Is Your Estate Plan Old and Clunky?

David Edwards loves what he does, and it’s obvious because he can connect just about anything to estate planning! In this post, Dave and his dad explore how estate planning is like… old tennis rackets. 

Estate Planning is Like… Old Tennis Rackets

When my parents were first married (around 1967 or so), my mom’s parents gave them each a tennis racket. They were nice sturdy wooden rackets with the frames that you could screw down to keep them from warping.

My parents used them a little, but not too much before they ended up in storage in the attic above the garage. When I was in the 10th grade, I signed up for tennis at the YMCA one summer. Since I needed a racket, my dad proudly offered, “We have a couple of nice ones up in the attic. Barely been used.”

I came home after that first lesson and said, “Dad, the coach said that I need a new racket.” As we shopped for the new racket, my dad later told me he realized just how much things had changed in the past 20 years or so. That wooden racket was really heavy and clunky compared to the new, lightweight metal ones.

Dave and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team

David Edwards and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team around 1989

David Edwards and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team around 1989

Dave’s Dad Tells Us How Old Rackets are Like Estate Planning (And No, Estate Planning is Not a Racket!)

Recently my dad reminded me of this story and thought it would be a good topic for a newsletter or a post. And he was right!

Old tennis rackets are like estate planning… if we’re not careful, our estate plans can become “clunky old wooden rackets” and be really out of date. They just won’t get the job done.

But there’s another great lesson in here, too, concerning our children —

Don’t send them out into the world with “clunky old wooden rackets.” Be sure to give them the training and the tools they need to face what lies ahead.

Our firm is pretty unique in that we work with the whole family to draft an estate plan that is effective. That means that when the time comes to put your plan into action, your kids will already have met us, know who to call, and we will help guide them through the process during one of the most stressful times of their life. What better tool to get the job done?

If you’re new to Edwards Group and wondering if we’re the right estate planning firm for you, please check out our FREE workshop, Intro to Edwards Group: Wills and Trusts Orientation. We hold them every month and they are great for:

  • Those who know they should plan but are intimidated by the process.
  • Those who already have an estate plan, but are unhappy with it.
  • Those considering Edwards Group for estate planning.

Call 217-726-9200 to save your spot at an upcoming workshop or to request more information. Just for attending, you’ll receive $200 off your initial meeting fee if you decide to work with us.

3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan

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

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

1. “I need to name my oldest child.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We understand that this can be a very daunting task. As always, we are here to help you create an effective estate plan. You don’t have to do it alone. We’ll guide you along every step of the way. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to get started, or attend one of our FREE workshops. We have two to choose from:

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

Estate Planning is Like… Birthday Cake

Much like your favorite birthday cake flavor, everyone likes different things when it comes to estate planning.

Well, as of March 5, I’m another year older! And to celebrate I got to have the best birthday cake in the world — spice cake with chocolate icing! What kind of cake do you request on your birthday?

Dave Bday cake 2015

In our family, everyone seems to have their own favorite. For my wife Michelle, it’s spice cake with white icing. (And she is forever trying to talk me into changing the icing on my birthday cake!) 8-year-old Bailey asks for white cake with white icing, and I’m not sure 4-year-old Cole has settled on a choice yet. My dad likes yellow cake with chocolate icing. My mom? Carrot cake with cream cheese icing. My brother, Jay, for decades requested turtle cake. (Which Michelle and I found out firsthand, does not turn out well if the recipe is copied down wrong!) Jay’s wife, Beth, likes white cake with white frosting just like Bailey.

Everyone’s got an opinion. Of course, the rest of them are all wrong! Spice cake with chocolate icing is clearly the best choice for a birthday cake.

And we haven’t even gotten to the ice cream! Some want chocolate. Some want vanilla. Others like cookie dough or cookies ‘n’ cream. We’ll save that for another blog post!

Everyone likes different things. The same choice does not work for everyone, even if they’re from the same family.

With your estate plan, you need a plan that fits your family – not a fill-in-the-blank form that doesn’t reflect your unique values, wishes, or family challenges.

And within your plan each child or loved one may have a different challenge or need that should be addressed. Don’t treat them all the same. Some want white icing. Others need chocolate. A good plan will take into account their personality, financial wisdom, and the unique situation of each heir.

If you need a more personalized (and therefore, more effective plan), our free workshop, Intro to Edwards Group: Wills and Trusts Orientation is a great way to get started. Call us at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for the next workshop. Find out our upcoming workshop dates here. Learn more about the workshop and what you’ll learn by attending, here.

david edwards estate planning elder law

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Exclusive Look at Dave’s Office

Daves Desk smallMost clients never see what you’re getting to see here – me in my office! That may seem strange, but clients don’t get to come in here because there is too much confidential information that I’m working on. If you look closely, you can even see client files turned over so you can’t see the names!

Here is a guided tour of what you see in the photo:

1. Glass box on the front of the desk. It says “AMB” which is my granddad, Arthur Bitzer. You may have heard me talk about him because he had really great stories, and we’re a lot alike. He owned a Dodge dealership in Salem and used to keep this box on his desk.

2. Illini lamp. (Back left.) Many of you know by now I’m a proud Illini. I-L-L!

3. Dilbert calendar. To the right of my phone, you’ll see a Dilbert calendar, which my wife Michelle gives me every Christmas.

4. Homemade calendars. On the shelf above my head you’ll see two homemade calendars with family photos that Michelle made.

5. Grade school lunchbox. Top left on the top of the shelf you’ll see my post office lunch box that I took to school growing up in Taylorville.

