By the Numbers: A Look Behind the Scenes at Edwards Group

5 of 5 The number of Medicaid applications approved for our clients in the past 5 months. A perfect record! Giving peace of mind to 5 families, despite some complex situations requiring creative (but totally legal) strategies.

43 The number of hours Laura spent on a recent Medicaid application. Medicaid apps have plenty of potential pitfalls, plus they require old fashioned hard work to sort out 3 years of financial records showing everything that has happened.

52 The number of families currently enrolled in our Dynasty Membership Program. These families have an “extended warranty” on their estate plans. As a member, they get our help and reminders about keeping their plan up to date.

98% The percentage of Dynasty members in 2010 who renewed for 2011. Actually, this was a little drop, after having 100% renewals the prior year.

6 The number of Edwards Group employees after the addition of Nancy Bauer as Assistant Asset Coordinator. She will work alongside Laura to keep our clients organized and their assets funded to coordinate with their estate plan.

These are a few of our numbers. What are your numbers?

  1. How many years has it been since you updated your will?
  2. How much estate tax with you face at your death?
  3. Will your family know what number to call if something happens to you?
  4. If you need nursing home care, how much of your savings will have to be spent on it?

If you’re not sure of these numbers, sign up for a Long Term Care Essentials workshop or call us at 217-726-9200 to set an initial meeting with Dave.

helper; trustee; executor

Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper

As you complete your estate plan, you will need to name various “helpers.” These are the people who will carry out your plan when the time comes. When will that time be? When you are disabled or you pass away. These helpers will be there to oversee the legal and financial issues of your estate and will also deal with your loved ones who are benefiting from the plan. You will not be there to help them or make sure they are doing it right. So, you better pick the right person now. (No pressure!) Read 3 Myths About Choosing Helpers here.

How do you pick a good helper for your plan? Here are some places to start:

1. Is the person ready to handle the job? They don’t have to be experts in law, accounting, or investments. However, they will oversee the legal, tax, and financial issues, so it’s best if they aren’t intimidated by those things. They may need to get help from lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. Will that be overwhelming for them?

2. Can you trust the person to make good decisions? Only in rare cases does someone steal money from an estate or trust. However, in many cases a person messes up because they make poor decisions, or make no decision at all (which really is a decision in and of itself). Ask yourself, “Does this person handle their own money wisely?” Do they spend it well, save themselves, and rely on professionals? Do they listen if someone gives them good advice, or are they too stubborn? Read “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here.

3. Will the person be placed in a difficult family situation by becoming a helper? This can happen when a sibling has to make decisions for another sibling, or a step-child is put in charge of managing the step mother’s trust after the father’s death. Will the job duties cause conflict or even a broken relationship for the person you choose?

4. How often will the person need to be involved? For instance, if a disabled adult child stays at home after the parent’s death with local caregivers, who will oversee them if the trustee lives out of state? Would a local trustee be a good idea because they can drop in on the caregivers and address daily living details?

5. Is the person nearby? If not, does it matter? In many cases, a trustee who lives out of state may do a good job, especially if their duties are mostly big picture. You should consider whether your trustee will be needed to do things that can only be done in person, for instance – sorting personal property.

6. Should you name an individual or professional, such as a bank? In many cases, a professional trustee easily pays for itself because of proper management and smart investments. It also helps avoid problems that can occur when an unprepared family member serves as trustee.

7. Is it a good idea to name co-trustees? The good thing about having co-trustees is that they can balance each other out. There’s a checks and balances so to speak. The bad thing is that they balance each other out. If they get along, it can work great. If they can’t agree, then we have a deadlock and the possibility that the court may have to resolve the fight. In most cases, when you name 2 co-trustees, there will be one of the trustees who will tend to do more or even most of the work. If that’s the case, why not name that person as the sole trustee and avoid possible conflicts? This can also happen with co-executors — read our post about that here.

Naming a helper or trustee can be a very daunting task, but with this article, you have a good starting point of factors you should consider when selecting someone. Continue learning more with our post, “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” or take our quick Secret Test for Your Named Helper.

As always, we are here to help you create an effective estate plan. You don’t have to do it alone. We’ll guide you along every step of the way. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and get started today!

