3 Estate Planning Questions to Start the New Year

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.


What’s the Difference Between a DNR and a POA?

End of life documents can be quite confusing and intimidating (the use of acronyms doesn’t help). So we’d like to set the record straight and help clear things up. Let’s start with the types of documents commonly used:


These letters stand for Do Not Resuscitate. A DNR order is given/written by a physician stating the patient’s wishes not to be resuscitated if that need arises. This is usually prepared a short time in advance, generally during a hospital stay or a long illness.


This simply stands for Power of Attorney. When healthcare is involved, it can also be referred to as a Healthcare POA. There are different types of POAs, however, a Healthcare POA (or Healthcare Proxy) is an important legal document that provides authorization for someone to represent or act on your behalf in medical situations where you are unable to do so for yourself.

Advanced Directives/Living Wills

These are end of life documents that work hand in hand with a POA to carry out the wishes and preferences regarding healthcare and end of life procedures (use of ventilators, feeding tubes, etc.). These documents can be a helpful guide to the appointed healthcare agent who has been named in the POA.

Creating POAs is something we do on a regular basis. To read more about Powers of Attorney, click HERE.

Everyone Over 18 Needs One of These…

At our house we like to watch the old shows like Little House on the Prairie and Andy Griffith. Bailey, our daughter, loves watching “Half Pint” and Barney Fife. Those are great shows and they reinforce some great old-fashioned values.

In estate planning, there are often changing laws and new legal strategies. But there are also some old fashioned ideas that have not changed. One of those is the fact that everyone over the age of 18 should have powers of attorney for healthcare and property.

Everyone Needs a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney gives someone else the power to act for you if you can’t do it yourself. So if you have a stroke, get Alzheimer’s or get laid up and have to have your checkbook taken away, who will be in charge?

There are 2 types of powers of attorney. And you really need both of them.
  1. Power of Attorney for Property  This allows someone to help you pay the bills. It allows someone to sell your car, your house or even get funds from your IRA. It also allows them to run errands for you, like forwarding your mail, dealing with pets and filing taxes.
  2. Power of Attorney for Healthcare  This is a separate document that gives someone the power to get medical information, make decisions for you as to treatment or surgery, make end of life decisions, and follow through on organ donations. Read “Why You Need a Healthcare POA” HERE.

What happens if you don’t have one of these? Well, if you have a stroke or other disability, someone may have to go to court to seek a guardianship. Some people call this a “living probate” because you are in probate court while you are still alive. As you can imagine, this costs time and money. And the judge will oversee the guardian making your decisions.

Powers of attorney are needed regardless of wealth level for anyone over age 18. Even college kids need them in case they are injured, so their parents can have access.
Give us a call today (217-726-9200) and set up a free phone chat with Dave. Depending on the details of your unique situation, he can then recommend what the next best step will be with regards to a POA.

Why You Need a Healthcare POA

What does signing a Healthcare POA do for me?

We talked previously about how a POA differs from a DNR. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a very useful legal document that provides authorization for someone to act on your behalf regarding medical care when you are unable to do so yourself.

Signing a Healthcare POA also saves you from having to go to court and having a guardian appointed for you, by a judge who doesn’t know you. In addition, a Healthcare POA also allows your loved ones:

  1. To know what’s going on. A POA allows whomever you appoint to talk to doctors when you’re hurt or sick. (Instead of being blocked by privacy laws.)
  2. To avoid treatment delays. A POA allows your designated person to consent to treatment or surgery if you are too sick to do so for yourself.
  3. To get the best care. A POA allows someone else to check you into a hospital or other facility of their choosing.
  4. To make end of life decisions. Without a POA there could be a lot of disagreement about if/when/how life should be ended. It’s the sort of thing that destroys families. It also allows you to give guidance about end of life issues, like when to “pull the plug.”
  5. To have instructions from you regarding organ donation.

