aging alone

Aging and Alone: 7 Steps to Protect Yourself

In a previous post, we talked about a growing segment of people who are aging alone without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or their children live very far away). These seniors face unique challenges in their 70’s and 80’s. To read about those four challenges, click here. With proper planning, guided by an experienced elder law attorney who has faced these issues many times before, you can achieve peace of mind and have a plan in place if you do not have close family nearby.

7 Steps Every Senior Should Take if Aging Alone

1. Make a plan while you are still sharp (physically and mentally).

A study by the National Institutes of Health found decreased cognition and decision-making impairment begin around the age of 60. Research has also shown that the ability to make sound investment decisions sharply declines at 70. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead.

2. Make sure your plan is a comprehensive plan and not just a will.

An effective Life Care Plan should include documents like Powers of Attorney (for health and finances), advanced directives for end of life medical issues, etc. It should also address questions such as how will you pay for long-term care, how do you want care decisions to be made, and do you want to stay at home if at all possible?

3. Set up structures to protect yourself.

With the help of an experienced elder law attorney, you should anticipate future issues and how you want them handled. (For instance, if you don’t have kids, consider a professional helper such as an attorney, CPA or bank to handle your finances.)

4. Be open to changing your living arrangements.

If you’re willing to alter your living arrangements earlier on, then you’ll be able to make changes on your own terms, deciding what’s most important to you. If you wait until crisis strikes, others may have to dictate where you go, or your medical issues may dictate where you have to live.

If you start to become isolated in your house, having difficulty taking medicine or eating properly, there needs to be a fail-safe in place so that you don’t suffer and linger too long in the house on your own.

5. Create a plan with ongoing maintenance.

In the last few decades of life things can change rapidly. That’s why a plan with ongoing maintenance is especially helpful. Crafting a flexible plan, through an attorney you trust, insures that adjustments can be made as circumstances change.

6. Gather a list of contacts who can help you.

Identify what tasks you need help with (cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc.) and then match the tasks with people (friends, neighbors, nieces, nephews, church members) who might be able to help you with those specific jobs.

7. Find local resources to help.

There are several good resources that can help seniors, or their distant children, get the help they need.

Illinois Department on Aging     1-800-252-8966

Area Agency on Aging     1-800-252-8966    (Here’s a more detailed listing for Sangamon County)

Senior Services of Central Illinois     217-528-4035

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give our Elder Care Advisors a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

There’s a growing segment of people who are aging without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or because their children live far away). Read on to learn more about the challenges this group faces.

People are living longer than ever before in history. People are having less children. And those children often live out of town or in other states. Because of all these factors, 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 are at risk of becoming “elder orphans.”

Many don’t like this term. “I’ve lived just fine on my own nearly all my life!” However, it is a quick and clear way to describe a growing number of people who are getting older without the immediate support of close family. And it is a HUGE challenge – one our firm is seeing more and more often.

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

It used to be that a will was an adequate estate plan for most people, but a will only works after a person’s death. A will cannot help with the challenges that present themselves when a person is in their 70’s and 80’s. And if that person does not have children, or has children halfway across the country, then the challenges of the last two decades of life can make things even harder.

So what are 4 important things to consider if you find yourself in this situation?

1. Who’s gonna be in charge?

Of course, you would like the answer to be yourself, but what happens if you have a stroke, start to experience the signs of dementia or develop cancer? When the time comes (and it will come for the vast majority of people), who will pay your bills for you? Who will help get you to doctor visits or treatments? Who will help you get groceries or cook? Read about choosing good helpers here.

2. Who will even know if you need help?

Oftentimes, we don’t recognize the need for help in our own lives. More often than not, at our firm, it is the adult children who notice that their parents need help. It is nearly impossible to notice a slow decline in your own life without someone else’s perspective.

3. What if you get help from all the wrong places?

Sadly, there are more ways to scam seniors than ever before. Dishonest caregivers have always been able to steal money, change the will, etc. but now there are mail order scams, and tech scams on iPads or via email. It is really hard to know who to trust (read about 7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For here), which brings us to the next challenge…

4. What if you reject good advice because you don’t know who to trust?

While it is really hard to know who to trust, there are still some really good, honest people out there who are passionate about helping seniors. We work with these types of advisors everyday. They are out there, but if you’re on your own, how will you know if you can trust them?

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!

Safe Deposit Boxes: Do you need one? What should you put in it?

We frequently get questions about safe deposit boxes from clients. Read on to see our recommendations…

Do you need a safe deposit box?

Safe deposit boxes are nice to have, mostly because of the problems that at-home safes can cause. If you have a fireproof safe at home:

  • Do your kids/family know how to get into it?
  • Is it bolted down?
  • What if someone breaks into your home and walks away with it?

These things are generally not an issue with a safe deposit box kept at a bank.

How much do safe deposit boxes cost?

We called the Bank of Springfield (notice the date of the post, prices subject to change) to check on their prices at their Wabash Branch, and here is what you can expect from them:

  • 3×5 box is $20/yr
  • 3×10 is $30/yr
  • 5×10 is $50/yr
  • 10×10 is $100/yr

So, what should you put in your safe deposit box?

