How Innovative Legal Help Saved the Relationship of Two Sisters

This is the real life story of two sisters, an annuity, nursing home costs, and why Medicaid Planning matters.

Mom did not have a lot, but she owned her home, had a steady retirement income, and had purchased two annuities. Each in the amount of $50,000.

Each daughter was named the beneficiary of “their” annuity and would, therefore, receive the $50,000 from the annuity when Mom passed away.

The older daughter fell on hard times and asked her mother if she could cash-in the $50,000 annuity. Mom agreed and the older daughter received her $50,000 “inheritance.”

The younger daughter, not needing her money, left her annuity in place as Mom had originally intended.

Unfortunately, several years later, Mom had a stroke and had to enter a nursing home. She privately paid for the nursing home costs until nothing was left but the home and the younger daughter’s $50,000 annuity.

But the annuity wasn’t truly the daughter’s. Mom was listed as the owner because she was still alive and would, therefore, have to spend the younger daughter’s inheritance before she could apply for Medicaid.

Of course this was very upsetting to the younger daughter. She was the one who hadn’t requested her money early. She was the one following Mom’s original plan for the money to pass upon her death. And yet, she was the one “being punished” financially by her Mom’s stay in the nursing home.

A Resolution

One of our attorneys sat down with the sisters for several hours listening to their story and devising a plan. In the end, we were able to develop a strategy that would allow an immediate transfer of the house to the daughter (thereby equalizing the daughters’ inheritances) while qualifying Mom for Medicaid several months later.

The mother continued to get the care she needed as she aged, and the daughters got a resolution to a very sticky situation. It was a very satisfying experience for our attorney and the two sisters!

We work with families everyday to find solutions to the challenges of estate planning — complicated family circumstances, business and farm succession planning, paying for a nursing home. It is our greatest pleasure when we can help families figure out legal solutions for complicated problems.

What Should You Do Next?

If you want to learn more about planning for exorbitant nursing home costs, check out the following resources:

  1. Download a copy of our Medicaid FAQ (that ran in a local publication) to learn more about paying for nursing care, qualifying for Medicaid, etc.
  2. Sign up for our Medicaid Planning e-course. This series of emails will teach you the basics about planning for Medicaid and applying for the benefit, plus provide you tangible steps to get started.
  3. Attend a free workshop to learn more about effective planning. At our workshop, How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home, you’ll learn the five ways to pay for care, how benefits like Medicaid or VA can help get the care you or your loved ones needs, and the three keys to creating a “Good Care Roadmap” to protect your family and life savings. Check for upcoming dates here.
  4. If you need help right away, just give us a call at 217-726-9200. We understand that many cases like these are urgent. Our Benefits Coordinator, Melissa Coulter, will be more than happy to discuss your situation and what immediate actions should be taken.

(Video) When is the best time to contact an attorney about long-term care?

If you already know what an elder law attorney does, then you may be wondering when it’s best to contact them for help.

Anytime there is a transition period or crisis situation, your lawyer can help lay the groundwork for care and help get more benefits to pay for that care. Having a lawyer can help you understand your options if your loved one must move from their home or needs more care in an assisted living or nursing home facility.

Examples of transition times when an elder law attorney can help:

  • If you or your loved one are in the hospital or a rehab facility and may be unable to return home.
  • If you or your loved one are in an assistant living facility but are needing a higher level of care, possibly a skilled nursing facility.
  • If your loved one is unable to stay at home without additional help from family or caregivers to help with Activities of Daily Living.

Learn more in this video from Attorney David Edwards:

If you or a loved one is experiencing a transition where paying for care is a challenge and concern, we urge you to call us at 217-726-9200 and speak with our Benefits Coordinator, Melissa Coulter. She loves helping families find solutions for this very stressful time of life. If you want to learn more about planning for nursing home costs, feel free to attend an upcoming workshop, How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home.

5 Big Risks of Adding Your Kids to Your Bank Account

The Truth About Adding Your Kids to Your Bank Account

Many parents think that “adding their children’s names to their bank account” is an easy way to be sure their kids can help if something unexpected happens, but it can cause some unintended consequences. Legally, what you are doing is naming a child as a joint owner of the account. This can have big legal implications that you might not intend. Despite friends or bankers telling you it’s a good idea, this sort of “coffee shop” legal advice can cause big problems down the road.