If you’d like to know more about preparing a Healthcare POA, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. We would be happy to chat with you about your next step.

estate planning quiz

Estate Planning Quiz: 8 Questions to Help You Know Where You Stand

The following quiz helps you identify weak spots in your estate planning. For many people an estate plan just means a will, but oftentimes that is not enough to accomplish the goals you have or to protect your loved ones. Honestly answering these 8 questions will help you know if your plan needs more work.

  1. How old is your will? (Changing life circumstances, such as marriages, divorces, etc. can impact old wills.)
  2. Who would manage your finances if you had a stroke?
  3. Is your legal and financial information organized and easy to find?
  4. Do you know whether your estate would avoid probate court? (A time-consuming and expensive process.)
  5. Do you know whether you will owe estate taxes?
  6. If you have an IRA or Annuity, do you know when (or if) your family will have to pay taxes on it?
  7. If something happened to you tomorrow, would your family know what to do?
  8. Are your loved ones (kids, grandkids, etc.) as good with money as you are?

If you don’t know the answers to some of these questions, it’s time to learn more about effective estate planning.

Here are some next action steps to take:

  • Explore our website. Our website is here to be an educational resource to anyone who wants to learn more about effective estate planning. We are passionate about helping people plan because we see the good that can come of it when it’s done properly, and, unfortunately, we see everyday the heartbreak that ineffective (or no) planning can cause.
  • Sign up for our e-newsletter. Our bi-weekly newsletter aims to help people learn more about planning and learn more about Edwards Group. Through this weekly email we share insights and stories about proper planning and why it’s so important. We also know that trust is vital in forming a strong relationship with our clients, so we help people get to know us by sharing things like vacation pics from David’s latest family trip.
  • Attend a free workshop. Education is a core foundation of Edwards Group, so in addition to our website and e-newsletter, attending a free workshop is another great way to learn more about effective planning. Our current workshop is Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind.
  • Get started today. If you’re ready to jump right in and get started, all you have to do is call us and schedule an Initial Meeting with an attorney. At the Initial Meeting, we will review your concerns and goals, then the attorney will help you understand the unique risks facing your family. Call 217-726-9200 and one of our team members will happy to help you get started.
  • Hope things will just work out. This is, frankly, the easiest thing to do, and sadly, the worst thing you can do for your family. Estate plans aren’t really about you and what happens when you die. They are about what type of life your family will have after you’re gone. Procrastination is the greatest threat to protecting your family. We have designed our process to make it as easy as possible for people to take the next step, but we can’t pick up the phone for you… If the unthinkable happens, will your lack of planning make things harder on your family?

As always, we’re just a phone call away. If you’re unsure of what your next step should be, or even if you need a next step, we’d be happy to chat with you on the phone. Just give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are passionate about helping families just like yours, and it is all we do everyday.

“You’re NOT the boss of me!!”

We all have control issues. When my son was 2-years-old we experienced our share of yelling, “NO!!” and throwing full tantrums on the floor. Toddlers are just beginning to understand how they can exert control on the world around them, which makes for an interesting family life for a while. But if you think about it, we all like to be in control – AT ANY AGE. And when someone tries to tell us what to do or tries to take away our freedom, many of us still pitch fits. (Even if we no longer throw ourselves to the ground!)

The same is true for seniors who have spent decades making their own decisions and living their own life, then suddenly loss of control seems to be everywhere – loss of health, loss of strength, loss of peers, loss of home, loss of self. The constant feeling of loss can really take its toll.


One of the biggest concerns we hear about from clients is staying in control. Not coincidentally, staying in control is one of the main goals we strive for when designing an estate plan. I know you want to stay in control, so our first planning steps are aimed at keeping you in control. Tools like Powers of Attorney, Wills, Revocable Living Trusts – they all help keep you in control. Using tools like these will help you get to spend the money, invest the money, give away the money, donate the money or whatever you want to do with the money – just like you did before your estate plan. Many times, these tools can actually help you stay in control LONGER than you would without them.

