3 Tips for Preserving Your Family History This Thanksgiving

What story from your life or your parents’ life needs to be remembered?

Did your grandmother board a ship at the age of 15 and immigrate to America all by herself? Does your grandfather have great stories about the shenanigans that went on at the family farm? Was your uncle at the liberation of Dachau during World War II? (I have a friend who this is true for, but she was too young to hear about it while he was alive.) Oftentimes families have stories like these, but questions go unasked, answers and conversations about these things aren’t preserved, and adventures are left untold. In our increasingly disjointed society, it’s important for families to share stories.

We want to encourage you to take time this Thanksgiving (and the entire holiday season) — a time when families naturally gather around tables and tell stories — to preserve these stories that make up the unique tapestry of your family. With multiple generations under one roof, it’s a chance to dig into your history and discover what brought you to where you are now.

If you’re among the older generation, don’t be afraid to share your story. If you’re among the younger generation, be sure to actively listen when stories are being told. Turn off the football game for a bit. Put down the smartphones — you have a lifetime to look at screens but a limited time to preserve your past.

The process of telling your story may be uncomfortable at first. Our current culture leaves us ill-equipped for face-to-face interactions and deep conversation, but it’s worth pushing past the discomfort to get to the unique history only your family holds. With the help of the tips below, the discomfort should quickly pass. Here’s how to get the conversation rolling and preserve your parents’ or grandparents’ stories:

  1. Be intentional. Set aside specific time for this. Gather your parents or grandparents around the dining room table and tell them you want to hear their stories.
  2. Start with simple questions. Easy, fun questions break the ice and often lead to great stories. Begin with a few of these:
    • What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
    • Did you have a nickname as a kid?
    • Where did you go on vacations as a child?
    • What did you eat for lunch at school?
    • How did you meet mom or dad (or grandma or grandpa)?
  3. Record the conversation. Your smartphone probably already has a recording app (like Voice Memos on the iPhone), so use technology to your advantage. The digital age is great for easily sharing things like photos and recordings. Put your phone in the middle of the table and just let it record. Soon, everyone will forget it’s there, and you’ll have an invaluable souvenir of that moment in time.

If you wish you knew more about your grandparents’ stories, we encourage you to do something about it and start recording some of your unique life experiences so future generations can draw strength and wisdom from what you (or your parents) endured, accomplished, and valued. Family stories encourage us to move boldly in our own lives, helping us to uniquely understand who we are and how we got to where we are.

If you still have the chance to tell your story or to listen to the stories of your elders this holiday season, we don’t think you’ll regret it!! Watch on Facebook and in our upcoming email newsletters for more ideas on preserving your family legacy this holiday season.

If you’re ready to protect your family through effective estate planning and gain peace of mind knowing things will go as smoothly as possible when the time comes, give us a call at 217-726-9200 to schedule your Initial Meeting. We will be happy to help guide you through the process.

A Quick Planning Tip to Get Organized

Getting organized is a key part of the estate planning process. Estate planning simply means you have a plan to handle your finances, your care, and your family when you can’t do it anymore — whether that’s because of sickness or passing away.

Everyone wants to be organized, and some do a better job than others. Most of us have a “system” to help keep track of important papers. And you understand your system better than anyone else! But if you are seriously ill or dead and gone, will others be able to find what they need?

I have a friend whose mother recently passed away unexpectedly. Sadly, like many people, her mother didn’t have a very good system or plan in place. My friend has had a heck of a time tracking things down. One day, out of frustration, my friend posted this to Facebook:

“Reminder-
No matter how old you are – no matter how healthy you think you are –
Put all of your death documents in at least one file folder.
A firebox would be great, but-
FILE FOLDER.”

Ask yourself — if you were gone today, WHO would be trying to track down all of your financial information, and how would they go about doing it? Have you made it hard for them or easy for them?

Planning tip: make sure you have a complete list of all your accounts, property, and everything else you own. This will make it so much easier on your family later. And obviously, putting all these things in a single file folder could be a big help to your loved ones left behind.