Consumer’s Guide to Medicaid 2011

There haven’t been many changes since last year, but our Consumer’s Guide to Medicaid for 2011 is now out. Last year’s edition was one of our most popular downloads of 2010. If you, or anyone you know may be facing a nursing home, then this guide can help you better understand the basic issues at stake. Four basic issues are addressed in our guide:

  1. Assets. What are they, how much can you have and how does it impact your eligibility for Medicaid benefits?
  2. Transfer of Assets. When should you do it, why might you need it, and other important information about how this issue affects Medicaid eligibility.
  3. Income. How much will go towards a nursing home if using Medicaid and what about the spouse who may still be at home?
  4. Spousal Protection. Medicaid law provides special protection for spouses of nursing home residents. What does that mean for the income, assets and other needs of the spouse still living at home?

Download it now:

Consumer’s Guide to Medicaid 2011

The guide is really an introduction to the topic of Medicaid Planning. If you want to know more about this important and popular topic, feel free to check out our very popular Long-term Care Essentials Workshops or contact our client coordinator at 217-726-9200 to set up your free initial consultation where we can discuss your unique situation.

Estate Planning Fees and Our Money Back Guarantee

We talked a little last week about how estate-planning attorneys’ fees can be a real obstacle to effective planning. If you missed that article, be sure to check it out on our website HERE.

So how does Edwards Group charge fees in a way that will help you plan better?

Flat fees. Our estate planning is done on a flat fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much time we are taking (or billing) working on your plan. This also allows us to spend time getting to know you, hearing stories about your family, and finding out what’s really important to you.

Choose your own fee. New clients are presented with different planning options and the fees associated with each option. The options are based on the goals and concerns of the client. The client can weigh how important various goals are and whether the fee for that plan is worth the value.

No surprises. We get to know about your situation, including your family and finances, before we quote a fee. So you hear the fee before you commit to it. And then you know what it will cost to get the job done.

Money back guarantee. What kind of attorney offers a money back guarantee? Ones like us who are so confident in our process, and have seen a steady stream of clients be delighted with the way we do our estate planning process. Our clients get a money back guarantee and are told, that at the end of the planning process, if they feel they didn’t get the value for the price they paid, they can adjust the fee however they think is fair.

When I started Edwards Group in December of 2008, I wanted a firm that only focused on estate planning. I wanted everything we did to be designed around helping clients plan better and have more peace of mind. This includes how we charge our fees. Contact us to RSVP for an upcoming workshop or to schedule your initial meeting today. Just call (217) 726-9200.

Our Most Popular Articles of 2010

Educating our clients and the community is something we highly value here at Edwards Group. The better educated you are about estate planning, the better we can meet your needs. We have built a content rich website to serve as a great resource for everyone in Springfield and the surrounding communities. Here is a top ten list of our most popular blog posts from 2010:

  1. Name Guardians for Your Kids
  2. Saving the Family Farm
  3. Keeping the Family Farm in the Family
  4. Estate Planning is Like… Your Favorite Board Game
  5. Approaching End of Life Issues with Forethought
  6. The Consumer’s Guide to Medicaid: 2010
  7. Sweaters in the Suitcase — and Your Living Trust Document
  8. 12 Wealth Threats You Must Know About
  9. What is Probate and Why do People Want to Avoid It?
  10. Living Trusts Typically Do Not Provide Asset Protection

If you still want guidance about where to go on our site or are unsure about where to start, check out our Start Here page. It covers a variety of topics and can point you in the right direction.

hospice

Approaching End of Life Issues With Forethought

It seems rare these days to see someone approach the end of their life with dignity. Elizabeth Edwards gave her family and the whole world a gift last week as the culmination of her brave battle with cancer ended when she decided to withdraw treatment and go home. In this very well written article from CNN.com, oncology nurse Theresa Brown points out that Elizabeth Edwards helped bring attention to a very hard truth to swallow. “…she acknowledged a truth we Americans keep trying harder and harder to run away from: Everyone dies. It’s not an easy fact to contemplate, but it is true.”

