, your care, and your family when you can’t do it anymore — whether that’s because of sickness or passing away.

Everyone wants to be organized, and some do a better job than others. Most of us have a “system” to help keep track of important papers. And you understand your system better than anyone else! But if you are seriously ill or dead and gone, will others be able to find what they need?

I have a friend whose mother recently passed away unexpectedly. Sadly, like many people, her mother didn’t have a very good system or plan in place. My friend has had a heck of a time tracking things down. One day, out of frustration, my friend posted this to Facebook:

“Reminder-
No matter how old you are – no matter how healthy you think you are –
Put all of your death documents in at least one file folder.
A firebox would be great, but-
FILE FOLDER.”

Ask yourself — if you were gone today, WHO would be trying to track down all of your financial information, and how would they go about doing it? Have you made it hard for them or easy for them?

Planning tip: make sure you have a complete list of all your accounts, property, and everything else you own. This will make it so much easier on your family later. And obviously, putting all these things in a single file folder could be a big help to your loved ones left behind.

Without a complete list (grab this document off our website to give you an idea of what should be on the list), it will mean extra stress for your family at a time when they are already very stressed. A lack of organization can also create extra court expenses and delays. It could also mean that lost accounts may get turned over to the state.

Laura Peffley, our Senior Asset Coordinator, spends 40 hours a week helping people sort out asset information, doing a complete asset report, and then helping them follow up on planning changes!

If you’d like a guide to help organize things and make sure everything fits with your wishes within an effective plan, then give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’d be happy to make an initial appointment for you. Click here to read about what to expect at that initial appointment.

reverse mortgage

Forget About The “Estate” And Just Do Planning

Estate Planning isn’t just for people with estates…

I talk a lot about “estate planning,” whatever that means. It sounds like lawyer talk and often makes people’s eyes glaze over. Well, I want you to forget about the estate and just call it planning, because that’s all it is!

It’s planning…

• for getting older and making choices for your own care.
• on how you will pay for a nursing home, if it comes to that.
• for what will happen to those family heirlooms.
• for what will happen when you’re gone. (Would your family know what to do or who to turn to?)
• for your kids so they’ll be ready to inherit whatever you might leave them.

Everyday we help our clients use legal and financial solutions to plan for the people they care about and the stuff they own. Don’t let the terminology scare you away. We’ve worked hard to make planning as easy as possible.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and get started planning today!

The Myth of a “Simple” Will

“I just want a simple will.”

We hear this a lot. The people who say it generally assume they have a “regular” family with straightforward assets. They don’t want to pay a lot for elaborate documents they don’t understand. They just want a last will and testament. We get that!

In reality, “simple” wills often backfire and cost families more money and stress in the long run.

Every family has unique circumstances that can cause challenges and heartaches. And “simple” wills can’t effectively deal with these challenges.

An effective will and estate plan is really for the loved ones you leave behind. It’s your final gift to them — and it can go smoothly via effective planning ahead of time, or it can be a huge mess that tears families apart. We see it all the time.

Bad estate plans destroy good families.

The bottom line — the cost of a “simple” will is more than most people realize. We see it when we help families deal with the aftermath of an ineffective plan their loved one left behind.

Our process for creating an effective plan is thorough. We use your expertise about your own family to help anticipate future problems. We then use our expertise to address those problems using the tools in our legal toolbox.

We get to know your family, if that’s what you’d like, so when the time comes, they will already be familiar with our team and our office. We help our clients plan for the unexpected, so when the unexpected happens, things can still go smoothly for their loved ones.

It’s hard to put a price on that kind of peace of mind.

But that doesn’t mean we charge you exorbitant hourly fees. The pricing structure at our firm is fairly unique. When David Edwards started the firm in 2008, he wanted everything to be designed around helping clients plan better and have more peace of mind. This included how he decided to charge fees. So, clients who work with us can be assured there are no surprises when it comes to that.

We charge flat fees that are agreed upon ahead of time. Read more about that here.

We are passionate about the fact that every family deserves an effective estate plan that can make one of life’s hardest transitions a little easier.

We believe that family legacy is important and that everything you’ve worked so hard for should be protected and passed down to the next generation as you wish.

If the desire for a “simple” will doesn’t quite sit right with you, or the fear of an expensive and complicated plan is keeping you from taking the first step in protecting your family, we encourage you to attend an upcoming workshop. Our “Getting Started With Wills & Trust” workshop is an easy first step to take if you’ve been putting off planning.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for the workshop. Your path to peace of mind starts here.