4 Things to Remember About Control
  1. You can do a lot of good planning without giving up ANY control now.
  2. Even when you have to give up some control, it may be less than you think.
  3. Depending on your goals, you may have to give up a little control. Are you willing to give up some control if that’s what it takes to meet your goals?
  4. Control issues don’t stop at your death. Instead, it becomes which of your kids are in control. Your planning (or lack of planning) will either add to or lessen the potential conflict once you’re gone.

By “staying in control” and not doing any planning, you may actually be undermining your desire to stay in control. Our unique process thoroughly examines all the unique aspects of your situation to determine what steps will best protect you, your family and everything you’ve worked so hard for.

To get started planning, give us a call at 217-726-9200 and schedule an Initial Meeting.

elder fraud

Granny We Need to Talk: Questions that Can Stop Elder Fraud in Its Tracks

In our past two posts we talked about how Elder Fraud is on the rise and the types of fraud to look out for. Here are 7 questions to ask your friends and loved ones that can raise red flags about the possibility that they are being set up as a target for Elder Fraud:

  1. Have you had any recent phone calls or solicitations? (Cold-calling is still a very effective way to take advantage of seniors.)
  2. Has anyone recently asked to obtain your Power of Attorney?
  3. Has anyone with regular access to the home asked for financial information?
  4. Is a financial advisor pushing you to move money or purchase a financial product that you don’t understand or sounds “too good to be true”?
  5. Has anyone asked to borrow money?
  6. Has anyone borrowed things from you and not returned them?
  7. Are you donating to any new charities that you have not previously supported?

Maintaining this sort of dialogue with neighbors, friends and professionals connected with your older relatives could stop fraud in its tracks.

Granny, Can I Borrow Your Flat Screen TV? Types of Elder Fraud to Watch Out For

In our last post we talked about how Elder Fraud is sadly on the rise. In this post we want to give you a heads up about specific types of fraud to look out for.

Scams to watch out for from strangers:

  • Fake prizes and sweepstakes
  • Too good to be true investments
  • Donations to phony charities
  • Dishonest home and auto repairs
  • Predatory loans and mortgages
  • Insurance: health, funeral and life
  • Bogus health remedies
  • Travel scams

Fraud from family members or caregivers can be:

  • simply taking the elder’s money, property or valuables
  • borrowing money (sometimes repeatedly) and not paying it back
  • denying services or medical care to conserve funds
  • giving away or selling the elder’s possessions without permission
  • signing or cashing pension or social security checks without permission
  • misusing ATM or credit cards, or using them without permission
  • doling out the elder’s money to family or friends
  • forcing the elder to part with resources or sign over property

In addition, family members and caregivers can try to exploit legal documents such as:

  • joint bank accounts
  • deed or title transfer
  • power of attorney or durable power of attorney
  • living trusts and wills

As with so many issues, education and awareness is the key to stopping the rise of these terrible crimes. The more people who know about such things and can help look out for scams, the better.

In our next post, we’ll look at questions to ask your elder family members or neighbors to see if someone might be trying to take advantage of them.

Please share this with anyone you think could benefit from this information.

Granny Got Robbed: A Series on Elder Fraud

When you see an article in the paper about a senior being taken advantage of, it often involves a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a great legal tool that lets someone else help you pay your bills or manage finances and property. But, watch out! If you name the wrong person, you have given them power that could be used for good or evil.

Sadly, elder fraud is on the rise. Sometimes it’s done by those you know, using authority you gave them, as a power of attorney or a trustee. But it can also be a stranger taking advantage. There are generally two categories of Elder Fraud:

  1. Fraud by a stranger
  2. Fraud from someone known (like a caregiver or a family member)

What is the solution?

Good planning and help by professionals you trust, such as your attorney, accountant and financial advisor can definitely reduce the risk of fraud. Often the worst cases of fraud are where someone refuses to trust anyone, and then when it’s too late for anyone to help legitimately, a conman (or woman) moves in because the person is so desperate for help.

In our next post we’ll take a look at the different types of fraud that strangers and family members can carry out, so you’ll know what to look for.

Be sure to share this with friends, family and neighbors who may need this information.