Without a complete list (grab this document off our website to give you an idea of what should be on the list), it will mean extra stress for your family at a time when they are already very stressed. A lack of organization can also create extra court expenses and delays. It could also mean that lost accounts may get turned over to the state.

Laura Peffley, our Senior Asset Coordinator, spends 40 hours a week helping people sort out asset information, doing a complete asset report, and then helping them follow up on planning changes!

If you’d like a guide to help organize things and make sure everything fits with your wishes within an effective plan, then give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’d be happy to make an initial appointment for you. Click here to read about what to expect at that initial appointment.

Who Needs a Life Care Plan?

In a recent blog post, we talked about the challenges that our extended lifespan creates these days. Because people are living into their 80’s and 90’s on a regular basis, this creates financial, physical, medical and emotional struggles. Seeing families struggle with massive amounts of financial and emotional stress on a daily basis as their loved ones age caused us to ask, “What can we do to help? Because there must be a better way!”

As a result, the role of Elder Care Advisors were born and this interdisciplinary team now works to identify existing and potential care needs, locate appropriate care, preserve family wealth to the greatest extent possible, and support the family during this incredibly stressful time. They do this by creating a Life Care Plan. You can read more about all that here.

So, who needs a Life Care Plan?

Oftentimes, a Life Care Plan comes about after a trigger event — a serious incident (or series of events) that leaves family members concerned about their loved one’s future. Trigger events can be any of the following:

  • A diagnosis of cancer, Alzheimer’s or any other chronic condition
  • A catastrophic event such as a fall, medication mishap, fire, accident in the home, or car accident
  • Discovering that your loved one is wandering, malnourished, dehydrated, or unable to care for him/herself due to functional limitations
  • Prolonged or frequent hospital stays or emergency room visits
  • A serious medical event such as a stroke, heart attack or aneurysm
  • Burnout of the loved one’s primary caregiver

While trigger events like these are the most common motivator for seeking the help of an Elder Care Advisor, some people plan ahead and create a Life Care Plan before crisis strikes. (Read about the different life stages of planning here.) Planning beforehand allows you to be more thoughtful and more proactive in developing a plan for aging. Decisions made beforehand tend to be better than decisions made quickly during the stress and chaos of a crisis.

What services does a Life Care Plan include?

Each Life Care Plan is customized to meet the needs of the individual and family. Most Life Care Plans will include one or more of the following services, but are not limited to these, either. Our team truly tries to identify the most pressing need for the family/loved one and does whatever it takes to help. (They’ve even been known to help with estate sales while clients transition to assisted living.)

Care Coordination

Many families who need help protecting an elder loved one’s assets also need help finding and coordinating care. They may also need help with decision-making as the elder’s condition progresses. For example, one of Edwards Group’s Elder Care Advisors is a physical therapist by training, so she assists families in deciding how long their loved ones can safely stay at home, or what can be done to make the home a safer place. No matter the unique issue your family faces, our experienced team will guide you through these stressful transitions and decisions, helping you make the best choices possible.

Identifying Financial Resources for Care

Nursing homes and long-term care are incredibly expensive, and many families struggle to find and pay for good care for their loved ones. One of our top priorities is helping those families who are facing this urgent issue. We want to give families peace of mind by reviewing ways to pay for care, which might include restructuring assets or investments, understanding Medicare, making claims on long-term care insurance, and pursuing public benefits like Medicaid or VA Aid & Attendance. In addition, we can help with intimidating medical bills, EOBs, and insurance forms. Our Elder Care Advisors can help with, and resolve, many important issues related to healthcare and long-term care.

Legal Services

The legal issues created by aging, illness, chronic conditions, or disability can be terrifying. That’s why every Life Care Plan includes a customized mix of legal services designed to protect the loved one’s interests and to provide for dependents and other family members now and in the future. Your Life Care Plan will include elder law, estate planning, and advocacy services that are appropriate for your loved one’s circumstances. You and your family can relax knowing that you are surrounded with legal support from an experienced team who are familiar with every aspect of your situation.