 

Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Completing a Power of Attorney document is one of the most impactful things you can do to lessen the burden of caregiving on your family and loved ones. Power of Attorney documents are not crafted as “one size fits all” but instead are customized to reflect the varying needs of each individual family situation. 

Investing in an attorney to help you draft your POA document can help you better understand the terms of the document and minimize mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly on your POA document can lead to many problems in the future — problems that can be costly and emotionally taxing for you and your loved ones.

There are 3 dangers of doing a POA on your own that we’d like to briefly look at:

1. Too Many Powers – One problem with creating a POA document yourself is the possibility of giving your power of attorney too much power. While the form looks relatively simply, it is easy to answer a question incorrectly without a lawyer’s expertise and guidance. You could give your POA agent too many powers and open the gateway to elder abuse. Whenever you see a newspaper article about an older person being taken advantage of, it’s often the result of abusing a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney can be easily abused because they are not monitored by the legal system. Templates are easily available online and anyone can serve as a witness or notary, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind. Paying for the legal expertise is worth the security that comes from knowing your POA agent has the correct powers. Attorneys are ethically sworn to serve the best interests of their clients and can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting you in selecting a trustworthy power of attorney agent. Nominating a power of attorney (when done correctly) should give you peace of mind, not make you nervous.

2. Too Few Powers – Sometimes a person has a POA agent who is 100% trustworthy, but their powers listed in the document are so limited that they are unable to do the things that would be best. We have seen a number of families who were working on long-term care planning, hoping to seek benefits to pay for nursing home care. However, their power of attorney did not include certain powers that would have been helpful in that situation. For instance, unless we specifically state them, a power of attorney does not include the power to create a trust (which is a valuable tool often used for effective planning), or the power to make gifts to family. Yet, creating trusts and making gifts are often important parts of protecting money from a nursing home towards the end of life.

3. Not The Form You Need – If a power of attorney document is created without a lawyer, there is no guarantee that all banks or institutions will accept it. There have been a couple of law changes in Illinois in the last few years regarding powers of attorney. If you find an online document, is it the correct and most up to date form? If not, the bank may refuse to honor it, and they are within their rights to do so if it is not in the proper format.

As with so many things related to estate planning, every family and every situation create unique circumstances that fill-in-the-blank forms cannot adequately address. It is incredibly valuable to the have the help of an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help guide you through the process while anticipating problems your unique situation may bring up. If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or any other estate planning/elder law issues, we urge you to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’re more than happy to speak with you.

Top 10 Scariest Estate Planning and Elder Law Topics

 

Top 10 Scariest Estate Planning and Elder Law Topics

10. The Invisible Assets – A big part of asset protection is making sure you have updated beneficiary designations. This is often overlooked and can have truly hair-raising consequences. Read more here.
9. The Illinois Chainsaw Massacre: Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? – Dave says it a lot, “Bad estate planning breaks up good families.” Our firm sees it all the time, and it is devastating. The good news? There are steps you can take to Avoid an Estate Battle After You’re Gone.
8. The Bad Seed – Helpers who take advantage of the situation or just don’t do their job are one of the scariest threats to a plan. Read about 7 Types of Helpers You Need to Watch Out For here.
7. The Curse of the Old Will – Do you remember the last time your will was updated? Or even where it is located? If not, you could be in for some real nightmares. Read the 7 Risks of an Old Will here.
6. Farm on a Haunted Hill – Losing the family farm is a true horror story for many, but it doesn’t have to be.
5. The Loved Ones – Watching your loved ones spend every dime they’ve worked so hard for on the exorbitant costs of nursing care can you make you feel like you’re living a nightmare. But, there are ways to Avoid Nursing Home Poverty.
4. Misery – Estate planning is fraught with dangers that can trip you up. Read about 6 Estate Planning Pitfalls to Avoid here.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – When a stroke or dementia alters the way you have to live, a good plan can make sure your wishes will still be carried out. Read about why Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper here.
2. The Maddest Story Ever Told – Trying to qualify for Medicaid on your own could drive you crazy. It is a complex and bureaucratic process that is very difficult to accurately carry out without expertise. Help from an experienced elder law attorney will save time, money, resources and stress – as well as increasing your odds of approval.
1. A Nightmare on Probate Street – For many people, probate makes them feel like they’re watching their favorite horror movie. Probate costs time, money and stress (like many other estate planning problems), but there are things that can be done to make it easier or to avoid it altogether. Read more here.
As always, please feel free to call our office at 217-726-9200 or email Tarina@EdwardsGroupLLC.com if you have questions, need assistance or are wondering what your best next step should be. The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is NOT DOING ANYTHING. Avoid the horror stories above by taking action. Our FREE monthly workshops are a great, no-pressure way to get started.

