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:

  1. Attend a free workshop to learn more about proper planning
  2. Continue learning about effective planning on our website. Here are a few links to get you started — 3 Proven Essentials That Will Make Your Plan Successful and [Free Workbook] 6 Estate Planning Pitfalls to Avoid
  3. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to set up an initial meeting. Read here about what to expect.
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 planning across the lifespan by attending our free workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning and Peace of Mind. Call us at 217-726-9200 to RSVP today. (Get the dates here.)

3 Proven Essentials That Will Make Your Plan Successful

Every estate plan has three elements that determine whether it succeeds or fails.

The ultimate measure of a plan’s success is, “Does it do what I want it to do in my absence?” With the following three components in place, your plan is much more likely to succeed.

1. Rules and Instructions

Successful planning means your wishes will be carried out, even when you are not there to do it yourself. Sometimes your wishes need to be carried out while you are alive but too sick to make decisions. Eventually, your wishes will be carried out after your death.

Even though some decisions may be challenging to make, you are the best person to create the rules and instructions. Why? Because you are the #1 expert on your family and your values. Nobody else understands your family or your values like you do!

The rules and instructions to be made will include decisions around medical care (including end of life) and your finances (bill paying while you are sick, or distributions or inheritance rules after your death).

The rules and instructions you set up need to reflect who you are. You want it to be more than a fill-in-the-blank document with your name typed in. Make sure your plan reflects who you are and your family’s unique circumstances.

2. Who’s in charge?

Having rules in place is not enough to make sure your plan is successful. You also need someone to carry out the rules and instructions. That person needs to be able to:

  • follow your wishes (and not just do whatever they want)
  • take action (and not procrastinate)
  • get legal or tax advice when needed (and not think they know it all)
  • deal with family disagreements gently but firmly.

The person you choose to carry out your wishes is your “helper” (executor, trustee, power of attorney). Choose wisely because the helper you select will make or break your plan.

3. What’s in the bucket?

Once you have the rules and instructions in place, and a helper to follow through on those rules, there is one remaining issue that will determine if your plan is a success.

To what do we apply the rules and instructions?

This is one of the most common problems with estate planning. Many people have assets and asset instructions that conflict. Perhaps their Last Will & Testament is inconsistent with their beneficiary designations. Maybe they have a Trust but nothing in the Trust. (Yes, this happens quite often.)

Your plan will not work unless it is clear which assets are governed by your instructions and your helper.

There are a surprising number of people who go through the effort of creating a Trust, but then they don’t put anything IN the Trust. We like to think of a Trust as a bucket. If nothing is in the bucket, or there are important assets missing from the bucket, then the plan will not work as you hoped.

To continue reading more about what makes a successful estate plan, check out our article and free resource: 6 Estate Planning Pitfalls to Avoid (Reasons Why Most Estate Plans Fail, Costing You Time, Money and Extra Stress)

To learn more about the basics of effective planning, plan to attend an upcoming workshop. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to RSVP.

Halloween 2016

At Edwards Group we expect our clients to share some pretty personal information with us in order to prepare the best plan possible for their families. That’s part of the reason it’s so important for us to share our families with you.

Everything we do centers around taking care of families and making life a little easier for families dealing with the stresses of aging or grieving.

Here are our annual Halloween pics of the Edwards Group children!

(Video) What is an elder law attorney?

As people live longer and longer, it is more and more important to have an experienced elder law attorney on your side. If you have a loved one who is aging, or are concerned about the issues of aging for yourself or a spouse, please read on to find out what elder law attorneys do and how to choose a good one…

Elder law attorneys work with families to solve problems related to aging. They meet with, and help, clients reach goals related to finances and healthcare. They often collaborate with other professionals such as financial advisors, life insurance professionals and tax professionals to ensure an effective comprehensive plan for clients.

In addition to general estate planning, elder law attorneys should have expertise in helping plan for incapacity (due to things like a stroke) or long-term care needs. When it comes to long-term care planning, elder law attorneys coordinate private and public resources to ensure the client’s right to quality care.

Founding attorney, David Edwards, explains a little about elder law attorneys in the short video above.

How do you choose a good elder law attorney?

Because elder law is a specialized field, it is important to ask some specific questions of any elder law attorney you are considering working with. It is important that you feel you can trust the attorney and his/her staff, otherwise you may not end up with effective solutions for your goals.

5 Questions to Ask an Elder Law Attorney

  1. How many Medicaid applications have you processed? Was the firm able to protect assets in most of these cases? Have you ever been turned down for an application?
  2. Are you accredited with the VA? As with many government programs, there are fairly strict standards that protect citizens from those looking to take advantage of seniors or Veterans. In order to be involved with a VA application, an attorney must be accredited by the VA. Read more about aging VA benefits here.
  3. Have you done VA apps for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care? Each one is slightly different. Experience matters when it comes to the type of app your family might need.
  4. Do you have staff solely focused on helping families with long-term care issues? Helping families apply for public programs to offset the skyrocketing costs of long-term care is a very involved process. It’s probably no surprise that the bureaucracy of the process can be overwhelming (and tricky) for those who are not experienced with it. Mistakes during the process are very costly – emotionally and financially.
  5. Does the firm have free information to help families get started? This is a big decision.  Like we said above, you must be sure you can trust the attorney you choose to work with. Taking advantage of free educational materials is a great way to get to know the attorney. It’s also important to get to know his staff along with the general feel and philosophy of the firm. Not every family is a good fit for every attorney. It is a very personal decision.

