3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan

We’ve talked previously about what a “helper” is and why it’s so important to not only choose one, but choose a good one. Whether it’s as a trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian, it’s very important that you choose someone who is up to the task.

Here are 3 myths about choosing a helper that you should avoid:

1. “I need to name my oldest child.”

While it is historically conventional to name your oldest child as a “helper” in estate planning, we challenge that convention when it’s not the best choice. If your oldest child is not your most responsible child, or if your oldest child has extenuating circumstances in their life (like a special needs child) that would prevent them from carrying out the duties of a helper, then it is perfectly acceptable to choose a child other than your firstborn.

2. “I should name all of my kids as co-executors.”

In an effort to be “fair,” many people think that naming their kids as co-executors is a good idea. David generally does not recommend this option. Read here to find out why.

3. “My kids will figure things out without me.”

This may seem like the easiest option, but it is generally the worst option for your children. The stress and aftermath of a parent’s death is easily one of the hardest times in life. By leaving all of the hard decisions to your kids, you’re heaping an unbelievable amount of extra stress and pressure on them. Good families are destroyed by bad estate planning. We see it everyday.

So what factors should you consider when choosing a helper? Read this article, Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper to find out. Also, check out “12 Duties of a Helper” to learn more about what exactly executors, trustees, guardians and powers of attorney do. And if you need help making this decision, that’s part of our unique approach to planning – we walk our clients through the process, helping them think of every detail. Give us a call today at 217-726-9200 or attend one of our upcoming workshops.

7 Types of “Helpers” You Need to Watch Out For

As you age, or as you complete your estate plan, you’ll need to name different kinds of “helpers” who will carry out your plan when the time comes. These helpers are officially known by different names depending on the job they’re given. They can be known as trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian, but no matter what their legal name is, their job is to act for you when you can’t act for yourself. This can happen in cases of stroke or other debilitating illnesses as you age, or after a death. It’s very important you choose the right person.

Our founding attorney, David Edwards, has been in the estate planning field for almost two decades now. When you’re that experienced, you start to notice trends. Here are some kinds of helpers David has seen over the years – helpers you may want to avoid if you have any of these “types” in your family:

1. The Do-Nothing – Mom died 2 years ago, but her house is still sitting empty, crumbling. Tax bills and utilities eat up the estate, while the rest of the family waits. He says, “I’ll get to it soon.”

2. The Messy One – In grade school, this person couldn’t find her homework. As a teenager? Clothes piled a foot deep in her bedroom. As an adult? She’s often late to appointments (if she remembers them at all). And finances? Her checkbook has never been balanced, and she gets monthly overdraft notices. Now she’s been named a trustee…

3. The Fighter – His competitive spirit was great while playing sports in high school. But it has not worked out so well with his family or his marriage. Being right is more important than anything else. And now, as a trustee, he gets to decide what’s “right.” There’s no talking to him about it, because it’s his job, and it’s “none of your business how I do it.”

4. The Romantic – “I’m just not ready to sell grandpa’s car or fishing cabin yet.” This trustee lets her emotions get in the way of the job – which is to sell or distribute trust assets. And it’s not just the car and cabin – what about personal property? How do you sort out or (gasp!) even throw stuff away? “It’s just too hard. I can’t do it yet.”

5. The Bossy One – The parents named Junior and Sissy as co-trustees, wanting both of them to have a say and to work together. But big brother is used to being in charge and taking over. He won’t even talk to his sister about what is going on. “If you don’t like it, go get a lawyer… I don’t care if we spend the entire estate on legal fees!” Bossy brother pushes and threatens, leading the more reasonable sister to let him have his way. “It’s just not worth it to try to fight.”

6. The Stress Ball – She’s always running here and there, never any time to sit and talk about the estate. IF you get her on the phone she says, “Sorry. Can’t talk now. Can I call you back?” She means to do her job as trustee, but she can’t find time for the things in her own life, much less this added duty. The family isn’t sure what to do – take legal action or just wait a little longer.

