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.

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.

(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 assisted 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.

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.

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 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.

Oftentimes, this is the single hardest activity a parent will engage in. We give 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.

david edwards estate plan

Secrets: 5 Things Your Adult Children Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

Parenting often involves keeping secrets, especially when the kids are little — remember all the secrecy surrounding Christmas or birthdays?

Back when my daughter was 4 years old my wife and I kept a big secret from her. For her 5th birthday we surprised her with a trip to Disney World in conjunction with an estate planning conference! (She was excited about the first, while I was pretty excited about the second.) It was hard to keep the secret at times, but it sure was a fun surprise when we pulled it off.

Estate Plan Secrets

Secrets can be fun. But where estate planning is concerned, they most definitely are not. Sometimes it’s hard to know what our kids may or may not know about our plan. Walt Disney’s daughter was once asked by kids at her school what it was like to be his daughter: She came home that night indignant, telling her dad, “You never told me you were Walt Disney!” Sometimes things that seem obvious to us might not be so obvious to our kids.

5 Things Your Kids Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

What do your kids know or not know about your estate plan? Here’s a quick checklist to consider:

  1. Burial — Do your kids know whether you want to be cremated or buried? If you want to be buried, where do you want to be buried? Have you already purchased a cemetery lot?
  2. Who to Call — Do your kids know who your attorney is or how to get a hold of him/her? Can he help tie up loose ends or was he only used to fill out forms and make them official during planning?
  3. Assets — Do your kids and/or family know what your assets are? If you suddenly have a stroke or heart attack can they easily find that information?
  4. End of Life — Are they clear about your wishes for ending treatment and “pulling the plug?” Do they know how you feel about organ donation?
  5. Your Plan — Do they know where to find your will, trust and/or powers of attorney? (And if they’re in your safe deposit box or home lock box, can they get in? Do they have the key or the combination?) Will your kids be surprised by your plan? (How you divided assets or whether you gave to charity…) Unfulfilled expectations can mean conflict between your kids or lifelong heartache for a child who misreads a plan as being a symbol of how the parent felt about them.

5 Tips to Make Sure There are No Secrets About Your Estate Plan

  1. Talk. Have conversations with your kids about aging, death and what will happen. There are good conversation starter resources at EngageWithGrace and The Conversation Project. You can also read our post on the subject HERE. The holidays, when families gather together, are a good time to get these conversations started.
  2. Find an experienced attorney. Work with an attorney who keeps your plan up to date through a membership program or a maintenance plan. That way, even if you don’t want to share all of your financial information with your kids now, the attorney will have it to provide them with later. Read about our program HERE.
  3. Don’t assume. Recognizing if your kids will know what to do or how to do it once you are gone can be really hard. Tell them what you expect now. Things like which advisor to rely on or “take care of your little sister” can go a long way.
  4. No surprises. Give your kids the overview of your plan, so they know what to expect. News such as, “I’m going to leave your brother the farm,” is better with an explanation from you now. Your attorney can help with this, providing as much or as little detail as you want.
  5. Don’t just fill out a form. Include purpose statements in your will or trust. Tell why you did what you did, or explain that “it is my intent” that the plan work a certain way.

Estate planning works much more smoothly when there are no secrets or surprises. Save your family a lot of money and heartache by doing a little work now. Read about how to avoid an estate battle after you’re gone HERE.

5 Estate Issues You and Your Family Should Plan For

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

When it comes to estate planning, this quote from Benjamin Franklin could not be more true. Oftentimes, people don’t think of estate planning, or the issues related to it, until it is too late. As a firm who deals only with estate planning issues, we have seen our fair share of terrible problems that could have been prevented by planning ahead and creating an effective estate plan. Dave says it all the time, “Bad estate plans break up good families.”

Taking advantage of David’s unique perspective, in this post we’ll explore the most common problems he encounters every day — problems that could be avoided by just planning ahead. Here are 5 key issues you should consider as you create an effective estate plan:

“Assets? What assets?”

You might be surprised at how often those left behind have no idea about life insurance, stocks, bank accounts, etc. Discovering these “hidden” assets takes time, money, patience and a lot of detective work. And despite any dreams you once had of being Joe Friday, the last thing you want to do while mourning the loss of a loved one is play detective.

“Attorney? What attorney?”

Oftentimes those left behind have no idea if an attorney is needed, or if an attorney has already been consulted. Does looking in the phone book and calling the first attorney whose ad catches your fancy seem like the best way to handle your loved one’s estate after they’re gone? Many of our clients’ families meet us before they need us, ensuring that a trusting relationship is already in place and decreasing stress and anxiety when the time comes to execute the estate.

“Equal? What’s equal?”

Many people plan on just having their children split things equally upon their death. It seems like a beautifully simple and fair way to handle things, but when emotions run high and money or cherished possessions are at stake, things seldom go down the way you would expect. We often see conflicts between family members who have different ideas about how to handle things — conflict that could have been avoided with more in-depth preparation. We’ve also seen that seemingly good ideals like “equal” puts some adult kids at a disadvantage.

“Taxes? What taxes?”

Did you know your lack of planning could cost your family money? Without proper planning, they could end up paying extra income tax on IRAs or annuities (or pay them earlier than necessary). We see this quite often. To avoid this, you should get specific advice regarding your tax deferred accounts, both now and after death.

“Issues? What issues?”

There are a lot of unique circumstances that arise when dealing with minors or even young adult children. Are your kids prepared to responsibly handle what you’re leaving them? Have you distributed the wealth in such a way that the younger children will have adequate care for the proper amount of time? As experienced estate planning attorneys, we see the ramifications of families not being fully prepared all the time. We hate seeing this and don’t want any family to have to go through it. Our firm is experienced in thinking through every issue your family needs to consider when creating an effective plan.

