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.

Estate Planning & Potty Breaks (An Honest to Goodness True Story)

Many people think they know what an estate plan is and what it does. And while you are already an “expert” in estate planning because you know the details of your life better than anyone else, it helps to have a guide who can walk you through the complicated legal aspects of an effective plan.

“Sure. You’re going to the ‘library’.” (wink, wink)

It was the secretary’s second week at the big law firm downtown. Here and there she filled in at the front desk when the receptionist was on break. The law firm took up an entire floor, and one of the young new attorneys (who had been told to make sure the receptionist knew where he was), would frequently stick his head in the reception area and say, “I’ll be in the library if you need me.” After this happened quite a few times, the secretary thought, “The library, huh? Well, I guess you could call it that.”

It was a few more weeks before the secretary found out that the law firm did indeed have a library on the next floor of the building! (This was back in the days when lawyers used books instead of computers for research.) The attorney was truly going to the library, while all the while the secretary thought he was making an awful lot of trips to the ‘library’. You know, the kind many of us have 2.5 of in our houses!

That young attorney was David Edwards when he started at his first big firm in downtown Springfield. Dave and the secretary had a good chuckle about it after they finally realized what she had been thinking. You see, sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know.

The secretary had never been to the library and no one had ever told her about it. So, of course, she was a little suspicious when that young new attorney kept telling her he was headed to the library.

We find the same goes for estate planning. People have a lot of misinformation about estate planning – what Wills can and can’t do. Who needs a Trust and who doesn’t. There are also a lot of misconceptions that lead to wrong assumptions.

Unfortunately, in estate planning, these wrong assumptions can cost families thousands of dollars. They can also destroy families, and add a lot of extra stress at an already difficult time of grieving.

The stakes are very high in estate planning. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.

Attend our FREE Wills & Trusts Orientation and receive $200 off your Initial Meeting Fee

Education is foundational to what we do at Edwards Group. One of the things people love most about our staff is they can take the complex topic of estate planning and put it into everyday plain language. And this is exactly what happens at the Intro to Edwards Group: Wills & Trusts Orientation. At this FREE 1-hour workshop you’ll learn the basics of estate planing, if you need a Will or Trust, and if our unique approach is a good fit for you and your family. There will even be time to ask questions of one of our attorneys.

So, what do you need to do?

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to save your spot at our upcoming workshop. They tend to fill up fast, so it is best if you RSVP ahead of time.

Widows at Risk for Being Taken Advantage Of

It may be hard to believe, but when a husband (or wife) dies, there are plenty of people there to take advantage of the situation. A recent article in a national newspaper column highlighted this risk with a local Springfield woman.

Trustworthy helpers are vitally important to widows/widowers…

Recently, there was a very concerning article in the paper about people preying on a widow after her husband’s death. It would have been an eye-opening article regardless, but the writer of the letter to the paper’s columnist was writing from Springfield, Illinois, so it created quite a stir around here. Several people forwarded the article to us. Some wondered what they could do to avoid such a terrible situation. Some wondered how Edwards Group could help prevent such a thing.

First things first, read the article here.

SJ-R Widows article April 2015 web copy

In the letter, the writer from Springfield details how the funeral home, real estate agents, car dealerships, home repair companies, charities, and even the widow’s own pastor, tried to take advantage of her and pressure her to make unwise financial purchases, decisions or donations. The number of requests shocked this family friend, who had been asked by the late husband to watch out for his wife after he was gone. People were literally coming out of the woodwork… including 2 estranged children who hadn’t been in the picture for 13 years. (Much of this is because obituaries and wills are very public, and opportunists watch them carefully.)

So, what did the columnist recommend? Click here.

First, he told the writer how lucky the woman was to have a friend such as himself. Secondly, he recommended finding a professional “helper” (such as a trust company) in Springfield who could help pay bills and provide other assistance and guidance related to the house, medical care, or other things she might need. He also recommended a good Certified Public Accountant to help make sure that her finances are properly taken care of.

So, how could Edwards Group have helped Alice?