7. The Broke One – His ends never seem to meet, and he’s always in financial crisis. Bill collectors call all the time. Now he’s named as a trustee and gets a checkbook showing a nice balance. It’s easy to rationalize – “I’ll just take some of my inheritance early, to get past this crisis.” But then he needs a little more and a little more. As time passes, the family wonders what has happened to their parents’ money.

So, what types of people make good helpers? Here are some things to consider in naming “helpers.”

We understand that this can be a very daunting task. 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 to get started, or attend one of our FREE workshops. We have two to choose from:

If, after attending one of these workshops, you decide to work with us, you’ll receive $200 off your Initial Meeting fee. Call 217-726-9200 to RSVP for an upcoming workshop today.

non-financial estate planning issues

10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider

Effective planning doesn’t just involve money…

We tend to do things a little differently around here. After years of doing planning the traditional way (and seeing ways that the process could be improved), I started my own firm. Not only is it important for me to educate you about planning financially, I also want you to think about the non-money planning issues that are often overlooked by more traditional estate planning.

Not planning for non-financial issues can be just as tragic as not planning for more traditional money issues. This lack of planning can lead to poor quality of life for you, extra stress for your kids and loss of a legacy.

Here are 10 non-financial planning issues to consider and their solutions:

1. Healthcare. Who will make your healthcare decisions if you can’t? And will they know when to “pull the plug”? When they do pull the plug, will your organs be donated? Solution: You need to cover the proper legal authority through a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. Also, have conversations with your family about your wishes so they know, without a doubt, how you want them to act on your behalf.

2. Pets. Without a plan, your special dog may be bounced around from relative to relative or even put down because there is nowhere for him to go. Solution: Your will or trust can specify who will care for your pet and how the pet’s expenses will be paid after you are gone. (Which reminds me of one of my favorite estate planning jokes.)

3. Wisdom. What does your family stand for? What values were important to your parents and grandparents? Will your grandkids know about those? Solution: Take the time to reflect on these things and write them down. You can find resources for where to start online, or even hire someone to help you at the Association of Personal Historians.

4. Online or computer stuff. More and more of our lives are being lived online – Facebook, online photos, emails with your grandkids.  How will your family access that info after you’re gone? In this day and age it’s important to have a plan for this. (Read a real life story about it here.) Solution: You can store the information yourself in a safe deposit box, you can use one of the newly formed companies out there (SecureSafe or PasswordBox), or your attorney can keep the information for you.

5. Family heirlooms. Grandma’s old table, the shotgun with the homemade stock, the family Bible that’s over 100 years old. What will you pass on? And will you pass along the story that goes with it? Antique shops are filled with stuff that has some value to a stranger, but could have been priceless to family members, if only the story behind the item had been preserved. Solution: Take the time to clearly communicate your wishes or preserve the stories behind those special items. You can include the history of family items as part of your “special stuff list” or in a separate letter your family will get after you’re gone.

6. Guardians for kids. If people who don’t share your values end up raising your minor children, then the money you leave won’t really matter. Solution: Our free Kids Guardianship Kit is a great resource for knowing how to choose a guardian, and even includes a Child Raising Priorities Checklist to help you through the process.

7. Sibling relationships. If you become disabled and one child is the primary caregiver, will the rest of the family be prepared? Will the caregiver feel like no one else is helping out? Will the other siblings feel like the caregiver is overspending your money? Only you can know the answers to these questions. Solution: As part of our process we will discuss with you how to best choose helpers and how to make sure they know what to do when the time comes. Good planning helps avoid misunderstandings between siblings.

8. Burial wishes. Do you want to be cremated or have a visitation? What will your obituary say? Will you plan it out or leave it to your kids to decide (or fight about) during a time of grief and high stress? Creating a funeral plan or burial plan can be a real gift to your family and make the time of remembering you more meaningful. Solution: In Illinois, you can specify your wishes in your Disposition of Remains document, which provides binding burial instructions.