Client Advocacy

Aging loved ones have a legal right to safe, effective, and patient-centered care, whether that’s in the hospital or a long-term care facility. A Life Care Plan protects those rights. Our attorneys and Elder Care Advisors work together to provide advocacy services that empower family caregivers and protect quality of life for seniors.

If you or a loved one are struggling with the challenges or expense of aging, Edwards Group can help! Just give us a call at 217-726-9200 and ask to speak with one of our Elder Care Advisors. You don’t have to struggle on this journey alone. Help and support is available today.

helper; trustee; executor

Elder Care Advisors: Helping People Age Well

These days, our extended life span creates a lot of challenges when it comes to managing the financial, physical, medical, and emotional reality of aging in America. We recently asked those who are facing retirement, or beginning to struggle with the challenges of aging, what their top concerns were. Here is what they said:

  • I want to stay in my home as long as possible.
  • I’m concerned about navigating the long-term care system and finding good care.
  • I’m worried about not being able to drive anymore and being isolated and lonely.
  • How do I maintain my independence for as long as possible?
  • I’m concerned about how to find quality care I can afford.
  • I’m worried about health issues and paying for healthcare.
  • I want to preserve my options as I age — financial, medical and quality of life.
  • I’m worried about finding good assisted living or nursing homes when the time comes.
  • What will I do if my family isn’t nearby and I need them? My kids live in New Jersey and Arizona.

We know there are thousands of families struggling with these issues on a daily basis in Central Illinois, and it’s why we’ve developed a solution. When Attorney David Edwards started his own law firm in 2008, he knew he wanted a firm solely dedicated to effective estate planning and the tremendous peace of mind it can bring to families. What he didn’t know was that his journey would lead to helping families achieve peace of mind through more than just legal planning. As we helped more and more families navigate the challenges of aging, find ways to pay for good nursing care for loved ones, and helped Veterans obtain benefits to pay for in-home care as they aged, it became apparent that nearly every family struggles with this time of life. We think it’s the most stressful time of the lifespan!

What is an Elder Care Advisor?

As a result, we’ve formed an interdisciplinary team that works together to identify current and potential care needs, locate appropriate care, preserve family wealth to the greatest extent possible, and support the family during this stressful time. As a part of that interdisciplinary team, the Elder Care Advisors serve as guide, encourager, counselor, resource gatherer, and advocate during the journey. Our Elder Care Advisors include a nurse, physical therapist, social worker, EMT, etc. Each one has unique experiences that equip them to support families and create personalized plans that confront the challenges those families face.

What is a Life Care Plan?

A Life Care Plan defines, organizes, prioritizes, and mobilizes every aspect of an elder’s care. The goal of Life Care Planning is to promote and maintain the health, safety, well-being, and quality of life for those who are struggling with the challenges of aging. Every Life Care Plan is designed to do three things:

  1. Preserve Quality of Life

    Make sure the elder loved one gets appropriate care (whether at home or in a residential facility) in order to maintain the quality of life that he or she desires.

  2. Pay for Care

    Find solutions to help pay for long-term care and guide families through the issues created by the high cost of care.

  3. Offer Peace of Mind

    Offer peace of mind that results when the right choices are made to ensure loved ones are safe and getting the right care while preserving family resources.

Read more about WHO needs a Life Care Plan here.

If you or a loved one are struggling with the challenges or expense of aging, Edwards Group can help! Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to schedule a meeting or a phone consultation with an Elder Care Advisor. You don’t have to struggle on this journey alone. We walk this path with you. Help and support are available. Give us a call today!

reverse mortgage

Forget About The “Estate” And Just Do Planning

Estate Planning isn’t just for people with estates…

I talk a lot about “estate planning,” whatever that means. It sounds like lawyer talk and often makes people’s eyes glaze over. Well, I want you to forget about the estate and just call it planning, because that’s all it is!

It’s planning…

• for getting older and making choices for your own care.
• on how you will pay for a nursing home, if it comes to that.
• for what will happen to those family heirlooms.
• for what will happen when you’re gone. (Would your family know what to do or who to turn to?)
• for your kids so they’ll be ready to inherit whatever you might leave them.

