Cinderella and estate planning

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

The secret to avoiding disaster in the Magic Kingdom — plan ahead.

So much of parenting is about planning and anticipating problems BEFORE they happen. And trips to Disney World are no exception. We know from experience that our kids get worn out if they days are too long. So, now we purposely build in days to quit early and have some down time back at the pool. On our most recent trip, I was reminded once again of how disastrous bad estate plans can be when minors are involved. Cinderella’s father made her life even more difficult by not anticipating what would happen if he died. Keep reading to find out what he could have done differently.

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

You’re probably familiar with the age-old story — Cinderella’s mother dies when she’s a young child, leaving just her and her father. Sadly, while Cinderella is still a minor, her father dies after remarrying a woman with two children of her own. His estate is left to his widow. (A regular occurrence in the real world.) And we all know what happens next: the wicked stepmother takes control of the estate of the benefit of herself and her own daughters. Treated as a servant in her own home, Cinderella is reduced to befriending rodents and birds.

Unfortunately, attorneys see these sorts of real life disasters everyday. The parents of modern day Cinderella’s aren’t bad people. They just failed to properly plan. They certainly didn’t wish for bad things to happen to their children. But that’s what happens when you don’t plan for things that are common to the human experience. (Like death.)

Here are 7 estate planning actions Cinderella’s father could have taken to better protect her once his wife died:

  1. Name guardians who share his values. See our Child Raising Priorities Checklist to help you decide what’s most important to you.
  2. Leave instructions for the guardian about how he wants her raised. This could include schooling preferences, where he wants her to live, religious upbringing, etc.
  3. Don’t think of planning as “all or nothing.” All of the father’s assets didn’t have to go only to the second wife OR only to his child. He should have considered dividing the assets between the spouse and Cinderella.
  4. Name an “outside” helper. Even in the best of circumstances, putting a stepparent in control of the stepchild’s money (or vice versa) can lead to frustration or awkwardness. A professional trustee (such as a bank, CPA or attorney) could have better balanced the interests of both Cinderella and her stepmother.
  5. Prioritize key needs for Cinderella such as future educations costs, wedding expenses, a down payment for a home, etc. Setting aside priority funds in a trust will make sure they are not spent on other things.
  6. Pass on a non-financial legacy. Cinderella’s father could have done a better job in transmitting his values, traditions, stories, faith and experiences, and this should have been especially important because Cinderella was so young when her mother died. By passing on a non-financial legacy, he could have insured that her mother’s things — photos, jewelry and other important “belongings” or memories were passed to Cinderella and not the stepmother. Read about 10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider here.

The type of planning that best protects minors when the unthinkable happens requires attorneys to act as counselors for the client. This also often involves collaboration with other professional advisors. By working as a team, these professionals who deal with real life Cinderella stories everyday can develop solutions for issues such as a creditor protection, remarriage protection, guardianship and special needs.

An estate plan is not really about YOUR DEATH. It’s about your CHILDREN’S LIFE if you’re not there to protect them anymore. You do everything you can to protect them right now — bike helmets, the best car seats, safe cars, healthy food, etc. but what if the unthinkable happens? Will all your protection go away if you go away? Preparation now avoids extra heartbreak and tragedy later. Read a real life story about lack of planning and the death of a young mother here.

Oftentimes, this is the single hardest activity a parent will engage in. We give guidance in person when clients go through this process with us. As always, feel free to give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have any questions!

12 Duties of a Helper: What Do Executors, Trustees, Guardians and Powers of Attorney Really Do?

Every estate plan needs a good helper(s). Choosing those helpers can be tough. Your trustee, guardian, power of attorney or executor will be responsible for making decisions when you become disabled (like from a stroke or dementia) or pass away. But what exactly are they responsible for?

Your helper(s) will take on many financial, legal and managerial responsibilities on your behalf.

Here are 12 specific duties of a helper:

  1. Sell assets like cars, house or property
  2. Make tax decisions and file tax returns
  3. Pay bills
  4. File claim forms on IRAs, annuities and life insurance
  5. Follow the instructions of your Trust
  6. Make decisions about your care (at home, assisted living or nursing home)
  7. Manage investments
  8. Meet with attorneys and accountants
  9. Sign legal documents
  10. Negotiate sales of any property
  11. Referee disputes between other family memebers
  12. Tell beneficiaries “no” when they ask for money

It is especially important to choose a helper that you trust to manage your finances, as this will become a majority of their responsibility. A great way to decide if you have chosen the best helper is to look at how they currently manage their own life. How does it make you feel to envision your helper stepping in and managing your life right now? If it makes you nervous, perhaps it is best to reconsider whom you have chosen.