9. Living arrangements. If you’re near the end of your life, sick and unable to care for yourself, all the money in the world won’t matter if your living arrangements are not what you want for yourself. How important is it that you remain living on your own? Are there certain facilities you absolutely do not want to be placed in? Solution: As part of your disability instructions in your living trust, you can be very specific about how you want to be cared for and where you want to live.

10. End of life issues. Do you want to be kept alive with a feeding tube? Ventilator? Will your family know what your wishes are? If you are 85 years old with terminal cancer, would you want heart surgery just to prolong your life a few weeks or months? Solution: Your living will and healthcare power of attorney give the legal authority and instructions on those issues. But it is also very important to discuss these difficult issues with your family so they understand your preferences.

See our Infographic illustrating these issues HERE.

We are always happy to talk with you about any questions or concerns you might have. Just give us a call at 217-726-9200. And if you want to learn more about the process of planning, feel free to check out our next Intro to Edwards Group workshop. This 1-hour workshop is a great way to learn about our unique process, why it’s so effective and how our pricing works, etc.

david edwards estate planning elder law

Long-term Care Planning and Why It Matters: 6 Goals of Planning

I know from experience that everyone who comes into our office has goals and expectations that they bring along with them. But did you know that we have goals for each of our clients as well?

Some people see long-term care planning as a shady way to get around having to pay for care as one ages. I can assure you that nothing we do when it comes to long-term care planning is shady. We truly care about helping people during one of the most difficult times in their life.

Here are 6 goals we have for every client who comes through the door and needs help with long-term care planning:

  1. Make sure they get good care when it’s needed. Aging in America is expensive, and we’ve all heard horror stories about nursing homes. (Or, sadly, experienced them firsthand with aging grandparents or parents.) Nobody wants to be neglected or mistreated as they age. By planning ahead, we can help make sure that the best possible care is available when the time comes.
  2. Make sure the right people are in charge. As one ages, there may come a time when someone else will need to make financial and medical decisions (because of stroke or dementia). We help our clients think through who might be best for that role. Read more about how to choose good helpers here.
  3. Maximize legally available benefits such as VA and MedicaidIt never ceases to amaze me how many people do not realize they are eligible for benefits, either from serving in the military (or being married to someone who served) or by paying taxes most of their life. Because we do this everyday, we know what help is out there. Long-term care is outrageously expensive. Maximizing available benefits is a must.
  4. Get the benefits as quickly as possible. We often help clients get benefits quicker than they otherwise would without us. With good Medicaid planning, we can protect assets and start nursing home benefits months or even years quicker than without planning. With the VA, our clients often get approvals in weeks, whereas some families trying it alone are stuck months or even years in endless bureaucracy. Quicker benefit approval means thousands of dollars more that will be available to pay for care.
  5. Protect assets if we can. Under Medicaid guidelines, a person is only allowed to keep $1 per day! That is not enough for extras that your loved one, or you, might need as you age. By protecting assets, we can make sure there is money for extras that otherwise couldn’t be afforded.
  6. Make things easier on your family or power of attorney. Dealing with a sick or aging loved one is incredibly stressful. We see it everyday. But families don’t need to go it alone. There are many things we can do to help ease the burden so your loved ones can enjoy their final years with you instead of having to stress about how to find care, how to pay for care, etc.

To read more about long-term care planning, check out this article: 8 Keys to Effective Long Term Planning. In addition, you may want to consider attending our next workshop, “How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home.”

3 Things to Do Before You Hit 70

Decision making gets harder as we age. Here are 3 crucial decisions you need to address before you turn 70.

Researchers say that decision making gets harder as we age, even if we don’t have dementia. What does this mean for you? There are many important decisions regarding your health, well-being, family and finances that can be made sooner rather than later. Many people put planning off because it’s unpleasant to think about. I can assure you, it’s much more unpleasant to be the family members on the other end of a stroke, long illness or death where the person did not plan ahead.

