Jigsaw Puzzles and Asset Titling

Let’s think of estate planning as a puzzle.

1. WHAT’S THE PICTURE?

Do you like to know what the picture is that you’re putting together when you work a puzzle? In fact, when I go to buy a puzzle, I only have 2 criteria – the size (usually 500 pieces) and what the picture is. I want a picture on the front that I like.

Do you know what picture you are trying to create with your estate plan? What will your stuff be doing to impact people? How do you hope your family and others are getting along after you’re gone?

Most of my clients have a very fuzzy estate planning picture when I first meet with them. They have some ideas, but maybe not a lot of details. Or there may be things they want to do that they have never heard of until they meet with me. As we work together, their estate planning goals get clearer. As they work with me over the years, it gets even clearer, year by year.

2. MIXED UP PIECES

Once you know the picture you want, then you need the right puzzle pieces to make that picture come together.

As you go through life, you collect different pieaces of your estate planning puzzle. You buy a house with your wife. That’s one piece. Then you get a life insurance policy and name beneficiaries – that’s another. Then you put some money into a CD at the bank and name a grandkid as “payable on death.” Then you may even add a 401k, IRA, annuity, timeshare, car, jewelry, family heirlooms, etc. Each of these assets, and how they are organized and held legally, is another piece to your estate planning puzzle. If at some point you did a will or a trust, then those are additional pieces to your estate plan puzzle.

When we work with clients to gather up all these pieces (or info about them). Then we lay out all the pieces and look to see if they fit in with the picture (the plan) that we are creating with the client.

Most of the time, they don’t all fit and we have to move some assets around, change the way they are titled, so everything works together. Without this kind of coordination, when a client gets to the end of their life, the family may be left with a bunch of pieces that don’t fit together. And even if the pieces can be forced together, they may not make the picture the person had in mind for their legacy.

Do all your estate planning pieces fit together?

Transitions in Life

BAILEY’S “NEW SCHOOL”

At our house, we are in the middle of a transition. 2 1/2 year old Bailey is switching to a new daycare. For the last couple of years, Bailey has gone 2-3 days a week to her “school” (Memorial Childcare) when Michelle is working as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center or substitute teaching at Butler Elementary.
Because of my new office location and some schedule changes for Michelle’s work, it no longer made sense to drive across town to drop off and pick up Bailey at Memorial. So, yesterday was her last day and she is going to be switching to Pleasant Run Learning Center which is right down the street from my new office.
We’re excited about the new school (it has been highly recommended) and how convenient it will be, but it’s still sad. Bailey loves it at Memorial. She’s had the most wonderful teachers and she’s gotten to know her little friends. When we say our prayers over the dinner table, she tells us different of her little friends that she wants to pray for. And some of her friend’s parents are our friends that we knew even before Bailey was born.
The transition is harder for mom and dad than for Bailey. It’s hard for us to move her from a place that we have trusted and that has played such a big part in her life these past 2 years. But Bailey is ready to go! After visiting her new school for an hour with mom a couple weeks ago, she woke up the next morning wanting to go start at her new school THAT day. I said, well, it will be a couple of weeks until you switch.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all dealt with transitions as well as a toddler does? (at least this transition).

THIS IS WHAT I DO (transitions)

Which reminded me that what I do every day is help people with transitions. Some transitions are planned and some are not. Some we will all face at some point in our life and others only some of us will have to deal with. Some we plan for, hoping we never have to use those plans. Other plans we know will be used eventually. (they say the human condition is 100% fatal).
I help people plan for transitions before they happen, and help other people deal with the stress of a transition as it is it happening. Without enough preparation, there is always greater stress and expense, and the result of the transition is not always what the person expected.
I enjoy helping clients plan and gain real peace of mind. It’s much more difficult to see my clients struggling through a difficult situation that could have been much easier with proper planning beforehand.

What is your job, what is the attorney’s job

Boring is defined as “so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness.”

Well, hopefully this post is not really boring, but I wanted to make a point. I have a theory that most of the estate planning information being said or written by attorneys out there is BORING.

And by boring, I don’t mean it is wrong or not important. But I do mean that it doesn’t talk about the things that matter to you. Why is that? I think it’s because many attorneys have forgotten what their job is and what your job is. If it were the attorney’s job just to write down what you tell them (basically a scrivener), then you would need to understand all the technical aspects of tax law, probate, asset protection, etc.