While naming your child(ren) as joint owner of your bank account could insure that bills and other obligations can be taken care of without you, it is best to understand what other problems you may be creating for yourself and your child by adding them to your bank account.

5 Risks of Simply Adding Your Child’s Name to Your Bank Account

There are many potential issues that could come up later if you add your child to your bank account now. Here are just a few to think about:

  1. If you die, the child on the account gets all the money in the account. This can be a real problem if there are several children in your family, but you only named one of them on the account. Even if you intended for all the children to share the money upon your death, legally the money belongs to the child whose name is on the account.
  2. If the child on your account gets sued or divorced, YOUR money in your bank account could be at risk.
  3. If your child becomes disabled (through a car accident or a stroke) after you are already disabled, then their spouse will gain control of the account and your money.
  4. If creditors come after your child, they could come after YOUR money in the “joint account.”
  5. If your child is on the account as a joint owner, then they have every legal right to come and take ALL the money from the account anytime they want. And there is not much you could do legally to stop them from doing so. You’re probably thinking, “My child would NEVER do that.” But money makes people do strange things. We see it nearly everyday.

2 Solutions That Can Prevent Future Problems

1. Power of Attorney

If you want a child to be able to pay your bills if you are sick, then name them a Power of Attorney instead of adding them as a joint owner of your bank account.

2. Payable Upon Death

If you want your money to go to your child or children at death, use a payable on death designation or give instructions in your will or trust.

Experienced Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorneys Can Help

Ultimately, you need to find solutions to accomplish your goals without creating unintended problems down the line. This is why it’s important to have the help and advice of an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney. Attorneys use legal tools like Powers of Attorney, trusts, wills and payable upon death designations to make sure things will go smoothly upon death or disability.

The most effective attorneys can help you solve problems without causing extra stress and unwittingly creating more problems down the road. Experienced estate planning and elder law attorneys should be able to anticipate the potential problems that your current actions may cause and prevent them through the use of legal solutions.

To continue learning more on the topic, download our free report, 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property or Your Money to Your Kids Right Now. We also offer free monthly workshops for the community — Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started and How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home. You can find upcoming dates for those workshops here or give us a call at 217-726-9200 to save yourself a spot.

good estate plan

10 Ways to Tell a Good Estate Plan From a Bad One

To see this infographic complete with links to other articles and more information, go here: How to Tell a Good Estate Plan From a Bad One

good estate plan

Cinderella and estate planning

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

The secret to avoiding disaster in the Magic Kingdom — plan ahead.

So much of parenting is about planning and anticipating problems BEFORE they happen. And trips to Disney World are no exception. We know from experience that our kids get worn out if they days are too long. So, now we purposely build in days to quit early and have some down time back at the pool. On our most recent trip, I was reminded once again of how disastrous bad estate plans can be when minors are involved. Cinderella’s father made her life even more difficult by not anticipating what would happen if he died. Keep reading to find out what he could have done differently. But also be sure to download our FREE Kids Guardianship Kit. (Or pass it on to your adult children for your grandkids’ sake.)

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

You’re probably familiar with the age-old story — Cinderella’s mother dies when she’s a young child, leaving just her and her father. Sadly, while Cinderella is still a minor, her father dies after remarrying a woman with two children of her own. His estate is left to his widow. (A regular occurrence in the real world.) And we all know what happens next: the wicked stepmother takes control of the estate of the benefit of herself and her own daughters. Treated as a servant in her own home, Cinderella is reduced to befriending rodents and birds.

Unfortunately, attorneys see these sorts of real life disasters everyday. The parents of modern day Cinderella’s aren’t bad people. They just failed to properly plan. They certainly didn’t wish for bad things to happen to their children. But that’s what happens when you don’t plan for things that are common to the human experience. (Like death.)

Here are 7 estate planning actions Cinderella’s father could have taken to better protect her once his wife died:

  1. Name guardians who share his values. See our Child Raising Priorities Checklist in our Kids Guardianship Kit to help you decide what’s most important to you.
  2. Leave instructions for the guardian about how he wants her raised. This could include schooling preferences, where he wants her to live, religious upbringing, etc.
  3. Don’t think of planning as “all or nothing.” All of the father’s assets didn’t have to go only to the second wife OR only to his child. He should have considered dividing the assets between the spouse and Cinderella.
  4. Name an “outside” helper. Even in the best of circumstances, putting a stepparent in control of the stepchild’s money (or vice versa) can lead to frustration or awkwardness. A professional trustee (such as a bank, CPA or attorney) could have better balanced the interests of both Cinderella and her stepmother.
  5. Prioritize key needs for Cinderella such as future educations costs, wedding expenses, a down payment for a home, etc. Setting aside priority funds in a trust will make sure they are not spent on other things.
  6. Pass on a non-financial legacy. Cinderella’s father could have done a better job in transmitting his values, traditions, stories, faith and experiences, and this should have been especially important because Cinderella was so young when her mother died. By passing on a non-financial legacy, he could have insured that her mother’s things — photos, jewelry and other important “belongings” or memories were passed to Cinderella and not the stepmother. Read about 10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider here.