First and foremost, your current original will should be at the top of the list for your safe deposit box. (Not a copy. THE original.)

Many people keep real estate records in their safe deposit boxes, but that is not necessary, because all of those documents are available at the courthouse.

Valuable heirloom items like jewelry and coins are also good things to keep in safe deposit boxes.

Other important papers like original birth certificates, Veteran discharge paperwork, pre-nuptial agreements and divorce decrees should be kept in the safe deposit box as well.

Any paperwork that may impact the future should be kept there – mainly so that you’ll know exactly where that important paperwork is kept.

How can my family access the box?

The executor of your estate or your Power of Attorney should be able to easily access the safe deposit box when needed. But even without either of those, the state of Illinois has a statute that requires banks to look inside the safe deposit box for the will, if a will is not found anywhere else. The bank must then file the will with the court.

Should your children be “co-owners” of the box?

This really depends on your family dynamic and what you keep in the box. If your child is co-owner of the box, then they can access the box whenever they want or need to. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing.) So, this really depends on your unique family situation.

We had a case once where the child was a co-owner of the safe deposit box and didn’t like what was in the will, so they got in and destroyed the will.

We say it all the time, “Bad estate planning breaks up good families.” We help guide our clients in making decisions related to planning everyday. We have the experience that most people don’t.

As always, if you have any questions about estate planning, elder law or related issues, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in any way that we can!

[Photo by Jeroen van Luin via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.]
checkbook

The Checkbook Test: Can your executor or trustee pass it?

Good “helpers” are essential to an effective plan. Could the people you’ve chosen as executor, trustee, power of attorney, or guardian pass this simple test?

Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper

We talk about good “helpers” a lot, and that’s because they are vitally important to an effective estate plan. Helpers are the people who will carry out your plan when the time comes. They can be known by different names depending on which document names them as a helper. Some helpers are trustees for trusts, some are executors for wills, some are power of attorney for health or finances, and some helpers are guardians for minor children. No matter the title, their job is essentially the same – to make good choices and to act for you when you cannot do it for yourself. (Read more about choosing good helpers here.)

The Checkbook Test

There is a very simple way to gauge whether you have chosen the right person to be one of your “helpers.”

Imagine the person you have chosen (or are considering choosing) as your executor or trustee. Now, imagine giving them your checkbook and letting them pay your bills for a couple months. How does that make you feel? Do you feel nervous? Anxious? If so, you may want to reconsider who you’ve chosen as a helper. 

Read about 7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For here.

So, how can Edwards Group help?

If you’ve been around Edwards Group for any amount of time, we hope that you’ve seen how we approach estate planning differently. One of the things we do differently is by counseling our clients as they make the hard decisions that have to be made when creating an estate plan. We have experience that most people don’t. We do estate planning all day every day, and we’ve done it for over a decade now. We can help guide our clients through these hard choices.

If you need help choosing “helpers” for your plan, call us at 217-726-9200 and ask for a copy of our paper newsletter on choosing helpers. We’ll be more than happy to mail you a copy. You can get immediate access to this great resource here.

Download our resource on choosing good helpers HERE.

Summer of 2015 – Family Fun

The Edwards family had a pretty low key summer, but still made fun memories at baseball games, Six Flags, swimming and going to the Wisconsin Dells. Here are some pictures of the highlights.

Widows at Risk for Being Taken Advantage Of

It may be hard to believe, but when a husband (or wife) dies, there are plenty of people there to take advantage of the situation. A recent article in a national newspaper column highlighted this risk with a local Springfield woman.

Trustworthy helpers are vitally important to widows/widowers…

Recently, there was a very concerning article in the paper about people preying on a widow after her husband’s death. It would have been an eye-opening article regardless, but the writer of the letter to the paper’s columnist was writing from Springfield, Illinois, so it created quite a stir around here. Several people forwarded the article to us. Some wondered what they could do to avoid such a terrible situation. Some wondered how Edwards Group could help prevent such a thing.

 

SJ-R Widows article April 2015 web copy

In the letter, the writer from Springfield details how the funeral home, real estate agents, car dealerships, home repair companies, charities, and even the widow’s own pastor, tried to take advantage of her and pressure her to make unwise financial purchases, decisions or donations. The number of requests shocked this family friend, who had been asked by the late husband to watch out for his wife after he was gone. People were literally coming out of the woodwork… including 2 estranged children who hadn’t been in the picture for 13 years. (Much of this is because obituaries and wills are very public, and opportunists watch them carefully.)

So, what did the columnist recommend?

First, he told the writer how lucky the woman was to have a friend such as himself. Secondly, he recommended finding a professional “helper” (such as a trust company) in Springfield who could help pay bills and provide other assistance and guidance related to the house, medical care, or other things she might need. He also recommended a good Certified Public Accountant to help make sure that her finances are properly taken care of.

So, how could Edwards Group have helped Alice?

We thought this would be a great opportunity to show you what it would be like if Alice (the widow in the article) were a client of Edwards Group:

1) When Alice’s husband died, she would have had a plan in place and known who to call right away. The plan would clearly outline what would happen, and Edwards Group would have been with her every step of the way, possibly preventing a funeral home from taking advantage of her and the situation. (Click here for a checklist of what to do when a loved one dies.)