 

 

7 Questions to Ask Before the Age of 70

People are living longer than ever these days, and while that is a good thing, it definitely presents challenges. Regardless of you or your loved one’s stage in life, good planning requires that you ask good questions. And asking good questions can sometimes be uncomfortable, unpleasant or overwhelming. We have come up with 7 questions that need to be asked by the time someone turns 70. If you address these 7 things, it will make aging easier on you and your family.

A little discomfort now can make ALL the difference later. One of the keys to this exercise is not taking an emotional approach. We naturally think of ourselves as 15 years younger than we really are. That means when we turn 70, we actually still feel like we’re 55! That’s a big difference. One way to combat this is to look at the cold, hard facts about aging:

  • People reaching the age of 65 will live, on average, 19.2 more years. That’s 84, if you don’t want to do the math.
  • 36% of people aged 65+ reported some sort of disability in 2012. (That’s 1 out of every 3 people.) Limitations in daily living activities because of chronic conditions will only increase with age.
  • Statistics vary, but it is generally thought that 70-80% of people who reach 65 will need some sort of care during the rest of their life!
  • 1 in 3 older women are widows. And according to the Wall Street Journal, 86% of widows live in poverty. Almost half of women 75+ live alone.
  • And according to David Laibson, who specializes in behavioral finance at Harvard University, about half the 80-year-old population is not in a position to make important financial decisions due to rates of dementia and other kinds of cognitive impairment. This means it’s important to make these decisions sooner rather than later.

So, what are the questions we want you to think about and ask yourself?

  1. Who’s in charge here? Every plan for aging needs a good helper. (Think Power of Attorney, executor or trustee.)
  2. Do you have the correct powers in place? If you have a Power of Attorney, does it have the correct provisions to allow the most flexible planning options as you age?
  3. Is your estate plan up to date? Lives constantly change, which means your estate plan needs to be tweaked to match the circumstances.
  4. What care will be needed… and when? This is a great question, without a concrete answer, but it’s important to be realistic and anticipate the possibilities.
  5. Have you explored ALL the asset protection options? Even before care is needed, there are some important steps that can be taken to help pay for care when it is eventually needed.
  6. Are you maximizing available benefits now? If care is needed now, are you sure that you are accessing all available help, like VA and Medicaid?
  7. The best way to answer Question #6 is by answering Question #7: Have you gotten the advice of an experienced elder law attorney? Experienced elder law attorneys deal with these issues everyday, which means they are always up on the latest laws, benefits and local care options.

One final encouragement from Dave on this topic, “It is far easier to have a plan pre-70 and tweak it here and there as the situation changes, rather than having to make all the big decisions during a crisis or once decision-making impairment has begun.” Addressing all 7 of these questions is something that all of our plans do. If answering these questions feels overwhelming, don’t stress! We guide our clients through the decision-making process everyday. And when the time comes to start implementing the plan, we work as a support for your family, making sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have questions, or check out one of our upcoming workshops.

Don’t Get Stuck With a Stupid Tax

Have you ever heard the phrase, “stupid tax”? I hate paying a stupid tax, because it’s always something that could have been avoided.

A few years ago my wife and I went with my parents to see an Illini basketball game in Champaign. After eating at the Ribeye on Neil Street (good food!), I ran through the snow to get the car. As I approached the car I had a sinking feeling.

I had forgotten the tickets. 

Thankfully, the box office was able to reissue forgotten season tickets, but I had to pay a stupid tax of $5 for every ticket being replaced!

We all get stuck paying a stupid tax every now and then. A few dollars isn’t bad as far as a stupid tax is concerned, but when it comes to estate planning, mistakes can be very costly. One of my primary goals is to help you and your family avoid paying any stupid taxes by thoroughly thinking through things and planning ahead.

Recently, a younger high profile celebrity died without thinking through what would happen to his estate if he suddenly passed away. His estate ended up paying a $12 million stupid tax. While most people won’t make that big of a mistake when it comes to planning, we see people all the time who did not properly plan, and therefore, end up owing a stupid tax. And the most frustrating part? It could have been avoided.

If you’re not sure whether your estate will be slapped with a stupid tax, we encourage you to give us a call at 217-726-9200 or attend an upcoming workshop on estate planning. Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started is a great way to learn more about effective planning.