The type of planning that best protects minors when the unthinkable happens requires attorneys to act as counselors for the client. This also often involves collaboration with other professional advisors. By working as a team, these professionals who deal with real life Cinderella stories everyday can develop solutions for issues such as a creditor protection, remarriage protection, guardianship and special needs.

An estate plan is not really about YOUR DEATH. It’s about your CHILDREN’S LIFE if you’re not there to protect them anymore. You do everything you can to protect them right now — bike helmets, the best car seats, safe cars, healthy food, etc. but what if the unthinkable happens? Will all your protection go away if you go away? Preparation now avoids extra heartbreak and tragedy later. Read a real life story about lack of planning and the death of a young mother here.

Download our free resource to help you get started thinking about naming guardians for your children. Oftentimes, this is the single hardest activity a parent will engage in. We give some guidance in this document, but we give even more guidance in person when clients go through this process with us. As always, feel free to give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have any questions!

12 Duties of a Helper: What Do Executors, Trustees, Guardians and Powers of Attorney Really Do?

Every estate plan needs a good helper(s). Choosing those helpers can be tough. Your trustee, guardian, power of attorney or executor will be responsible for making decisions when you become disabled (like from a stroke or dementia) or pass away. But what exactly are they responsible for?

Your helper(s) will take on many financial, legal and managerial responsibilities on your behalf.

Here are 12 specific duties of a helper:

  1. Sell assets like cars, house or property
  2. Make tax decisions and file tax returns
  3. Pay bills
  4. File claim forms on IRAs, annuities and life insurance
  5. Follow the instructions of your Trust
  6. Make decisions about your care (at home, assisted living or nursing home)
  7. Manage investments
  8. Meet with attorneys and accountants
  9. Sign legal documents
  10. Negotiate sales of any property
  11. Referee disputes between other family memebers
  12. Tell beneficiaries “no” when they ask for money

It is especially important to choose a helper that you trust to manage your finances, as this will become a majority of their responsibility. A great way to decide if you have chosen the best helper is to look at how they currently manage their own life. How does it make you feel to envision your helper stepping in and managing your life right now? If it makes you nervous, perhaps it is best to reconsider whom you have chosen.

We are here to help you through the difficult decision-making process of choosing a trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian. We guide people through this process all the time helping them know what they should consider when making this very important decision.

We have been through this with many families before, whereas the average family has only been involved in this process once, maybe twice. Let our experience guide you to peace of mind when it comes to choosing the right helper for your estate plan.

Learn more by reading “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here. Or check out “3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan” to find out some common misconceptions about who you should choose.

death parent

Case Study: When a Young Mother Suddenly Dies

The Brock’s were just an average young family in the 1980’s. The father, Robert, had been to Vietnam and back a decade earlier. The mother, Margaret, stayed at home with their two young boys, James and Steven. The family lived in a modest ranch house in middle America. But one day their normal life unexpectedly came to an end when the complications of a routine surgery left Margaret in a coma. Her sons were only 8 and 6 at the time.

The Death of a Loved One is Never Normal

Without health insurance or life insurance, Robert faced a very difficult situation as his wife lay in a coma. Margaret didn’t have any written health directives. Only Robert knew that Margaret didn’t want to be kept alive through artificial measures. After less than a week, Robert made the agonizing decision to remove Margaret from life support. Margaret’s parents and sister disagreed with how quickly he made the decision, which made a tragic situation even worse.

Margaret’s parents continued to be a part of their grandsons’ lives. They tried to make peace with her husband’s decision. But Margaret’s sister never forgave Robert. Margaret’s sister also lumped James and Steven in with her anger towards Robert. Instead of being a link to their missing mother and helpful part of the grieving process, she severed the relationship. The boys had not only lost a mother. They had now lost an aunt, an uncle and their cousins as well. Potentially powerful relationships in the healing process were gone.