Everyday we help our clients use legal and financial solutions to plan for the people they care about and the stuff they own. Don’t let the terminology scare you away. We’ve worked hard to make planning as easy as possible.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and get started planning today!

Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Completing a Power of Attorney document is one of the most impactful things you can do to lessen the burden of caregiving on your family and loved ones. Power of Attorney documents are not crafted as “one size fits all” but instead are customized to reflect the varying needs of each individual family situation. 

Investing in an attorney to help you draft your POA document can help you better understand the terms of the document and minimize mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly on your POA document can lead to many problems in the future — problems that can be costly and emotionally taxing for you and your loved ones.

There are 3 dangers of doing a POA on your own that we’d like to briefly look at:

1. Too Many Powers – One problem with creating a POA document yourself is the possibility of giving your power of attorney too much power. While the form looks relatively simply, it is easy to answer a question incorrectly without a lawyer’s expertise and guidance. You could give your POA agent too many powers and open the gateway to elder abuse. Whenever you see a newspaper article about an older person being taken advantage of, it’s often the result of abusing a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney can be easily abused because they are not monitored by the legal system. Templates are easily available online and anyone can serve as a witness or notary, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind. Paying for the legal expertise is worth the security that comes from knowing your POA agent has the correct powers. Attorneys are ethically sworn to serve the best interests of their clients and can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting you in selecting a trustworthy power of attorney agent. Nominating a power of attorney (when done correctly) should give you peace of mind, not make you nervous.

2. Too Few Powers – Sometimes a person has a POA agent who is 100% trustworthy, but their powers listed in the document are so limited that they are unable to do the things that would be best. We have seen a number of families who were working on long-term care planning, hoping to seek benefits to pay for nursing home care. However, their power of attorney did not include certain powers that would have been helpful in that situation. For instance, unless we specifically state them, a power of attorney does not include the power to create a trust (which is a valuable tool often used for effective planning), or the power to make gifts to family. Yet, creating trusts and making gifts are often important parts of protecting money from a nursing home towards the end of life.

3. Not The Form You Need – If a power of attorney document is created without a lawyer, there is no guarantee that all banks or institutions will accept it. There have been a couple of law changes in Illinois in the last few years regarding powers of attorney. If you find an online document, is it the correct and most up to date form? If not, the bank may refuse to honor it, and they are within their rights to do so if it is not in the proper format.

As with so many things related to estate planning, every family and every situation create unique circumstances that fill-in-the-blank forms cannot adequately address. It is incredibly valuable to the have the help of an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help guide you through the process while anticipating problems your unique situation may bring up. If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or any other estate planning/elder law issues, we urge you to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’re more than happy to speak with you.

7 Questions to Ask Before the Age of 70

People are living longer than ever these days, and while that is a good thing, it definitely presents challenges. Regardless of you or your loved one’s stage in life, good planning requires that you ask good questions. And asking good questions can sometimes be uncomfortable, unpleasant or overwhelming. We have come up with 7 questions that need to be asked by the time someone turns 70. If you address these 7 things, it will make aging easier on you and your family.

A little discomfort now can make ALL the difference later. One of the keys to this exercise is not taking an emotional approach. We naturally think of ourselves as 15 years younger than we really are. That means when we turn 70, we actually still feel like we’re 55! That’s a big difference. One way to combat this is to look at the cold, hard facts about aging:

  • People reaching the age of 65 will live, on average, 19.2 more years. That’s 84, if you don’t want to do the math.
  • 36% of people aged 65+ reported some sort of disability in 2012. (That’s 1 out of every 3 people.) Limitations in daily living activities because of chronic conditions will only increase with age.
  • Statistics vary, but it is generally thought that 70-80% of people who reach 65 will need some sort of care during the rest of their life!
  • 1 in 3 older women are widows. And according to the Wall Street Journal, 86% of widows live in poverty. Almost half of women 75+ live alone.
  • And according to David Laibson, who specializes in behavioral finance at Harvard University, about half the 80-year-old population is not in a position to make important financial decisions due to rates of dementia and other kinds of cognitive impairment. This means it’s important to make these decisions sooner rather than later.