The IRS Code – is that why you plan your estate, to learn tax law? When you go to a doctor because you are sick, do you want an anatomy lesson or a discussion of the latest medical journals? No, you just want to get well.

I have found that estate planning works best when I have a job to do and my clients have a job to do. What is the client’s job? To tell me about their family, their dreams, concerns, fears, how they want to live their life and how they want to be remembered. It’s my job to guide them through some options to clarify their goals. Once we decide the goals, it is my job to use legal and tax strategies to accomplish those goals.

Am I Your Type?

There are 4 types of estate planning:

Do nothing. Let others sort it out later.

Do it yourself. Get a form and fill in the blanks. How hard can it be?

Use a document-driven attorney. Pay lots of money for a fancier form that someone else fills out for you.

Use a counseling-oriented attorney. Build a lifelong relationship with someone you can trust… someone who also knows your other family members, understands your family values and collaborates with your other advisors (tax, financial, banking, insurance). Work with this person over time to create a personalized plan that is always up to date. Experience peace of mind knowing you’ve done everything within your power to protect your loved ones and the things for which you’ve worked so hard.

So, am I your type?

Protecting Your Family Like an NFL Lineman: 4 Risks to an Inheritance

The other day I had a chance to speak at the Rotary Club. My topic, like the article “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke” in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, was about protecting the money you’ve worked so hard for. There are many ways your spouse, children or grandchildren could end up losing what was so important for you to leave behind. I know you can’t imagine your loved ones blowing your hard earned money (or maybe you can), but sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye. What are some of the risks to an inheritance?

There are generally 4 risks to an inheritance:

1. Lawsuits

The SI article is riddled with stories of lawsuits. Though it may not be something you think about, imagine your spouse, devastated by your recent death, running a red light and causing an accident involving a school bus. In an instant, all that you worked so hard for could be given away by the courts to the injured parties leaving nothing to care for your family in your absence.

2. Divorce

One NFL owner was once asked by one of his players what the most dangerous thing to happen to them financially could be. His answer: Divorce. Many players, who marry their hometown sweetheart, can never imagine a divorce in their future. Even if your son has married the sweetest girl in the world, there is no way to see what the future holds. Would you be OK giving half your hard earned money to her if they end up getting divorced a few years after you pass away? It happens regularly when people don’t plan ahead.

3. Remarriage

If you die, and your spouse remarries, do you mind if part of the money you left is split with the new spouse, or even later left to the new spouse’s kids? This could either be a gold-digger (or “bimbo” as some of my clients like to say) or a stand up, class-act new spouse. But either way, without planning, there is a risk those assets will end up where you did not intend. Your children could even lose access to the money they would need for college.

4. Wild Spending

Lots of quick money means a happy life, right? Well, that’s not what the stats show. Quick money (winning the lottery, getting an inheritance, or multi-million dollar NFL contract) can lead to wild spending, divorce and bankruptcy. If your children end up with large assets at the young age of 20, they could quickly blow it like any upstart professional athlete. If someone isn’t prepared to manage the money, the money will manage them. You’ve worked hard so your kids will be ok without you, but will they really be better off with a large sum of money that has no safeguards?

Nobody likes to think about these difficult issues, but with proper planning these assets can be protected and your loved ones will be protected – even if you can’t be around to do it. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 or make plans to attend an upcoming workshop on the basics of estate planning, so you can make sure your family is protected.

What are you proud of?

Do you ever feel pretty proud of yourself? Kind of interesting the stuff that we get proud of. Here are some of the things I have been proud of lately:

1. stopped drinking diet soda. Used to drink it all the time, for years, but my mom kept telling me it would give me cancer eventually. Finally I decided it can’t be good for me, all that fake sugar. So I stopped. I forget when it was exactly. I think it was over a year ago. Since then, I can count on one hand the times I drank diet soda.

2. I ran a 5k. Actually finished it in 30 minutes. I think I may have come up with a new exercise program. Run a 5k every month and do nothing in between. I may do another 5k this Saturday, but I actually have run a little bit since the last 5k a month ago. But that last one was my first organized race ever. I liked it. Plus I got a free t-shirt.

3. I’m almost done with a Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Dallek , part of my lifelong quest of reading a biography about every president. For some reason, this one has been tough sledding. But I only have about 100 pages to go. I’m proud of myself now, and will be even prouder when I’m done. Then I think I will next read the Nixon biography by Stephen Ambrose. (I’m a big Ambrose fan.)

