5 Reasons to Embrace the Emotional Nature of Estate Planning

When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.

But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is actually a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:

  1. Estate planning creates stability in times of loss

If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation. (more…)

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How to Choose a Trustee

When you establish a trust, you name someone to be the trustee. A trustee does what you do right now with your financial affairs – collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records, and generally keep things organized and in good order.

The Key Takeaways

  • You can be trustee of your revocable living trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-trustee.
  • Most irrevocable trusts do not allow you to be trustee.
  • Even though you may be allowed to be your own trustee, you may not be the best choice.
  • You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate trustee.
  • Naming someone else to be co-trustee with you helps them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-trustee’s abilities.

Who Can Be Your Trustee

If you have a revocable living trust, you can be your own trustee. If you are married, your spouse can be trustee with you. This way, if either of you become incapacitated or die, the other can continue to handle your financial affairs without interruption. Most married couples who own assets together, especially those who have been married for some time, are usually co-trustees.

You don’t have to be your own trustee. Some people choose an adult son or daughter, a trusted friend or another relative. Some like having the experience and investment skills of a professional or corporate trustee (e.g., a bank trust department or trust company). Naming someone else as trustee or co-trustee with you does not mean you lose control. The trustee you name must follow the instructions in your trust and report to you. You can even replace your trustee should you change your mind.

When to Consider a Professional or Corporate Trustee

You may be elderly, widowed, and/or in declining health and have no children or other trusted relatives living nearby. Or your candidates may not have the time or ability to manage your trust. You may simply not have the time, desire or experience to manage your investments by yourself. Also, certain irrevocable trusts will not allow you to be trustee due to restrictions in the tax laws. In these situations, a professional or corporate trustee may be exactly what you need: they have the experience, time and resources to manage your trust and help you meet your investment goals.

What You Need to Know

Professional or corporate trustees will charge a fee to manage your trust, but generally the fee is quite reasonable, especially when you consider their experience, the services provided, and the investment returns that a professional trustee can deliver.

Actions to Consider

  • Honestly evaluate if you are the best choice to be your own trustee. Someone else may truly do a better job than you, especially in investing your assets.
  • Name someone to be co-trustee with you now. This would eliminate the time a successor would need to become knowledgeable about your trust, your assets, and the needs and personalities of your beneficiaries. It would also let you evaluate if the co-trustee is the right choice to manage the trust in your absence.
  • Evaluate your trustee candidates carefully and realistically.
  • If you are considering a professional or corporate trustee, talk to several. Compare their services, investment returns, and fees.

We can help you select, educate, and advise your successor trustees so they will have support and know what to do next to carry out your wishes. Give us a call today.  Lambert Elder Care Law 229-292-8989.

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How to Avoid High Octane Stress and Organize Information for Your Family

Think, for just a few moments, about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets, password, usernames, and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer?

Would they know whom to ask if they need help? Would they miss assets or insurances you’ve paid for? Not knowing what’s out there, where to find it, and how to access it is extremely stressful and burdensome. If you put all of your information in a safe place and let loved ones know where it is, you’re providing for and protecting your family, instead of dumping stress on them at an already stressful time. Putting the effort in now, to establish a formal document inventory, will alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil at one of the hardest times of their lives.

Key Takeaways

  • If you should suddenly become incapacitated or die, your family would need to know where to find the information they need.
  • Let your loved ones and trusted helpers know where to find your document inventory.
  • Do not assume your process will be readily understood by others; hold a trial run to make sure they can find and understand your records.
  • Keep your inventory current with a bi-annual or annual review.

Here’s the Information Your Loved Ones Will Need

There is a large volume of documents and information that your family would need during a calamitous event such as incapacitation (even temporary) or death. This basic list will help you start thinking of the critical information you would want your family to have within reach.