2) Alice and her husband would have already carefully chosen helpers for their plan, in case they were needed. They would have done this with the help and advice of our attorneys who are very experienced in making these sorts of important decisions and thinking through every detail.

3) When decisions came up or needed to be made, Alice would have someone (she already knows and trusts) to call for assistance. That might be one of the attorneys, or perhaps on or our Elder Care Advisors, who have walked with many clients through terminal illnesses and the loss of loved ones. (Often making house calls, when needed.)

4) Liis, our Trust/Estate Administrator, would be available to help with bill paying or other financial management issues that may come up.

5) If Alice had been a part of our Dynasty membership program, she would have an up to date asset list and we could help advise her on how new potential investments fit into her (and her late husband’s) planning goals.

6) We would help Alice know what questions to ask of other professionals in her life, such as her financial advisor, CPA or banker. We would help her coordinate between them and help her make wise choices after her husband’s death. We would also help watch out for those trying to take advantage of her.

7) And when it comes to Alice’s estranged children, who now want to be in the picture, we could serve as a buffer or mediator. Edwards Group has worked with estranged children and challenging family dynamics before, always trying to bring peace if possible, or if not, to protect the client from family pressures.

At Edwards Group, we take care of our clients as if they were our own family. (See testimonials from clients here.) Integrity is of great importance, and we take the trust that our clients place in us very seriously. If you, or someone you know, could use help with estate planning, long-term care planning, estate administration, probate, finding a good nursing home for your loved one, or even finding a good attorney in another field, we strive to be a trustworthy resource for the Springfield community and beyond. Call us at 217-726-9200, and we’d be happy to speak with you.

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, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. We hold it every month and it’s a great way to learn:

  • that planning must include both estate planning (death planning) and LIFE planning.
  • the 5 life stages to plan for and which one you’re in.
  • simple planning steps to take on your own — plus options for additional guidance from the Edwards Group team.

Call 217-726-9200 to save your spot at an upcoming workshop or to schedule an Initial Meeting.

Lesson #2 from Robin Williams – Your “Special Stuff” List

Another way (see the first way here) in which you can minimize fighting amongst your family after you’re gone is by creating a “special stuff” list before you go.

Creating a “Special Stuff” List Can Minimize Fighting Amongst Your Family After You’re Gone

Last week, we talked about having “The Conversation” with your kids and how it can really increase the chances that things will go as planned after you’re gone. This week we are really excited to offer you a special resource that will help you decide who should get what special possessions and heirlooms! (Keep reading for the FREE resource.)

Many families fight over the personal property “stuff” as much as they fight over money. (Sometimes even more than they fight over money.) When it comes to preventing a big fight after you die, it’s not enough to deal with the financial items. You must deal with property that has emotional or family value.

Because of this, I encourage clients to create a “special stuff list” that directs certain items to the people they want those items to go to. This list, which is officially called a Memorandum for Distribution of Personal Property, is then incorporated into the Will or Living Trust.

7 Things to Consider When Making Your “Special Stuff” List

1. What did your parents or grandparents pass down to you that you want to pass on?

2. What items bring back the most memories of your family time?

3. Have you discussed with family what they might want? Some families have a “lottery” style selection process where they openly discuss item by item what they may want. Others prepare a “fire inventory” list of their belongings and then send copies to their children, requesting that the children mark the items they want on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being they want that item the most. Once the children return their lists to the parents, the parents can then more adequately assess who will get what.

4. How will you preserve the stories behind the items? Write out the story, record a video or audio clip about it. Even a few short sentences will mean a lot when you’re gone.

5. Don’t rely on Post-it notes, masking tape, or assumptions, “The kids know who gets what.” This just doesn’t work!

6. Make sure your “special stuff” list or letter is signed and dated, with copies sent to your attorney. Also keep copies with your Will or Living Trust paperwork.

7. In order to better identify items, take photos and include them with your “special stuff” list.

A Few More Things to Consider…

While creating your list, don’t assume the things you find valuable will be the same things your family finds valuable. It’s always better to communicate about what you want to leave, and to whom, beforehand. Maybe you want your granddaughter to have your birthstone earrings, but maybe she’d rather have the old battered, blue pottery bowl that you used to  make pudding in together. You might never know the bowl was meaningful to her without a conversation, and you might even throw it out without any consideration, thinking, “Nobody’ll want this ol’ thing.”

DOWNLOAD Your FREE “Special Stuff” List Worksheet

It’s very difficult to see families torn apart by issues like “who gets Grandma’s yellow pie plate?” Our firm is always seeking ways to make planning easier for you, and we are really excited about our latest resource: Your “Special Stuff” List Worksheet. Set aside an afternoon to spend going through the worksheet line by line, and you should be well on your way to making sure your family will still be speaking to each other after you’re gone.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 217-726-9200. We will be more than happy to help you in any way possible.

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 a FREE workshop.

Call 217-726-9200 to RSVP for an upcoming workshop today or to schedule an Initial Meeting.