Having already made the most difficult decision of his life, Robert Brock continued to face the harsh reality of life after his wife’s death. The bills from his wife’s surgery, hospital stay, and death piled up. However, Robert couldn’t sell the house to relieve some of that burden. Without a will, part of the house now belonged to the two boys and could not be sold until the boys were of legal age. Robert was forced to take on extra accounting work at night for a local small business. The boys would go with him after school and be expected to occupy themselves while their father worked an extra 5 nights a week.

A Cautionary Tale: What They Wish Could Be Different

Following the example set by his father, the youngest son, James, never dwelt on what happened or what could have been. He simply continued on with life. Now an adult himself, sometimes James wishes his father had handled things differently. For example, his father never told the boys the exact date of their mother’s death. James is still unsure of the date two decades later. For the most part, though, Robert and his boys chose not to let this tragic event define them in a negative way.

There are also times when James misses having motherly advice, but what he misses the most are the stories that define a lifetime. The story of his birth, stories from childhood, and stories from his mother’s life — all of those died with his mother (and when his aunt walked out of their life). Other than a few photographs, he has nothing left of her. His father’s way of dealing with the overwhelming sadness of the situation was to get rid of everything and sweep it under the rug. While Robert may have thought this was best for him and his boys, it left a big hole in their life.

What Good Is a Plan During a Tragedy?

An estate plan cannot erase the grief for the family left behind when a loved one dies, but it can ease the transition and facilitate healing. Here are some tools that families can use to help make things easier during the devastating and sudden loss of a loved one:

  1. Legal documents clearly stating end of life issues can ease the burden on a spouse who is faced with an agonizing decision like the one above. These documents also could have given other family members peace of mind knowing that their sister/daughter’s wishes were being carried out. In the end, this could have preserved important family relationships for those left behind in the distressing wake of loss.
  2. Preserving memories or special items that lay a foundation for adulthood can mean a lot to the children left behind, but preserving the stories behind those items through letters or audio recordings would have been priceless.
  3. Life insurance could have eased the daily financial stress of losing a spouse and raising children alone.

The death of a spouse or parent is never easy, but there are many things that can make sudden and devastating events, like the one above, a little easier for those left to live life without a very special loved one.

estate planning act of love

7 Reasons Estate Planning Is an Act of Love

When you think of Valentine’s Day, you probably don’t think about estate planning, but we do! We see the depth of our clients’ love for their families everyday as they put an effective plan together — a plan from which they may never see the benefits. A plan that will give their loved ones peace at a time of great loss and grief.

Here are seven reasons why our staff sees estate planning as a great act of love:

  1. It provides protection at every stage of the game. You’ve worked to protect your children throughout their life — when they learned to walk, when they learned to drive, even after they moved out. Creating an effective estate plan is another way we can protect our kids.
  2. It makes sure nothing important gets lost in the shuffle. You may have IRAs, multiple insurance policies or other assets that children know nothing about. It is incredibly stressful, after the loss of a loved one, to run around, playing detective, trying to gather necessary information about these things.
  3. It’s likely the largest financial gift you’ll ever make. You want to get it right. Even if you don’t think you have much of an “estate,” if you own a house, then you have an estate to pass on. Bad estate plans (or no plan) make big messes for those left behind to deal with.
  4. Without planning, your estate could cause great hardship. In Illinois, if you die without a will, your estate will be split 50-50 between your spouse and kids. This means that your wife could be prevented from selling the house because the children won’t agree to it.
  5. You can still watch out for that wayward child. It’s really difficult when our children don’t make the choices we’d like them to make for themselves. It causes everyone a lot of heartache. Creating a trust for a child like this can bring a deep sense of peace.
  6. Long-term Care Planning takes the burden off your family. The last decade of life is one of the most stressful times in the human lifespan. There is nothing harder for a child or family member than not being able to provide care for a loved one when the time comes.
  7. It takes the guesswork away. It is very difficult to be grieving the loss of a loved one (or the catastrophic illness of a loved one) all the while not knowing if you are making the decisions they would want made. Good planning prevents guilt and emotional conflict between siblings or family members.

If you’ve been putting off planning because of the hassle or the cost, we encourage you to take a step toward protecting your loved ones today. You’ve already taken at least one step by learning more in this post. Next, we encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshopsWills & Trusts: How to Get Started or How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home. See the upcoming dates here.