Here are the three things you need to take care of by the time you turn 70:

1. Incapacity planning.

What would happen if you had a stroke and were unable to make decisions for yourself any longer? You may think that your family would just decide for you, but it’s not that simple. With proper planning, extra suffering and fighting amongst your family can be avoided.

2. Estate planning.

What can we say about this that we haven’t already? Wills and trusts are basic estate planning tools that a majority of people NEED to have. Proper drafting of these documents saves time, money and heartache.

3. Long-term care planning.

Most nursing homes in Central Illinois will cost at least $60,000 per year. It’s important to take action ahead of time to plan and protect yourself from having to go broke in order to pay for nursing home care.

I know it can seem impractical to plan for things that may never happen, but statistics tell us that everyone who ages should be prepared for cognitive impairment of some kind. Statistics also tell us that 70% of Americans over 70 will need some sort of long-term care. The longer you wait, the less prepared you will be to face the reality of aging in America – and that will cost you time and money. It will also cost your family a lot of heartache.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out this article from MarketWatch, “The biggest retirement risk no one talks about” or the National Institutes of Health study entitled, “The ability to decide advantageously declines prematurely in some normal older persons”. This study showed decision-making impairment in aging adults with otherwise normal cognitive functioning. According to NIH researchers, “Our finding has important societal and public policy implications (e.g. choosing medical care, allocating personal wealth), and may also help explain why many older individuals are targeted by and susceptible to fraudulent advertising.”

As always, if you have any questions or just need help knowing where to start, we are more than happy to talk with you via phone at 217-726-9200.

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?
in-home caregiver agreement

9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help With In-Home Care

Because of the popularity of this post, we created a handout to go with it. Download the handout now.

Navigating the challenges of in-home care can be a little easier with an experienced guide by your side.

Here are 9 ways an elder law attorney can help:

 

1. Set up caregiver agreements and in-home caregivers.

There are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for with in-home care. As elder law attorneys, we are familiar with all these pitfalls and help people plan for, and avoid, these pitfalls everyday. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of a caregiver agreement.

2. Analyze how long your funds will last.

Because elder law attorneys do this sort of thing all the time, we are very familiar with what aging costs, the resources available to fund it, and how best to use the tools available to get good care for as long as possible.

3. Set up trusts for protection.

Years ago trusts were only thought of for the very rich, but that is no longer the case. These days, trusts are one of the most powerful tools in our legal toolbox. They can be used to help qualify for VA or Medicaid benefits, which translates to more resources to pay for care for you or your loved ones.

4. Draft powers of attorney or revocable living trusts.

These powerful and necessary documents help guide decisions during a disability – that time when we need to take away your checkbook because of a stroke or dementia. These legal tools help preserve dignity and quality of life. They also help you to stay in control as long as possible.

5. Help you qualify for VA benefits.

VA planning can be complicated, but qualifying for benefits can really make it worthwhile. Many people don’t realize they are eligible for in-home benefits through the VA, or how to prepare legally and financially to get the maximum benefit as soon as possible. We help families every month to qualify for VA benefits. We know the ins and outs of getting you qualified for the benefits you earned in service to your country. Learn more about that here.

6. Give feedback on care options.

Like I’ve said before, many people go to friends for advice on these issues, but chances are your friends have only dealt with these issues once or twice. We work in this field everyday which means we are very familiar with, not only legal issues surrounding in-home care, but other issues like which facilities and companies are the best to work with — and we’d love to be your resource in situations like this.

7. Plan for potential nursing home costs.

While everyone wants to stay in their own home as long as possible, the reality these days is that most people will spend some time in a nursing facility. Planning ahead now can help you be prepared for later. Suddenly being surprised by the need for Medicaid is not the kind of surprise you want.

8. Understand tax implications.

Sometimes good planning for long term care requires rearranging your finances. With IRAs and annuities, those changes could result in income tax. Working with your accountant, we help you understand the tax impact of long term care planning options.