We thought this would be a great opportunity to show you what it would be like if Alice (the widow in the article) were a client of Edwards Group:

1) When Alice’s husband died, she would have had a plan in place and known who to call right away. The plan would clearly outline what would happen, and Edwards Group would have been with her every step of the way, possibly preventing a funeral home from taking advantage of her and the situation. (Click here for a checklist of what to do when a loved one dies.)

2) Alice and her husband would have already carefully chosen helpers for their plan, in case they were needed. They would have done this with the help and advice of our attorneys who are very experienced in making these sorts of important decisions and thinking through every detail.

3) When decisions came up or needed to be made, Alice would have someone (she already knows and trusts) to call for assistance. That might be one of the attorneys, or perhaps Laura Peffley, who has walked with many clients through terminal illnesses and the loss of loved ones. (Often making house calls, when needed.)

4) Liis, our Trust/Estate Administrator, would be available to help with bill paying or other financial management issues that may come up.

5) If Alice had been a part of our Dynasty membership program, she would have an up to date asset list and we could help advise her on how new potential investments fit into her (and her late husband’s) planning goals.

6) We would help Alice know what questions to ask of other professionals in her life, such as her financial advisor, CPA or banker. We would help her coordinate between them and help her make wise choices after her husband’s death. We would also help watch out for those trying to take advantage of her.

7) And when it comes to Alice’s estranged children, who now want to be in the picture, we could serve as a buffer or mediator. Edwards Group has worked with estranged children and challenging family dynamics before, always trying to bring peace if possible, or if not, to protect the client from family pressures.

At Edwards Group, we take care of our clients as if they were our own family. (See testimonials from clients here.) Integrity is of great importance, and we take the trust that our clients place in us very seriously. If you, or someone you know, could use help with estate planning, long-term care planning, estate administration, probate, finding a good nursing home for your loved one, or even finding a good attorney in another field, we strive to be a trustworthy resource for the Springfield community and beyond. Call us at 217-726-9200, and we’d be happy to speak with you.

Planning Lessons to be Learned from Mickey Rooney

A week after actor Mickey Rooney passed away, a court has decided where he will be buried. Sadly, and once again, Hollywood provides another teachable moment about the hazards of poor planning.

Here are two of the biggest issues the media has covered, and how they could have been handled more effectively:

Funeral and Burial Wishes: The first week after Rooney’s death, his family spent fighting over where his remains would be taken and buried. Most people wouldn’t purposefully create this extra stress for their family, but by not having burial instructions written out, you may be doing exactly that. Rooney’s situation could have been easily avoided if he had just prepared funeral and burial instructions at the same time he updated his will just a month before he died.

Elder Fraud and Abuse: Sadly, we know that instances of elder abuse are on the rise, and Mickey Rooney himself even testified before Congress about how it happened to him. Many of these situations involve misuse of funds by someone who knows the elder, which is what happened in the case of Rooney. By naming good helpers and putting safeguards in place with the help of a qualified elder law attorney, many of these situations can be avoided. Read our series on elder fraud to learn more.

Dave's signature

What’s Your Next Step in Planning?

Bailey has noticed that I talk to other cars a lot when I’m driving. When someone’s being slow I might say, “Come on out there, buddy, pull right out there.” Or “come on, you can do it,” when they hesitate just a little too long before pulling out so I can go.

As with just about everything in life, this reminds me of planning. No matter how much I talk to the other drivers in those cars, it doesn’t really do a whole lot of good. And that’s just like planning. Talking about planning doesn’t actually do any good, unless you do something about it. Whether that’s nursing home planning, estate planning, death planning, life care planning or special needs planning, talking about it or even coming to workshops and learning more doesn’t do any good unless you move ahead.

So what’s your next step in planning?

1. Attend a workshop – If you already know a little bit about planning, and want to know what it would be like to work with Edwards Group, we encourage you to check out one of our workshops. In addition to getting valuable information about the process, you’ll get to meet David and have the opportunity to ask him questions. We have two workshops going right now:

Intro to Edwards Group: Wills and Trusts Orientation – This workshop is the first step towards protecting your loved ones. You’ll learn about the 4 main reasons most estate plans “just don’t work” and how our process avoids these problems. You’ll also learn how we guide you through the process every step of the way and how our fees are structured. And just for attending this 60-minute workshop, you’ll receive $200 off our Initial Meeting fee. Click here for upcoming dates.