So what do you imagine for your family after you’re gone? Do you imagine them having no idea what or where your assets are? Do you imagine them knowing exactly who to call or struggling to figure out who your attorney is? Do you imagine great stress and distress in the middle of their grief as they scramble to figure out what needs to be done? Surely not. Planning ahead is not being morbid or pessimistic. It is protecting and caring for those you love. (Get our free checklist, What to Do When a Loved One Dies, here.)

Find out more about effective estate planning by attending our free workshop, Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started. If, after attending the workshop, you decide to set an Initial Meeting, you’ll receive $200 off the fee.

Estate Planning & Potty Breaks (An Honest to Goodness True Story)

Many people think they know what an estate plan is and what it does. And while you are already an “expert” in estate planning because you know the details of your life better than anyone else, it helps to have a guide who can walk you through the complicated legal aspects of an effective plan.

“Sure. You’re going to the ‘library’.” (wink, wink)

It was the secretary’s second week at the big law firm downtown. Here and there she filled in at the front desk when the receptionist was on break. The law firm took up an entire floor, and one of the young new attorneys (who had been told to make sure the receptionist knew where he was), would frequently stick his head in the reception area and say, “I’ll be in the library if you need me.” After this happened quite a few times, the secretary thought, “The library, huh? Well, I guess you could call it that.”

It was a few more weeks before the secretary found out that the law firm did indeed have a library on the next floor of the building! (This was back in the days when lawyers used books instead of computers for research.) The attorney was truly going to the library, while all the while the secretary thought he was making an awful lot of trips to the ‘library’. You know, the kind many of us have 2.5 of in our houses!

That young attorney was David Edwards when he started at his first big firm in downtown Springfield. Dave and the secretary had a good chuckle about it after they finally realized what she had been thinking. You see, sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know.

The secretary had never been to the library and no one had ever told her about it. So, of course, she was a little suspicious when that young new attorney kept telling her he was headed to the library.

We find the same goes for estate planning. People have a lot of misinformation about estate planning – what Wills can and can’t do. Who needs a Trust and who doesn’t. There are also a lot of misconceptions that lead to wrong assumptions.

Unfortunately, in estate planning, these wrong assumptions can cost families thousands of dollars. They can also destroy families, and add a lot of extra stress at an already difficult time of grieving.

The stakes are very high in estate planning. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.

Attend our FREE Wills & Trusts Orientation and receive $200 off your Initial Meeting Fee

Education is foundational to what we do at Edwards Group. One of the things people love most about our staff is they can take the complex topic of estate planning and put it into everyday plain language. And this is exactly what happens at the Intro to Edwards Group: Wills & Trusts Orientation. At this FREE 1-hour workshop you’ll learn the basics of estate planing, if you need a Will or Trust, and if our unique approach is a good fit for you and your family. There will even be time to ask questions of one of our attorneys.

So, what do you need to do?

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to save your spot at our upcoming workshop. They tend to fill up fast, so it is best if you RSVP ahead of time.

hospice

5 Misconceptions About Hospice

Many people are afraid of hospice. This fear comes from a misunderstanding of the services hospice can provide. Last week we talked about the basics of hospice and why it is one the most positive ways to approach the end of life. This week we tackle some of the big misconceptions about hospice.

5 Misconceptions About Hospice

1) Doesn’t saying “yes” to hospice mean you’re “giving up”? No, hospice does not require that you give up hope. Yet, many people see it that way. Hospice is a way to deal with the transition of death on your own terms, generally in your own home. Most people arrive at hospice too late, making the process harder, not easier, on their family.
2) Won’t my doctor know when it’s time and recommend hospice? Not necessarily. Doctors are trained to heal. They don’t want to “give up” either. Because of that, it’s important to understand what hospice is, and how it can help, if you or a loved one has a terminal illness or advanced disease. Again, most people get hospice care too late, which robs them and their family of quality time together in their last days/months.
3) Will hospice provide 24/7 continuous care? No, you need to have a dedicated caregiver. In the beginning, you will receive more visits from hospice staff, then it will drop off a bit. Towards the end, the visits will pick up again, but hospice is not around-the-clock nursing care. If you or your loved one needs that, and your family cannot arrange for a dedicated caregiver, then you need to consider other options.
4) Do I have to use my hospital’s hospice program? No, you have a choice about what hospice to use.​ You do not have to use the hospital’s service. Again, it’s important to plan ahead if at all possible. Some hospices are better than others. This is not a decision you should make without doing some research.
5) Aren’t all hospices non-profit organizations derived from a religious affiliation?75% of hospices in the US are now for-profit organizations, according to a Washington Post article from 2014This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean consumers have to be careful when choosing which agency to use. The hospice industry has much less oversight than nursing homes or other healthcare providers, which places the burden of oversight on families who are already in a very stressful situation.

All in All, Hospice Is a Very Good Thing

Most people, if given the choice, would rather die peacefully at home instead of experiencing a series of acute hospital stays or ER visits for the last few months of their life. Yet that’s what many people inadvertently do because they don’t understand hospice.

Hospice gives patients and families great comfort in a time of great stress. It shouldn’t be done at the last minute when it is too late to provide meaningful moments between the patient and family. Good hospice care can help facilitate the tension of such a big transition while making more meaningful moments possible. Because of the spiritual care and social workers, hospice is an amazing support system for those dealing with the hardest, and ultimate, transition in life.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about estate planning, elder law, Medicaid planning, long-term care planning, Veterans benefits or end-of-life documents, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are more than happy to speak with you!