9. Preserve your wishes upon death.

Sometimes, as we age, our current reality can jeopardize any plans we might have  for the future. Consulting with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney can help maximize benefits now, providing good care during life, without jeopardizing your wishes for the future after you are gone.

Download the handout now

There is a lot to keep in mind when considering home healthcare, but we help guide people in these decisions everyday, weighing the pros and cons. If you need to speak to someone right away about your current situation, we would be more than happy to talk with you at 217-726-9200.

If you’d like to learn more, call us and ask for our Elder Law Information Packet. This free guide covers 13 Costly Misconceptions About Healthcare for Your Aging Parents, the 6 Stages of Life Care Planning, 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property Away Right Now, 7 Essential Questions to Ask So Your Parents Have an Effective Plan for the Last Decade of Life, 6 Ways to Get Good Care Without Going Into a Nursing Home, and MUCH MORE. We also offer free workshops on the above topic. Check here for upcoming workshop dates.

Keep learning: 7 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help Even if Your Loved One is Already in a Nursing Facility

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.

power of attorney

Power Of Attorney FAQ’s

Elisa (who handles all of our communications like newsletters, mail outs and web content) was on the playground the other day talking to some moms after school. They know what she does, so through the course of the conversation powers of attorney came up. (We’ve talked about them previously here and here.) Some good questions were raised, so today we wanted to address some of those questions:

Won’t my spouse automatically be able to make medical decisions if I’m in an accident?

No. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean your spouse has all the rights to deal with your care and medical choices. In emergency situations, a spouse might be able to act, but any ongoing medical situation will require more legal authority. That authority either needs to be through a power of attorney or else a court guardianship order. And that HIPAA medical release you may have signed at the doctor’s office will not allow you to make decisions, even if it allows you to get information. What you need is a healthcare power of attorney that allows you to BOTH get information AND make decisions for your spouse.

Can’t my spouse manage our finances without a power of attorney?

Not necessarily. A spouse can access joint bank accounts, but other types of assets may be a problem. For example, if a car is in your spouse’s name, you would not be able to transfer it if the spouse is disabled. What if you need to sell your house? Even though the house is jointly owned you will need BOTH spouses’ signatures on the deed to sell it. What if the spouse can’t sign? That’s when a power of attorney will allow you to sign for your spouse.

Why do I need a power of attorney for my college age child?

Once a child turns 18 and goes away to college, you can no longer make decisions for him or her. So what types of issues might arise that would require you have a POA for them to act on their behalf?

  • Illness or accidents: again, if your child is over the age of 18 and is in an accident, just because you’re their parent does not entitle you to find out what’s happening medically. Imagine your child needs emergency surgery and is 8 hours from home. The doctors are not required, and in fact are prohibited, from speaking with you without your child’s approval.
  • After a tragic accident, as the parent, you would not be able to help pay bills or deal with your child’s bank accounts without some legal authority like a power of attorney.

Does an attorney have to draft the POA?

No, an attorney is not legally required to do the form. And the forms are available other places. But if you work with us, we provide advice about HOW to fill out the form. We deal with these issues every single day. It’s ALL we do. Because of that, we think about all sides of an issue, what potential pitfalls might be and guide you through what’s best for your unique situation – that’s why I’m sometimes called a “Counselor-at-law.” I give valuable counsel that can prevent heartache and wasted money.

Can’t the person I named as executor in my will just do it?

No! An executor has NO authority to act on your behalf before your death. Just because they have been named as someone to make decisions AFTER your death does not mean that hospitals, doctors, banks and/or the courts will recognize them as such while you are still living. Your death changes the authority that people can use. Before you die, it’s the power of attorney. After you die, it’s the executor.

As always, we’re just a phone call away. If, after reading about POAs, you’ve decided it’s time to do something about this important issue, give us a call. We will talk with you about the specifics of your situation and what the best next step might be. Give us a call at 217-726-9200.