Life Care Planning: 13 Costly Misconceptions About Healthcare and Aging – This workshop expands upon our free Family’s Guide to Elder Law discussing 13 costly misconceptions about healthcare for your aging parents, the 6 stages of Life Care Planning, what long-term care insurance will and will not pay for, how to avoid losing control of your assets, when your parents should consider a reverse mortgage and when they shouldn’t, and much more.

To attend one of our free workshops, all it takes is a call to Tarina at 217-726-9200 to reserve yourself a spot. (Our workshops tend to fill up, so we want to make sure everyone has a seat.)

2. Call to schedule your Initial Meeting – At your meeting with David Edwards, which usually lasts about 45 minutes, we will review your concerns and goals. Dave will also help you understand the unique risks facing your family. Clients find this meeting to be very valuable in helping them understand their options. By the end of the meeting, you should understand your planning options, what they will cost and whether Edwards Group is the right firm for you. There will be no hard sale. We want all of our clients to feel comfortable before starting to work with us. It’s one of the keys to drafting a successful plan.

Did you know that Tarina was a client before she started working at Edwards Group? And one of her favorite parts of the job is talking to people who have questions or might be a little nervous about starting the process of planning. If you have any questions at all, she’d be happy to chat with you. Just give her a call at 217-726-9200.

3. Help your friends and family learn more – If you’ve already worked with us and had a positive experience, we encourage you to share all you’ve learned along the way with friends and loved ones who might need to know what you now know. One of the easiest ways to do this is by requesting our free guide:

Family’s Guide to Elder Law – In this free guide you’ll learn 13 costly misconceptions about healthcare for your aging parents, 6 stages of Life Care Planning, 12 reasons not to give your property to your kids right now, 7 essential questions to ask so your parents have an effective plan for the last decade of life, 3 smart ways to increase your parents’ monthly income and bring peace of mind, 6 ways to get good care without going to a nursing home, 20 red flags that signal when your will or living trust are out of date, and much much more. Just give Tarina a call at 217-726-9200 and she’ll send one out to you.

The most important part of creating an effective plan and achieving peace of mind is actually taking a step forward. Many people think about planning for years… and then all of a sudden it can be too late. Effective planning is much easier achieved before a crisis hits.
Which next action step do you need to take today?

3 Estate Planning Questions to Start 2014

Fresh starts are really nice sometimes. “Out with the old, in with the new” can be energizing. Many people procrastinate when it comes to their estate plan, thinking, “Oh, I’ll never really need it.” But the truth is, everyone will need one at some point.

Why not start off the New Year with some peace of mind and take a minute to reflect on the state of your plan? Here are 3 things to consider heading into this New Year:

  1. Should your plan be changed to reflect changes in your life? Like a change in marital status or the birth of a child or grandchild.
  2. Did you acquire any new assets in 2013 that might impact your plan?
  3. Are your executors and trustees still the right people for the job?

There are many other considerations, but these three are a good start. As always, if you have any questions at all, feel free to call our office. We’d love to speak with you. And be sure to check out our upcoming workshops.

will

5 Reasons Not to DIY Your Will

I often hear people say, “I don’t need an estate plan. I don’t have an estate!” But that’s not true. Virtually everyone can benefit from having a personalized estate plan, which is, at the very least, a will. Without one, the state of Illinois will decide what happens to your house, bank accounts, cars, etc. when you die. And trust me, the state of Illinois doesn’t know you or your family, so they may not make the same decisions you would make.

The number of online and do-it-yourself legal providers continues to grow, and in a day and age where you can learn anything on the Internet, it may seem very tempting to just do a will on your own. After all, it’s just filling in the blanks, right? WRONG!

Filling out the forms may seem straightforward, but any mistakes you make may not come to light until it is TOO LATE. By doing things yourself now and trying to save a few bucks, you could cost your family more money than you saved. You could also create more distress, confusion and grief for them. Bad estate plans break up good families.