If we approach this topic in advance, many of us will have time to contemplate the very important question: How do I want to die? As you begin to contemplate that question, there are several other important questions that can help guide you through the process.

Who do you want making decisions if you can’t?

After reading the article from oncology nurse Theresa Brown, one of my first thoughts was, “It’s great that Elizabeth Edwards made the decision to stop treatment on her own. Many times somebody else is making that decision.” And often times, the people making the decisions have not been adequately prepared for such a significant job. While nobody likes to talk about such things, I think holiday gatherings with family can be a good time to begin the conversation.

Such conversations can be really hard to start. Realizing this and having experienced it themselves, the founders of www.EngageWithGrace.com started The One Slide Project hoping they could make it easier for all of us to initiate conversations and make our own choices regarding end of life issues. In addition to the 5 questions included on the slide, the website has sample conversation starters and other good resources for end of life care issues.

It is also a good idea to consider having a wave of discussions with family and loved ones. This topic is a very big and weighty issue. One that doesn’t have to be tackled all at once. Having a series of smaller conversations with your friends and family can be most helpful.

Once you have decided who will make the decisions, and even completed an Illinois Statutory Healthcare Power of Attorney, it is still very important to write down details. The POA gives a lot of power to someone, but it does not provide them any guidance about how to enact your wishes.

What documents do I need to create or have in place?

After you have decided who you want your decision maker to be, it is essential to put everything in writing. Written instructions can really benefit and bolster the confidence of your decision maker, and give the rest of your friends and family peace during a very difficult time.

As you can imagine, writing such things down can be very overwhelming. The website www.CaringInfo.org has a lot of helpful resources and articles that can help you understand the process. Of course, we at the Edwards Group are here to help you with such issues!

Our philosophy sets us apart from many other estate planning firms. We don’t just care about the documents involved with end of life issues, though those are vitally important. We care about the bigger process – you, your family, friends and those intangibles that make a life so meaningful. As experienced attorneys dealing with these issues on a daily basis, we can help guide you, facilitate discussions, help you figure out what your wishes are and help you communicate those things to your friends and family. It’s a plan that says, “I put thought into this decision while I was alive and healthy. This is what I want. Rely on these instructions when needed, knowing the choice was mine.”

Please give us a call us at (217) 726-9200 or contact us if we can help you with this very important step in planning.

To continue reading more about the topic of healthcare directives, check out our blog post HERE.

Your Bucket List for Estate Planning: Why a Trust Might Be Right for You

A recent movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson inspired a lot of people to think about their bucket list – the things they would like to do before they die. While a trip around the world in a sailboat may seem a lot more exciting and glamorous than estate planning, thinking about what you want at the end of your life financially, and for those you love, can be even more important than achieving your bucket list. Join me as we explore a different kind of bucket list – one that will insure your loved ones, and the things that you’ve worked so hard for, are protected.

What is a trust?
When most people hear the word “trust,” they probably think of families like the Vanderbilts or Hiltons, but trusts are not just for the ultra wealthy. Established during the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries to protect the rights of landowners while away on their journey to the Middle East, trusts are still relevant and vitally important to the work I do everyday in helping my clients achieve their goals. You needn’t be a Rockefeller or a wealthy Englishman to benefit from the level of protection that trusts can offer in our modern life.

Why are trusts important?
I want you to think of a trust as a bucket. And what are buckets good for? They are helpful to put stuff in. When you create a trust, you are in essence creating a legal “bucket.” By placing assets like houses, vehicles, timeshares and farmland into that trust “bucket,” you are insuring that those assets will be managed according to your wishes, which will be written in the trust agreement by you and your legal advisor. Unlike a will, trusts can help protect and manage assets while you are still alive, but disabled in some regard.

How are trusts used?
So, how do you put stuff into the trust bucket? By directing assets into it, such as retitling bank or investment accounts, doing a deed to your house or farm, or changing beneficiary designations on life insurance. For everything that is in the trust bucket, you leave a set of instructions written in the trust agreement. You also name someone to carry out those instructions. That person (or bank or trust company) is called the trustee. The person you choose as trustee to manage your trust “bucket” has a fiduciary duty, which is one of the highest duties in the law, to carry out your wishes and do what is best for you – not what is best for them. They have to act in your best interest. If they don’t act properly, they can be taken to court.