We also understand that time is of the essence if you have a loved one who is facing a nursing home or already in a nursing home. In that case, we urge you to call us right away at 217-726-9200 and our Benefits Coordinator, Melissa Coulter, will be more than happy to speak with you about your urgent situation.

will

The Difference Between a Will, a Living Will and a Living Trust

A recent survey on estate planning found that 74% of those surveyed thought estate planning was a confusing topic. That’s no surprise considering estate planning has a language all its own. Today, we’ll sort out the difference between a Will, a Living Will and a Living Trust. Three separate estate planning tools with similar names, but different roles to play in your planning.

Last Will & Testament

This is what people commonly refer to as a “Will.” It is the most popular estate planning tool. This legal document is used to determine where assets go and who is in charge (the executor) after you die. Until you die, your Will and your executor do not have any legal authority. Wills often must go through the time and expense of probate court.

Living Will

A Living Will states your end of life wishes, such as when to “pull the plug.” This document reduces stress and confusion for your loved ones. It gives guidance to the person serving as your healthcare power of attorney. This is the person who ultimately decides when to stop treatment and let you go if it becomes necessary.

Living Trust

A Living Trust does a lot of what a Will does, but it does it more efficiently. It is kept private and avoids probate court. A Living Trust also states your wishes after death, but also includes instructions if you become disabled. The Trustee is in charge of the trust. Usually, you are the Trustee while you’re healthy, but then a successor takes over if you become disabled (by a stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc.) or when you pass away. (Read more here about choosing good helpers for your plan.)

Helping educate people and demystify estate planning is one of our highest priorities because effective plans can only be created when clients and attorneys work together. You bring your knowledge of your family and it’s unique circumstances. We bring our knowledge of estate planning and the law. Together we create effective plans that bring peace of mind and protection for those people and things you care about. (Read more about that here.)

To continue learning more about the unique language of estate planning, click here to read “What’s the Difference Between a DNR and a POA?” To learn more about Wills and Trusts, check out the dates for our upcoming workshop, “Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started”.

how to choose estate planning attorney

How to Choose an Excellent Estate Planning Attorney

A recent survey on estate planning showed that 53% of respondents said it’s difficult to find an advisor they trust. We understand how hard it is to choose an estate planning attorney. After years of working with many, many clients, we feel pretty good about knowing what makes a plan work and what doesn’t. We’ve also developed some ideas about what makes an effective estate planning attorney. We’ve carefully designed our unique process to overcome common pitfalls that can cause problems with more traditional estate planning firms.

5 Things to Consider as You Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Here are 5 things we think your estate planning firm must have in order to help you create a plan that fits perfectly with you and your unique set of circumstances:

  1. Strong ongoing attorney/client relationship. Personal relationships that last for years help us to better serve your needs and the needs of your family. If the law firm that drew up your will seems disinterested in you, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  2. Knowledgeable law firm staff. Compassionate staff who can assist clients with asset titling and other vital planning questions are the foundation of our firm. Their passion is helping you! If you dread dealing with the staff at your estate planning firm, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  3. Technology. It takes cutting edge technology to maintain accuracy these days, even in the most customized plans. Our innovative use of technology allows cost-effective future updating of legal documents. That means more accurate information for you, right when you need it. If your estate planning firm is still using cut and paste to draft your will or trust, then you might need to look somewhere else.
  4. Constant education. Education is the foundation of knowledge and power. We are committed to continually educating our staff, clients, potential clients and the community through newsletters, workshops, free reports/workbooks, speaking engagements, etc. In addition, our attorneys attend multiple continuing education conferences every year. If your estate planning firm wants you to blindly trust them, then you might need to look elsewhere.
  5. Complete implementation. We see your plan through to the very end. We don’t just create a will, we create an entire estate plan, which includes asset titling, help with beneficiary designations, updating of legal documents and educating family members along the way. It is our passion and our promise to be with your family at every step. If your estate planning firm hands over a document and that’s the end of it, you might want to look somewhere else.

What Should You Do Next?

There are so many reasons to put off estate planning. Don’t lose momentum now! Take what you’ve learned from this post, and take your next step:

Attend a free workshop to learn more about proper planning. Our introduction to estate planning workshop is a great first step. It’s free. It’s only 1.5 hours, and you’ll never be on the receiving end of a hard sell – just good information so you can make informed choices. Click here for upcoming dates.