  • Legal documents (will, living trust, and health care documents; adoption, marriage, divorce, military discharge certificates; insurance policies, deeds, and car titles)
  • List of medications (with dosages) you are taking
  • List of your advisors (estate planning attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, and physicians)
  • Insurance policies (health, disability, long-term care, business, life, auto, homeowners, renters, and umbrella)
  • Year-end bank and investment account statements as well as the most recent quarter’s statement
  • Storage facility location, access method, and inventory
  • List of all assets and accounts, including location, account numbers, date purchased and purchase price
  • Safe deposit box location, list of contents and location of key
  • List of companies or people to whom you owe money (mortgage, credit cards, friend, etc.)
  • List of people who owe you money
  • Death, disability, pension, and insurance benefits from organizations
  • Past tax returns (6 years)
  • User IDs, passwords, and PINs for all financial, email, social media, photo sharing, bookkeeping, computer, and other online accounts

What You Need to Know

Your document inventory requires a methodical listing of both hardcopy and digital forms. While the effort will be more challenging at the start, the maintenance of the inventory is much simpler. Be mindful that your digital footprint will likely grow much faster in the future than it has in the past, but you’ll be able to keep up with it.

Additional Actions Necessary to Protect You and Your Loved Ones

  • Give current copies of your health care documents to your physicians and designated agent(s).
  • Keep your original documents in one safe place, like a fireproof safe. Make copies for the notebook described next.
  • Buy one or two three-ring binders to organize your personal and financial information. You can enter it by hand or create spreadsheets on your computer, but having it all in one or two binders will make it easy for your family to find and use. If you leave it on your computer, they may never find it. Include locations, contact information, account numbers, and approximate amounts.
  • Include a list of online accounts and how to access them (including passwords).
  • Clean up your computer desktop and put important files in an easy-to-find desktop folder.
  • Have a trial run. Ask your spouse or other trusted helpers (such as your successor trustee or executor) to pretend that he or she needs to access needed information.
  • At least once a year, but preferably every six months, review and update your notebook, computer desktop files, and usernames and passwords for online accounts.

Call us at Lambert Elder Care Law  (229) 292-8989 and let us help you make sure your estate planning is in order and organized for your loved ones.

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The Top 2 Ways the Court Gets Involved in Your Estate, and How to Avoid Them

No one wants unnecessary court involvement in their life. But without careful and proactive estate planning, chances are that some aspect of your estate will end up being decided there.

Here are two of the most common ways court proceedings can make their way into the management and distribution of your assets, along with the estate planning measures you can take to avoid them.

1. Guardianship and conservatorship

If you experience an inability to make decisions on your own behalf, also known as legal incapacity, and you don’t have provisions for what to do in this situation clearly outlined in your estate plan, it falls upon the guardianship or conservatorship court to decide who will become responsible for handling your finances, lifestyle, and medical care. You can become legally incapacitated because of an accident, injury, or degenerative illness. In the case of guardianship and conservatorship (sometimes called “living probate”), your estate’s details, as well as discussion about your medical conditions, may be made public and be the topic of court proceedings.

How to avoid it: To make sure the government doesn’t get involved in your wealth management and health care during your lifetime, you need to determine who will be your power of attorney. You can appoint durable and medical powers of attorney for various categories of management in your life and estate. A solid long-term care plan, living will, and fully-funded revocable trust are also crucial components in avoiding living probate proceedings.

2. The probate process

Probate is the name for the court proceeding that takes place after your death to prove that your will is valid and that its terms are carried out accurately and legally. Probate brings your financial and personal affairs out into the open via public forum, and your estate can dwindle due to legal fees incurred during this time. It can also take an excessive amount of time due to the slow nature of court proceedings, dragging out a potentially stressful episode for your family.

How to avoid it: Having a will does not avoid probate, since all wills must go through probate to be validated. Although you’ll often hear about joint tenancy, beneficiary designations, and other probate avoidance options as alternatives to wills, only a fully funded revocable trust can consolidate the management and preservation of all types of assets. So, the best way to avoid probate is to work with your estate planning attorney to establish and fully fund a revocable living trust and name your beneficiaries and trustees ahead of time.