The most important thing for your plan is to think about what you want to accomplish. What are your goals – for yourself and your family? Once we choose the goals (and I help clients do this nearly everyday), then we can see what tools will best accomplish those goals. A trust can often be the best tool to carry out goals such as:

  • Avoiding the delay and expense of probate court.
  • Transferring assets privately after death. (As opposed to a will, which is a public document.)
  • Protecting assets from a divorce or lawsuit.
  • Giving clear instructions for managing your money during your disability.
  • Organizing assets so someone else can help manage them.
  • Protecting assets from being used for nursing home costs.
  • Leaving money to someone who is too young or too unwise to handle it by himself or herself.
  • Avoiding estate taxes.
  • Preventing family fights regarding a family farm or business.
  • Balancing the wife and kids in a second marriage.

A trust is just one of the legal tools we at the Edwards Group use to carry out your goals and dreams. Our other tools include wills, powers of attorney, living wills, contracts, and deeds. A trust is one of the best tools we have to carry out your wishes and plan for a time when you might become incapacitated or pass away suddenly.

Remember, a trust is nothing more than a tool. It’s not a magic document. All it can do is carry out the instructions written in it. And the only assets it governs are those you actually put in the “bucket.” Call us today at 217-726-9200 to schedule an appointment and get started on your bucket list!

New Medicaid laws coming: Joshua Becker quoted in State-Journal Register today

On the front page of the Springfield State-Journal Register this morning, there is an article about the new Medicaid law changes and how they will impact families.  Joshua was quoted several times in the article and a big illustration summary of the law, states at the bottom “Source:  Joshua Becker of Edwards Group LLC”.  The reporter, Dean Olsen, came out to our office earlier this week to talk to him about the new law.

Click here to read the SJ-R article quoting Joshua Becker.

Families Face Aging Parents – Trends and Struggles

Aging Trends and Obstacles of Legacy and Control

There are some things going on in our society now that makes aging, and the way families deal with it, different than it used to be. The issues below are things I see my clients facing as we discuss planning for aging and disability.

1. Better healthcare and longer life expectancy. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, but it leads to some challenges. If you live longer, your health issues may cause you to run out of money, your declining health may dramatically reduce your quality of life, or there’s even a chance your children may face declining health or even pass away before you do.

2. Earlier retirement. People are living longer, but retiring earlier. In 1910, the average retirement age was 74 years, meaning people often worked until they passed away or had to quit for health reasons. In 2002, the average retirement age was 62. Isn’t it nice to retire early? Yes, but it also leads to more planning pitfalls, i.e. more years to potentially get bored, lonely, or run out of money.

3. Families are more scattered. I know some people who have several households within the same family living on the same street. This is rare. More common is that parents have children scattered around different cities, different states, or even different ends of the country. When the family is so spread out, what does that mean for the parents as they age and need assistance? The magazine Christianity Today recently had a column (“Honor Thy Father” for Grownups) about honoring your parents by taking care of them in their old age. How does a family do that when there are 1000’s of miles in between? Often it means delegating the day to day assistance to professional care givers or medical personnel.

4. Communication between generations. David Solie’s book “How to Say it to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders” discusses the two main tasks facing older adults: how to maintain control and how to leave a legacy. Those issues can lead to both conflict as well as rewarding and meaningful conversations.

Let’s think about control

As a person ages, they are faced with losing control. Loss of health, friends, social status, ability to work, driving, choosing where they live, and control of money. All these evaporate as the years tick by. As they are already facing these things slipping away, along comes one of their kids. And what is he telling them? Stop driving, move to assisted living, go to the doctor, eat better, etc.

Is it any wonder that the older generation balks at the advice sometimes? Even if the advice is logical and right on target, it is still another threat to their independence and control. The control is already slipping away naturally and then comes a child wanting to (seemingly) speed up that loss. When a child pushes their elderly parent to make the “right” decision about some life circumstance, it can lead to frustration on both sides, with both feeling unappreciated.