So, what are the questions we want you to think about and ask yourself?

  1. Who’s in charge here? Every plan for aging needs a good helper. (Think Power of Attorney, executor or trustee.)
  2. Do you have the correct powers in place? If you have a Power of Attorney, does it have the correct provisions to allow the most flexible planning options as you age?
  3. Is your estate plan up to date? Lives constantly change, which means your estate plan needs to be tweaked to match the circumstances.
  4. What care will be needed… and when? This is a great question, without a concrete answer, but it’s important to be realistic and anticipate the possibilities.
  5. Have you explored ALL the asset protection options? Even before care is needed, there are some important steps that can be taken to help pay for care when it is eventually needed.
  6. Are you maximizing available benefits now? If care is needed now, are you sure that you are accessing all available help, like VA and Medicaid?
  7. The best way to answer Question #6 is by answering Question #7: Have you gotten the advice of an experienced elder law attorney? Experienced elder law attorneys deal with these issues everyday, which means they are always up on the latest laws, benefits and local care options.

One final encouragement from Dave on this topic, “It is far easier to have a plan pre-70 and tweak it here and there as the situation changes, rather than having to make all the big decisions during a crisis or once decision-making impairment has begun.” Addressing all 7 of these questions is something that all of our plans do. If answering these questions feels overwhelming, don’t stress! We guide our clients through the decision-making process everyday. And when the time comes to start implementing the plan, we work as a support for your family, making sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have questions, or check out one of our upcoming workshops.

siblings equal

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Treat Your Kids Equally

We have a common saying with our kids, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.”

Many of us want equality to be synonymous with fairness — maybe because it seems easier to make things equal than to navigate the complexity of fairness. But think about raising kids. Did you make sure everything was equal?

I doubt you kept track of each dollar spent to make sure it was the same for each child. One child may need braces, while the other has straight teeth. One may need money for music and sports, while the other doesn’t have an interest in those types of things. One child could have health issues and another doesn’t. One could need help with college, while another gets a scholarship. We provide our kids with what is appropriate and what we think they need, regardless of whether it is equal.

And the same should be true of your estate plan. Sometimes, it is okay to treat your children “unequally” because this really may be the fairest approach.

Here are six instances in which you might not want to treat your kids equally when it comes to your plan:

  1. Greater financial need. One of your kids may need more help financially. Kids are not equal in terms of their financial success or ability to succeed in a career. One of them may simply need more than others because of their financial situation.
  2. Health needs. A child (or even a grandchild) may have health needs that result in increased costs. Health issues can also limit one’s work options or earning potential, therefore making their need for financial assistance greater.
  3. One may not need it. For instance, if a disabled child already has their basic needs taken care of through government benefits and healthcare, then it could make things harder for that child to receive money from your estate. If you are confident that siblings will help provide for any extras this person may have in the future, you may be able to disinherit that child without affecting their quality of life.
  4. Some are better stewards. If one child has consistently made bad financial choices, and you have repeatedly bailed them out, it might make sense to leave them less because you are not confident they would use it well. Or, if you do decide to leave them a similar amount, you may want to take steps to protect their inheritance with specific rules, and someone to help manage it for them. (But not a sibling!)
  5. Early inheritance. Quite often adult children have a significant financial need and parents give them substantial help. After this happens, it might be good to consider adjusting the amount that child would receive in an inheritance. When this situation occurs, without adjusting the amount left in the estate, the child who didn’t need help often feels they are being punished for never needing help.
  6. Family farm or business. One child may rely on the family farm or business for their livelihood. If one child has spent a lifetime helping you grow your farm or business, it may be best to leave them more of the total estate so their livelihood is not negatively affected.