We’re here to help

Estate planning can be a daunting thing to consider when you’re busy. And we know you are. That’s why we work diligently to present you with the best estate planning tools and strategies in a straightforward manner, letting you get back to focusing on what’s most important to you today. Give us a call to discuss what strategies will work best to keep your assets in your family and the court out of your affairs.   Lambert Elder Care Law 229-292-8989.

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Why Does a Living Trust Cost More than a Will?

 

Yes, you will likely invest more in trust-based planning than will-based planning because you get a whole lot more value. Comparing these estate planning investments is like comparing apples and oranges – and the overall investment may not be what you think.

 

  • A living trust document has more provisions than a will because it protects you and your loved ones while you are alive and well, while you are alive and not-so well, and after your death. A will only handles matters after death.
  • A properly prepared and funded living trust will avoid court proceedings at incapacity and death. A will provides no such protection and ensures court interference at both events, which can be very costly (in time, privacy, dollars, and stress) to your family.

(more…)

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The Real Life Perils of Online and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Estate Planning

With the number of online and do-it-yourself (DIY) legal providers continuing to grow and advertise heavily, you may be wondering if you could do your estate planning with the help of these forms. The advertising is seductive. Ads say, “attorneys use similar forms,” “the cost is significantly less than hiring an attorney,” and “many of these websites and kits are created by attorneys.” Most folks think their estates are not complicated and many think forms are forms – and – attorneys just charge for forms, right? (more…)

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How to Avoid High Octane Stress and Organize Information for Your Family

Think, for just a few moments, about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets, password, usernames, and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer?

Would they know whom to ask if they need help? Would they miss assets or insurances you’ve paid for? Not knowing what’s out there, where to find it, and how to access it is extremely stressful and burdensome. If you put all of your information in a safe place and let loved ones know where it is, you’re providing for and protecting your family, instead of dumping stress on them at an already stressful time. Putting the effort in now, to establish a formal document inventory, will alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil at one of the hardest times of their lives.

Key Takeaways

  • If you should suddenly become incapacitated or die, your family would need to know where to find the information they need.
  • Let your loved ones and trusted helpers know where to find your document inventory.
  • Do not assume your process will be readily understood by others; hold a trial run to make sure they can find and understand your records.
  • Keep your inventory current with a bi-annual or annual review.

Here’s the Information Your Loved Ones Will Need

There is a large volume of documents and information that your family would need during a calamitous event such as incapacitation (even temporary) or death. This basic list will help you start thinking of the critical information you would want your family to have within reach.

  • Legal documents (will, living trust, and health care documents; adoption, marriage, divorce, military discharge certificates; insurance policies, deeds, and car titles)
  • List of medications (with dosages) you are taking
  • List of your advisors (estate planning attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, and physicians)
  • Insurance policies (health, disability, long-term care, business, life, auto, homeowners, renters, and umbrella)
  • Year-end bank and investment account statements as well as the most recent quarter’s statement
  • Storage facility location, access method, and inventory
  • List of all assets and accounts, including location, account numbers, date purchased and purchase price
  • Safe deposit box location, list of contents and location of key
  • List of companies or people to whom you owe money (mortgage, credit cards, friend, etc.)
  • List of people who owe you money
  • Death, disability, pension, and insurance benefits from organizations
  • Past tax returns (6 years)
  • User IDs, passwords, and PINs for all financial, email, social media, photo sharing, bookkeeping, computer, and other online accounts

(more…)

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3 Reasons You Want to Avoid Probate

When you pass away, your family may need to visit a probate court in order to claim their inheritance. This can happen if you own property (like a house, car, bank account, investment account, or other asset) in only your name. Although having a will is a good basic form of planning, a will does not avoid probate. Instead, a will simply lets you inform the probate court of your wishes – your family still has to go through the probate process to make those wishes legal.