6. 1982 World Series Coke bottle. On the top right side of the top of the bookshelf (right next to the Fred Bird bobblehead!), you’ll see a 1982 Cardinals’ World Series Coke bottle.

7. 90-day goals. To the left of the Illini lamp on the wall, you’ll see my 90-day goals for the office. Four times a year I go to Orlando to meet with a business coach and 30 other estate planning attorneys from around the country. During that time we all share ideas and set goals for how we can better serve our clients.

8. Phone headset. Underneath the lamp is my phone headset. I use it when I’m on the phone so I can type or write notes.

9. Baseball calendar. On the front of the desk next to my grandfather’s glass box is my baseball calendar given to me by my brother, Jay, for Christmas years ago.

10. Glass of water. To the left of the Illini lamp, you’ll see my water with a brightly colored band around it. Bailey made this for me with her Rainbow Loom, which was all the rage in 1st grade.

11. Lamp. The lamp on the front of my desk has been with me since my first job out of law school with an Illinois Supreme Court judge in Peoria. The night before this picture was taken, the whole family made a special trip to Lowe’s to replace the old lampshade that was looking pretty ragged after being dropped over the years.

12. Photos from family vacation spot. On the wall on the back right are 2 photos taken in Waters, Michigan. The photo on the left was taken when I was 11 years old, at the dock house where we went every summer during my childhood. The photo on the right was taken in the same location in 2008 when our family went back to visit the area.

13. “I Love You” sign. On the bottom right of the photo on the floor there is a sign that Bailey made me. It says, “Daddy I Love You.” Bailey and Cole both love coming to my office, and I love having them here. Do you remember when Bailey made signs for all the office staff?

I think your office says a lot about who you are and what you value. I hope this sneak peak into my office shows you that things we value as an organization at Edwards Group are the same things I value as a person:

Family, history, traditions, memories, humor and hard work.

All of these things are the reason we do what we do on a daily basis. And they’re the reason we are driven to do it better than anyone else. Every family is special and unique. Every family deserves an effective plan to address and protect their unique needs.

If you’d like to read more about our one-of-a-kind process, and how it protects our clients and their loved ones, click here. If you’d like to learn more in person, call 217-726-9200 to save a spot at one of our upcoming workshops. To learn more about our free workshop offerings, click here.

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. Tarina 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.

Career Day and Types of Attorneys

“There are two other attorneys here at the career fair. Do you know what the difference is between me and them? They have to wear suits!”

A few months ago I went to my nephew’s middle school for the career fair. I talked to 5 different groups of students about how I am the “other” kind of attorney. Most people, when they think of lawyers, think of the lawyers they see on TV — always in court suing people or defending criminals. I told the kids those attorneys are what we call litigation attorneys.

And I’m not that kind. I asked the students, “What other kinds of attorneys are there?” All I got were blank looks. But yes, there is another kind!

Some people call them “transactional” attorneys. These are the ones who deal with Wills, Trusts, estates, nursing home planning, contracts, real estate and business. This is the type of thing we do here at Edwards Group, so you won’t usually see me in a suit and tie. I don’t go to court very often.

And you know what? Good work by us “OTHER” attorneys means that a family is less likely to need a court-going attorney later on. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you have a thorough and knowledgable estate planning attorney now. It saves a lot of heartache and money later…

How to Pay for Nursing Home Costs

How do you keep life savings from being depleted by nursing home costs? Read our Nursing Home Crisis Plan Case Study to find out one of the ways we helped a client.

Couple walking no textQuick Summary

Mary recently had a stroke and will have to be placed in a nursing facility. She doesn’t want nursing home care to drain all of her savings.

Edwards Group worked to maximize Medicaid benefits as quickly as possible, created a trust to preserve assets, pre-paid funeral costs and preserved more than 50% of Mary’s assets.

Total Savings to Mary and her family: more than $100,000.

Read the full story here.

Sweaters in the Suitcase – and your living trust document

What do sweaters in the suitcase have to do with estate planning?  Let me tell you.

As I sit down with clients to review the draft of their living trust, they may think the trust is much thicker than they expected.  Before we review the trust, I tell them a story.

I’m terrible at packing for trips.  I pack way too much.  I always think I need everything – all kinds of extra clothes, books, all kinds of stuff.  Of course, with each trip out of town, I don’t use half the stuff I take.  So, what happens when I take the next trip?  Same thing.  I still pack way too much because, you know, I just might need it.  Doesn’t matter that I usually don’t need all that because this next trip I just MIGHT need it!

What does this have to do with a living trust document? As we look through the trust documents, there are various paragraphs, pages, even entire sections that are “extra sweaters in the suitcase”.  It’s there if we need it, even if we probably won’t need it.

Since our estate planning clients don’t pay us by the word or by the page or even by the hour (they pay flat fees), then we make sure our living trust documents have all the “extra sweaters” that may be needed in the future to carry out their plan.

Want an example of an “extra sweater” in the trust?   Well, we have an entire section that talks about what happens if we can’t find a beneficiary.  If we leave money to a long lost cousin and don’t know where the cousin is when it’s time to distribute, we have a process laid out clearly in the document so it doesn’t hold up the rest of the trust plan.

That’s just one example of the various “extra sweaters” we include in our legal documents to better protect our clients and their families.

If you’d like to read more about what trusts are and what they do, check out our blog post, “Your Bucket List for Estate Planning: Why a Trust Might be Right for You.”

P.S.  I am writing this sitting in a hotel in Denver, Colorado at a conference.  And yes, I again packed way too much stuff!   But it’s here if I need it…