We are here to help you through the difficult decision-making process of choosing a trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian. We guide people through this process all the time helping them know what they should consider when making this very important decision.

We have been through this with many families before, whereas the average family has only been involved in this process once, maybe twice. Let our experience guide you to peace of mind when it comes to choosing the right helper for your estate plan.

Learn more by reading “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here. Or check out “3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan” to find out some common misconceptions about who you should choose.

death parent

Case Study: When a Young Mother Suddenly Dies

The Brock’s were just an average young family in the 1980’s. The father, Robert, had been to Vietnam and back a decade earlier. The mother, Margaret, stayed at home with their two young boys, James and Steven. The family lived in a modest ranch house in middle America. But one day their normal life unexpectedly came to an end when the complications of a routine surgery left Margaret in a coma. Her sons were only 8 and 6 at the time.

The Death of a Loved One is Never Normal

Without health insurance or life insurance, Robert faced a very difficult situation as his wife lay in a coma. Margaret didn’t have any written health directives. Only Robert knew that Margaret didn’t want to be kept alive through artificial measures. After less than a week, Robert made the agonizing decision to remove Margaret from life support. Margaret’s parents and sister disagreed with how quickly he made the decision, which made a tragic situation even worse.

Margaret’s parents continued to be a part of their grandsons’ lives. They tried to make peace with her husband’s decision. But Margaret’s sister never forgave Robert. Margaret’s sister also lumped James and Steven in with her anger towards Robert. Instead of being a link to their missing mother and helpful part of the grieving process, she severed the relationship. The boys had not only lost a mother. They had now lost an aunt, an uncle and their cousins as well. Potentially powerful relationships in the healing process were gone.

Having already made the most difficult decision of his life, Robert Brock continued to face the harsh reality of life after his wife’s death. The bills from his wife’s surgery, hospital stay, and death piled up. However, Robert couldn’t sell the house to relieve some of that burden. Without a will, part of the house now belonged to the two boys and could not be sold until the boys were of legal age. Robert was forced to take on extra accounting work at night for a local small business. The boys would go with him after school and be expected to occupy themselves while their father worked an extra 5 nights a week.

A Cautionary Tale: What They Wish Could Be Different

Following the example set by his father, the youngest son, James, never dwelt on what happened or what could have been. He simply continued on with life. Now an adult himself, sometimes James wishes his father had handled things differently. For example, his father never told the boys the exact date of their mother’s death. James is still unsure of the date two decades later. For the most part, though, Robert and his boys chose not to let this tragic event define them in a negative way.

There are also times when James misses having motherly advice, but what he misses the most are the stories that define a lifetime. The story of his birth, stories from childhood, and stories from his mother’s life — all of those died with his mother (and when his aunt walked out of their life). Other than a few photographs, he has nothing left of her. His father’s way of dealing with the overwhelming sadness of the situation was to get rid of everything and sweep it under the rug. While Robert may have thought this was best for him and his boys, it left a big hole in their life.

What Good Is a Plan During a Tragedy?

An estate plan cannot erase the grief for the family left behind when a loved one dies, but it can ease the transition and facilitate healing. Here are some tools that families can use to help make things easier during the devastating and sudden loss of a loved one:

  1. Legal documents clearly stating end of life issues can ease the burden on a spouse who is faced with an agonizing decision like the one above. These documents also could have given other family members peace of mind knowing that their sister/daughter’s wishes were being carried out. In the end, this could have preserved important family relationships for those left behind in the distressing wake of loss.
  2. Preserving memories or special items that lay a foundation for adulthood can mean a lot to the children left behind, but preserving the stories behind those items through letters or audio recordings would have been priceless.
  3. Life insurance could have eased the daily financial stress of losing a spouse and raising children alone.

The death of a spouse or parent is never easy, but there are many things that can make sudden and devastating events, like the one above, a little easier for those left to live life without a very special loved one.