5 Reasons you should not do-it-yourself when it comes to your will:

  1. Legal Expertise – The law is complicated! That’s why I spent 3 years in law school and still spend several weeks each year in conferences learning more. I know what to do to make your plan work the way you want it to. I also know the unique laws of the state of Illinois.
  2. Counseling – Attorneys like me are called “Counselors at Law” for a reason, and I take that designation very seriously. Everyday I counsel families, guiding them through delicate decisions like providing for an elderly parent without interrupting government benefits, protecting family property when it’s time to enter a nursing home and deciding how to pass down wealth/assets so that they’re protected from creditors or irresponsible spending. No two families are the same, so why should wills be essentially the same document with a change in words here or there?
  3. Explanation of Intentions – Oftentimes there are hurt feelings or confusion that arise from someone’s choices made in their will. At Edwards Group, we not only take the time to get to know you, we get to know your family as well. We strive to develop a meaningful relationship with you so that when the time comes, we can provide appropriate guidance, explanations, etc. This type of relationship can help avoid costly or heartbreaking family feuds.
  4. Coordination of Assets – Wills control things you own, (or are titled in your name). But what about your assets that are not controlled by your will? Joint ownership, payable upon death, or beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401(k)s or life insurance policies are a huge part of the planning process. So huge, in fact, that we have two asset coordinators (Laura and Liis) on staff and that’s ALL they do! It can be very complicated to try and navigate coordination of assets on your own.
  5. Complexity – Most people think starting out that their estate plan will be simple, but many discover along the way that some personalized planning is needed. In that case, you need the guidance and counseling of an experienced attorney because you won’t be around to straighten things out when you die or become incapacitated.

The best advice I can give you is to become an educated consumer. Education is something we value here at Edwards Group. That’s why you’ll find page after page of estate planning information on our website. The better educated you are about planning, the better able we are to help you design a plan that perfectly fits your family and circumstances. Our process isn’t for everyone, but with a money back guarantee, you don’t have much to lose! Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to find out how to get started.

What Estate Planning Attorneys Do

Sometimes there’s confusion about what we really do around here. We ARE NOT financial advisors who sell financial products or invest money.

Some of the things we do are:

  1. Use legal tools like wills, trusts, deeds and LLC’s to accomplish your goals and carry out your wishes.
  2. Coordinate your assets with your goals.
  3. Counsel and guide you in making the best decisions for your unique situation.
  4. Consult with your accountant and financial advisor to make it all fit together.
  5. Understand how financial tools such as life insurance, annuities or IRA‘s impact your legal wishes.
  6. Help maximize Medicaid or VA benefits for long-term care.

If you’d like to know more, our Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started workshop is a great first step. If you already know that we’re a good fit and you want to get started with your planning right away, just give us a call at 217-726-9200 to set up your Initial Meeting.

Getting Started With Wills and Trusts: The Next Steps

If you’re curious about the best way to get started at Edwards Group, download our latest flyer. It tells you the three easy steps you can take to get started today…

Download the flyer here: Getting Started With Wills and Trusts FLYER

Flying to The Netherlands

For 10 days my family and I recently took a vacation to the Netherlands to visit my wife’s relatives (from a previous post you may recall that she is Dutch). We had some apprehension about flying 8 hours with our three children, ages 7, 4 and 2! Despite our fears, the flights were uneventful. We even got to jump to the front of the security check-point lines because we were traveling with children.

The time we spent in the Netherlands was wonderful. It was great to visit my wife’s Mom, sister, and extended family. Our children (especially the 7 year old) had a fun time pointing out all of the differences between the Netherlands and the United States. One of the differences that he liked the most was the fact that they have traffic lights just for bicycles.

As I prepared for our vacation, I thought of how flying on an airplane often motivates clients to prepare Wills and other estate planning documents. Of course, statistically speaking, you are much more likely to die in a car crash on the way home from work then you are in a plane crash (1 in 5,000 vs. 1 in 11,000,000)! So why does flying motivate people? Researchers in psychology have found that when we have control (like when we’re driving) we’re less afraid, and when we don’t have control (like when we’re flying) we’re more afraid.

Fear can motivate people to act, but it can also keep people from taking action. The estate planning process can seem like an intimidating process. By allowing David and I to walk you through the process, you are actually taking control of your future and the future of your loved ones. When you finish the process and have that control, the relief you feel will be immense. You will no longer have a fear of what happens when I die or become disabled. You will have a plan in place that achieves your goals and gives you true peace of mind.