You can read more about choosing an elder law attorney at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ website. Or, be sure to take a look at these additional articles on our website:

7 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help if Your Loved One is Already in a Nursing Facility

9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help With In-home Care

I just ate a cheeseburger.

At this point in the year, many of us are abandoning our New Year’s resolutions, but there’s still hope…

by Chris Flynn, Attorney

Well, we’re a few months into 2016, which means we’re also past the point where many people have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. (I’ve started eating cheeseburgers again despite the 15 or 25 pounds I’d planned to lose this year.)

Estate Plan Organization

A common resolution in the beginning of the year is to “get organized.” I have file cabinets at home that I’ve been mindlessly throwing documents into for years. I keep meaning to clean them out. I know they hold important papers, but can’t imagine trying to actually locate any one of them. With no immediate need to know where specific paperwork is, it’s always easy to put it off for another day instead of taking a couple hours to make sure the big things are in place.

And sadly, if I never do take care of those file cabinets? My family will be left to dig through the piles of junk I’ve gathered over the years trying to figure out what’s important and what’s been left for them.

Would it help your children to know where stuff it? To easily know what bank accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies you own? To get things handled quickly and privately and as automatically as possible when you die?

We can help with this! In just a few meetings, you can know what you have, where your accounts are, where your assets are going when you die, and have it all in one place so that you or your loved ones can access it whenever it’s neededBig Red Binder web version

When you set up a trust with Edwards Group LLC, you’ll leave with The Red Binder. In it, we’ll have all the documents needed to ensure easy administration of your accounts and assets during your disability or after your death.

The Red Binder

Some of the contents of The Red Binder include:

• A Trust, stating what happens with all of your assets upon your disability or death.

• A Will, ensuring that any “straggling” assets get handled in accordance with your trust.

• Powers of Attorney, ensuring that the right people (of your choosing) have the ability to help you when you need it.

• End-of-life and burial wishes, so your family knows what you want and can avoid disputing it later.

• A summary of your plan and a summary of your assets.

In our office, Senior Asset Coordinator Laura Peffley (pictured above with clients), is constantly helping clients get their assets consolidated into one trust. If you simply have an account statement or can print one, she can usually work with that. If you can’t find a deed to your house, she can help you track it down. And ultimately, we can map out a plan together to ensure all of your assets go where you want, when you want.

Procrastination is the Enemy of Estate Plans

Even if you’ve already abandoned some of your resolutions at this point in the year, we can still help you tackle this one today. Procrastination is the single greatest threat to an effective estate plan. Don’t put it off any longer. Planning protects those things most important to you, and we make it easy to take the first step with the following options:

  1. Attend a free workshop. Our monthly workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind, is a great way to get started with effective planning.
  2. Give us a call at 217-726-9200. Tarina, our Client Coordinator, loves helping people and answering their questions. In fact, she was a client before she ever started working at Edwards Group, so she has a unique perspective that many find helpful.
  3. Schedule an Initial Meeting. If you know you’re ready to get started and want to stop putting it off any longer, just give us a call to schedule a 45-minute meeting where an attorney will review your concerns and goals. The attorney will also help you understand the unique risks that your family faces. By the end of the meeting, you should understand your planning options, what they will cost and if Edwards Group is the right firm for you. Clients find this meeting to be very valuable in helping them understand their options.

Get back on board with getting organized by calling us at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for a workshop, ask questions or schedule an Initial Meeting.

Dave Opens for Doc Severinsen

Taylorville is my hometown (read more about Attorney David Edwards here), and I’m in a Facebook group where people share memories of Taylorville. A while back, the topic came up:

“What celebrities do you remember coming to Taylorville?”

There were all kinds of interesting comments:

  • Sandy Duncan came to town to dedicate “Sandy Duncan Drive.” Duncan was born and raised in Texas, but her character in Funny Face and The Sandy Duncan Show was from Taylorville!
  • A lot of country singers visited Nashville North, a concert hall who hosted many acts as they traveled between St. Louis and Chicago. The long list includes Bon Jovi (in their early days), the Oak Ridge Boys and Loretta Lynn, just to name a few.
  • Ted Nugent (at the roller rink!)
  • Elvis at the KFC (I think this one was a joke…)

Anyway, I posted a comment, too. Back in about 1986, Doc Severinsen came to town. (Do you remember him? The trumpet player and band leader for Johnny Carson?) He was playing two shows at Nashville North like so many others. And guess who was his opening act? The Taylorville High School Jazz Band, complete with me in the trumpet section! Check out the photo below. (Can you tell which one is me?)

Doc Severinsen - Taylorville

So, what does this have to do with estate planning?

We ask our clients to share A LOT of personal information with us. It’s necessary so we can help them develop the most effective plan possible. In addition to all the financial information, it’s important for us to get to know the families we work with, where they come from and what’s important to them.

Because that high level of trust is so important, it can’t be a one-way street. It’s important that our clients get to know our attorneys and our staff as well. So, we periodically share personal stories so you can get to know us better.

I bet you didn’t know an estate planning attorney from Taylorville, Illinois, played trumpet with Doc Severinsen did you?

If you know you need to do estate planning or even update an existing plan, attending our FREE workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind, is a great way to get to know our unique approach and if we’re a good match for working together. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for an upcoming workshop (click here for dates).

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.

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. We encourage you to poke around our website to continuing learning more about effective estate planning. If you’re ready to get started (which is oftentimes the hardest step), give us a call at 217-726-9200 to make an appointment for your Initial Meeting.

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!