If you’re ready to get started on creating an effective plan that will anticipate what might happen in the future, give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’ll be happy to help you schedule an Initial Meeting.

estate planning act of love

7 Reasons Estate Planning Is an Act of Love

When you think of Valentine’s Day, you probably don’t think about estate planning, but we do! We see the depth of our clients’ love for their families everyday as they put an effective plan together — a plan from which they may never see the benefits. A plan that will give their loved ones peace at a time of great loss and grief.

Here are seven reasons why our staff sees estate planning as a great act of love:

  1. It provides protection at every stage of the game. You’ve worked to protect your children throughout their life — when they learned to walk, when they learned to drive, even after they moved out. Creating an effective estate plan is another way we can protect our kids.
  2. It makes sure nothing important gets lost in the shuffle. You may have IRAs, multiple insurance policies or other assets that children know nothing about. It is incredibly stressful, after the loss of a loved one, to run around, playing detective, trying to gather necessary information about these things.
  3. It’s likely the largest financial gift you’ll ever make. You want to get it right. Even if you don’t think you have much of an “estate,” if you own a house, then you have an estate to pass on. Bad estate plans (or no plan) make big messes for those left behind to deal with.
  4. Without planning, your estate could cause great hardship. In Illinois, if you die without a will, your estate will be split 50-50 between your spouse and kids. This means that your wife could be prevented from selling the house because the children won’t agree to it.
  5. You can still watch out for that wayward child. It’s really difficult when our children don’t make the choices we’d like them to make for themselves. It causes everyone a lot of heartache. Creating a trust for a child like this can bring a deep sense of peace.
  6. Long-term Care Planning takes the burden off your family. The last decade of life is one of the most stressful times in the human lifespan. There is nothing harder for a child or family member than not being able to provide care for a loved one when the time comes.
  7. It takes the guesswork away. It is very difficult to be grieving the loss of a loved one (or the catastrophic illness of a loved one) all the while not knowing if you are making the decisions they would want made. Good planning prevents guilt and emotional conflict between siblings or family members.

If you’ve been putting off planning because of the hassle or the cost, we encourage you to take a step toward protecting your loved ones today. You’ve already taken at least one step by learning more in this post. Next, we encourage you to attend a free educational workshopAging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. See the upcoming dates here, and call 217-726-9200 to RSVP.

We also understand that time is of the essence if you have a loved one who is facing a nursing home or already in a nursing home. In that case, we urge you to call us right away at 217-726-9200 and one of our Elder Care Advisors will be more than happy to speak with you about your urgent situation.

will

The Difference Between a Will, a Living Will and a Living Trust

A recent survey on estate planning found that 74% of those surveyed thought estate planning was a confusing topic. That’s no surprise considering estate planning has a language all its own. Today, we’ll sort out the difference between a Will, a Living Will and a Living Trust — three separate estate planning tools with similar names, but different roles to play in your planning.

Last Will & Testament

This is what people commonly refer to as a “Will.” It is the most popular estate planning tool. This legal document is used to determine where assets go and who is in charge (the executor) after you die. Until you die, your Will and your executor do not have any legal authority. Wills often must go through the time and expense of probate court.

Living Will

A Living Will states your end of life wishes, such as when to “pull the plug.” This document reduces stress and confusion for your loved ones. It gives guidance to the person serving as your healthcare power of attorney. This is the person who ultimately decides when to stop treatment and let you go, if it becomes necessary.

Living Trust

A Living Trust does a lot of what a Will does, but it does it more efficiently. It is kept private and avoids probate court. A Living Trust also states your wishes after death, but also includes instructions if you become disabled. The Trustee is in charge of the trust. Usually, you are the Trustee while you’re healthy, but then a successor takes over if you become disabled (by a stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc.) or when you pass away. (Read more about choosing good helpers for your plan here.)

Helping educate people and demystify estate planning is one of our highest priorities because effective plans can only be created when clients and attorneys work together. You bring your knowledge of your family and it’s unique circumstances. We bring our knowledge of estate planning and the law. Together we create effective plans that bring peace of mind and protection for those people and things you care about. (Read more about that here.)

To continue learning more about the unique language of estate planning, click here to read “What’s the Difference Between a DNR and a POA?” To learn more about Wills and Trusts, check out the dates for our upcoming workshop, “Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started”.

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!