Some people still can’t get over the “unfairness” of leaving “unequal” amounts to their children. If you decide to leave equal amounts to each child, we encourage you to consider leaving specially tailored rules for each child, so the inheritance can be handled more fairly.

Protecting Our Kids From Threats

Another important part of an effective estate plan is helping protect our kids from threats. Whether it’s their own wild spending, a future divorce, a lawsuit or financial problems, an effective plan can help anticipate and mitigate these types of challenges. Some kids are more exposed to threats than others. Some kids are better able to handle money than others. The rules you create for your plan need to reflect that. As a parent you should feel free to handle things how you think best, without being tied by guilt into making everything exactly equal.

Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process

We often encourage our clients to involve their family in the planning process. This is especially important when considering leaving “unequal” inheritances. Effective communication with your family about why you have decided to do things the way you have can eliminate a legacy of misunderstanding, misinterpretation of your actions, and pain that children experience when parents don’t communicate about the plan ahead of time.

We have seen many adult children upset by their interpretation of their parents’ plan when the parents leave behind no explanation for their rationale, or fail to discuss ahead of time why they’ve chosen to do what they have. Estate plans can seem like a final accounting of a parent’s love. Because of this, it is really important to do the hard work of communicating with your family, either ahead of time or through your plan.

As with many estate planning matters, this is a complicated one with best solutions varying from family to family. We can’t possibly cover all the nuances in one blog post. Our process walks families through difficult decisions like whether to leave equal amounts to your children in your plan. You have the knowledge about your unique family. We are the experienced guide that helps create an effective plan based on that knowledge.

If we can be of assistance to your family, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. If you’d like to learn more about creating an effective estate plan, we encourage you to attend our next workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. It’s a great way to learn about holistic, effective planning at every life stage, along with a great way to get to know us better!

Don’t Get Stuck With a Stupid Tax

Have you ever heard the phrase, “stupid tax”? I hate paying a stupid tax, because it’s always something that could have been avoided.

A few years ago my wife and I went with my parents to see an Illini basketball game in Champaign. After eating at the Ribeye on Neil Street (good food!), I ran through the snow to get the car. As I approached the car I had a sinking feeling.

I had forgotten the tickets. 

Thankfully, the box office was able to reissue forgotten season tickets, but I had to pay a stupid tax of $5 for every ticket being replaced!

We all get stuck paying a stupid tax every now and then. A few dollars isn’t bad as far as a stupid tax is concerned, but when it comes to estate planning, mistakes can be very costly. One of my primary goals is to help you and your family avoid paying any stupid taxes by thoroughly thinking through things and planning ahead.

Recently, a younger high profile celebrity died without thinking through what would happen to his estate if he suddenly passed away. His estate ended up paying a $12 million stupid tax. While most people won’t make that big of a mistake when it comes to planning, we see people all the time who did not properly plan, and therefore, end up owing a stupid tax. And the most frustrating part? It could have been avoided.

If you’re not sure whether your estate will be slapped with a stupid tax, we encourage you to give us a call at 217-726-9200 or attend an upcoming workshop on estate planning. Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started is a great way to learn more about effective planning.

nursing home medicaid planning

Would You Know How to Stop Elder Abuse?

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was observed recently, and we shared some helpful information in our email newsletter. (Sign up for our educational newsletter here.) Elder abuse is a complex issue that can encompass physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It’s estimated that 5 million older Americans are victims every year. And while that is far too many, it is estimated that for every 1 case of reported abuse, there are 23 more out there that go unreported!

The focus of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year was financial exploitation, which can take many forms. In developed countries like ours, abuse often involves theft, forgery, misuse of property and power of attorney, as well as denying access to funds.

Sadly, we see these things here in the office far too often. That’s why a few years ago we created a series on elder fraud. In this three part series, we explore common scams to watch out for, PLUS seven questions that can stop elder fraud in its tracks. Click on the links below to learn more so you can protect yourself or your loved ones:

It will take a community of loved ones, neighbors, professional advisors, case workers, etc. to continue to fight this shameful trend of taking advantage of seniors. Speaking up and educating people are important steps in the battle.