Then I kept thinking about this stuff. Is this the stuff I want to be remembered for when I’m dead and gone? Strange how small things seem worth some pride even if it’s not anything of real eternal significance. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your friends and family to say about you? What kind of son, husband, father, brother, friend, boss, employee, or neighbor do you want to be known as?

Ok, gotta go. Need to knock out a few more pages of that LBJ biography before bed…

I come from a people who…

I am sitting here at Springfield Clinic getting a bunch of allergy shots. 27 shots, 3 at a time, every 15 minutes (and on my birthday, even). What better time to post to my blog?

Who do you act like? In my work with estate clients, I get to hear about the legacy that came before them and the legacy they want to leave to their kids and grandkids. Those who came before us play a big part in who we are. Who do you act like in your family?

People say I act a lot like my granddad, Arthur Bitzer. He passed away when I was 26 years old. I can see the resemblance.

We were both very curious. When the nurse was in here a minute ago, she had the pulse oxygen thing on my finger. (how in the world does that thing work?) And I was breathing deeply to try to get it up to 100%. I did it! Once, when my grandad was in the hospital, he was moving his arms and legs to get his heart rate up to make the monitors change. Nurses ran in, only to find out he was doing it on purpose!

We want things to be efficient. In fact, we both, independently, used to do the same thing with the microwave. In order to save a few nanoseconds, we would cook something for 11 seconds instead of 10, or 2 minutes 22 seconds, instead of 2 minutes. Didn’t have to move the finger to another button that way.

We like to analyze things. For instance, if my grandad was watching a high school graduation, he would time how long it took to give out 5 diplomas. Then he would do the math and figure out how long it would take to get all 200 graduates through the line. I’ve been known to do that kind of thing myself.

My grandparents, Arthur and Marjorie Bitzer, played a big part in my legacy. They wanted to play a part in getting me started in my legal career, so years ago they paid my fee for the law school admission test, fee to apply to law school, and fee to apply for admission to the bar. They didn’t get to see me in private practice, since they both passed away in 1996 while I was clerking for an Illinois Supreme Court justice. (They never spent an anniversary apart, after being married 64 years). But on my desk at Edwards Group LLC, I have a glass box with my granddad’s initials on it, AMB. It used to sit on his desk at the car dealership that he owned in Salem, Illinois – Bitzer Auto Sales.

Anyway, who has made an impact on your life and legacy? How would you answer this question:

“I come from a people who…”

Can you speak the language?

Part of feeling connected to a family, school, part of the country, etc. is the language we use. Our family (both my extended family, as well as Michelle, Bailey, and I) has all kinds of sayings for all kinds of situations. Once a year there is a day where I can use one particular saying.

“Did you know that today is the only day of the year that gives a command?”
March 4th!

My dad said it for years and now I say it. What sayings does your family have? I have a bunch of our family’s sayings listed on my info page on Facebook. There are tons more I plan to add to facebook, but I can’t remember them all when I sit down to type them. Although when certain situations come up, I just come out with them, like my brain is hard wired. It is one of the joys of following a legacy from those who have gone before. That I can pass down stories and sayings from my parents and grandparents.

When things get messed up

This afternoon, I hosted a roomful of financial professionals for a webinar. Where we all face forward, listening to a voice through speakers sitting in some other state and looking at a screen with a powerpoint presentation. And it was really great. Great content and a great group of professionals I respect.

Then it happened. The webcast audio just went out. Then the video. What now? Well, I didn’t have any jokes prepared and no one wanted to watch Elmo in Grouchland (left over from Bailey’s visit to daddy’s office a week or so ago), so we all chatted, ate some cookies, then confirmed that the webinar was out because the presenter’s internet went out. A little more chatting, then everyone headed out, back to their offices.

So what do you do when things don’t go right?

I’m strung a little tight so I have been known to let my frustration level get a bit high. (See yesterday’s post on my leather chair.) My wife can tell you the story about how I walked out of Panera because they were out of bagels. Also walked out of Baker’s Square once because they refused to serve the pies in the case (instead were holding them for the holiday the next day).

But, anyway, today I was fine with it all. Disappointed, yes. But not over the top frustrated. I had my perspective today. My goal wasn’t to present a flawless webinar, but to get a chance to learn and collaborate with great professionals who care about the clients as much as I do. Some I have known for months, some for years. And today was just one more step in a journey I am taking with them to serve clients together.

Tomorrow I may walk out of another restaurant. But today, I am at peace.