Some people learn from experience that trying to convince our elders with logical arguments will get no where when the elder sees it as a threat to their independence and control. The author, David Solie, says we should stop fighting for control and instead be there to assist. When an older person is allowed the room to make a decision they will often come to a conclusion much more quickly than if they were pushed.

Those in the younger generation are constantly pushing forward to the next new thing. Older adults are sometimes faced with hanging on tight to avoid losing what they already have. Remembering each generation’s different perspective will hopefully reduce the frustration and conflict in those already difficult conversations.

Leaving a legacy

Unfortunately, some seniors spend so much energy and effort trying to maintain control that they never get to the second task of aging – reviewing their legacy. Leaving a legacy involves reflecting on life and how we will be (or want to be) remembered. Reflection means slowing down and focusing on past details. True reflection means a lack of urgency about current tasks.

This lack of urgency is another obstacle to a child pushing a parent to make decisions about a new living arrangement or some other decision that “must be made right now.”

For all us overly busy people, measuring our worth on errands done, emails sent, and whether we are caught up on our facebook status, it may be hard to relax and drop our task orientation.

However, when you hear an older person repeating a story or going into exhaustive detail, listen! You might see how the values in the story reflect the legacy that the storyteller wants to leave and how they would like to be remembered.

Getting Old Ain’t for Sissies: 10 Things to Consider As You Get Older

Here are some things to consider for yourself as you look at getting older. They are in no particular order, just my random thoughts from years of working with families facing these situations.

1. Are you having discussions about how you want to be cared for as you get older? Talk about it. Better yet, put your wishes down in legal documents so people are clear what you want.

2. Is your family prepared to handle things without your help, whether financially or otherwise? If not, you better make doubly sure things are set up right, so they get the assistance they need.

3. Have you lined up the financial resources needed if you became disabled? Such as disability insurance (at work or individual), long term care insurance, emergency fund savings. Do you have too much debt? Do you really want to be retired or facing a disability with credit card debt or a mortgage that’s not paid off?

4. Who is going to help you with healthcare decisions? Who will encourage you to go to the doctor? Who will go to the appointments with you to make sure you stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can?

5. Are you spending too much? How does your income, savings, and spending line up if you look out a few years? Have you calculated how your savings will grow or shrink based on your current spending level? or do you need to have a professional help you do that?

6. Are you spending too little? You have worked hard and saved your money. It’s OK to spend some and enjoy yourself by traveling or other things you enjoy. Or, if you truly have more income than you need and can spend, consider using those funds to increase what you leave at death. For instance, if you have IRA distributions you have to take (after age 70.5), use those distributions to pay life insurance premiums. Then leave the life insurance to your loved ones or a charity you believe in. When we run statistical projections for clients considering life insurance, they almost always show that a person leaves more money at death by purchasing life insurance. If you really don’t need the money, parlay it into a bigger chunk with life insurance.

7. Never say never. Transitions and change are difficult. Are you laying down a gauntlet by saying “I never will…”? Instead, make a plan so you can enjoy the most freedom and as full a life as possible for as long as possible.

8. Are you willing to make a transition sooner than necessary so you can avoid losing control? By getting “greedy” and holding on too long, sometimes people can end up losing their independence more quickly. For example, a grandmother leaves the family home earlier than anyone thinks she needs to, and enters a retirement community, where she has less stress of home upkeep, and more social opportunity that keeps her young. Another grandmother waits too long, goes downhill at home by herself, gets hurt by falling, declines by not eating right. Then when she is later forced to move to another living arrangement, she can’t enjoy the people or activities there because of declining health. Remember, there are endless variations to the type of retirement community or assistance a person can choose. Make choices while you still have choices, instead of having those choices made for you in a crisis.

9. Make gifts while you are around to see someone enjoy them. Gifts to your church or charity. Gifts to family (especially of heirlooms where you can share the story behind them). If you can, give some money and things away while you are still healthy so you can see how they bring joy and benefit to those who received it. To learn more about charitable giving, click HERE.

10. The ultimate question. I personally can never think about getting older without thinking about the ultimate question – what is there beyond this life?  I believe that faith in Jesus Christ leads to eternal life.