Now that you have an idea of why probate might be necessary, here are 3 key reasons why you want to avoid probate if at all possible. (more…)

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Talk to Your Family over the Holidays about Your Estate Plan

Many of us labor a lifetime to build up our assets and fight for causes that matter to us. Few things are more fulfilling than the thought of sharing wealth and legacy with our family.

Of course, it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality, but careful planning can mitigate against the two primary risks.

  1. a)    Your intentions regarding your estate weren’t made clear, resulting in the potential for costly, time-consuming conflict.
  2. b)    Your family did not understand or share your wealth management vision, resulting in the possibility of asset dissipation.

The good news is both of these issues can be prevented through honest communication with your family now. While it’s not necessarily comfortable to broach this topic, a family gathering at the holidays might be the best time to have a conversation with your children and loved ones about your estate plan. (more…)

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How to “UNPLUG” from Caregiving

You’re a long-term caregiver for your parents and you are getting more than a little burned out. A friend tells you that her family is unable to use a five day beach home reservation that they’ve already paid for. They’ve offered you the package, since they don’t want it wasted, but your first instinct is to say no.

While you could ask for time off at your office job, who would care for your parents? Even if you could arrange care, how would you be able to go without being mired in guilt and mentally stuck back home?

Thanks to the caregiver “fix it” mentality, you probably won’t be able to totally avoid some concern about what is happening at home. But it may be possible that you can, with planning, take advantage of a break and come home refreshed.

While each caregiving situation is unique and the idea that you will be worry free during your trip or vacation is a bit optimistic, there are steps you can take to prepare for a good time.

Practical suggestions that you can tailor to your family’s needs:

  1. Recognize that you deserve a break. No matter how much you love your care receiver(s), the daily routine can be exhausting and mind numbing. Sometimes you just need a break from caregiving. As with any job, paid or unpaid, a rest from the daily grind rejuvenates the body, mind and spirit. Realize that your care receiver(s) will, whether or not they realize it ahead of time, reap the benefits of a happier, more rested you.
  2. Plan, plan, plan. The more you feel you’ve done all you can do to ensure a smooth transition, the more relaxed you’ll be while you are away. Call an in-home agency, preferably one recommended by friends, and set up an interview with them. If you are satisfied, make arrangements for a caregiver to go to your parent’s home for whatever time you feel is needed. If a nursing home or assisted living is part of the picture, obviously you will have to coordinate with them.
  3. Make sure they have their medications. One of the toughest parts of planning can be having prescriptions filled because insurance generally makes people wait pretty close to the cutoff time before obtaining refills. However, do everything you can to make sure that the medications needed are up to date and then arrange to have someone to mail or pick up whatever you couldn’t have filled.
  4. Stock up on staples. If you’ve been grocery shopping for your parents, you know what they need. Paper towels, toilet paper and facial tissues don’t spoil. Make sure to leave plenty around and that they know where to find such items. Special soap? Get two. Same with shampoo and other personal items. They’ll feel more secure even if your trip is short.
  5. Prepare meals ahead of time. Stock up on easy to cook food, or make meals ahead of time and freeze them for your parents. Much depends on how independent they are, but if you make everything easy, you’ll feel better about leaving them for awhile. Arrange for Meals-on-Wheels for daily meal delivery if they would like that. Have the hired caregiver keep track of needed groceries and go to the store or have them take your parents if that has been your pattern.
  6. Discuss laundry. If you do their laundry or if there are stairs to a basement laundry room that may not be safe, put laundry on the list for the hired caregiver to do. The same goes for light housekeeping and dishes. Arrange some method, paid help or other family members, to do what you would usually do.
  7. Get them an alarm. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful a personal alarm worn by your parent can be. Even if you have two parents at home, signing them up for personal alarms is a good idea. They are worn on the wrist or as a pendant. If you already have a system and you are the first responder, make sure to change that designation to someone who will be available to respond while you are away. If your parents know a neighbor fairly well, ask the neighbor if he or she can be the contact person for a short time. The first responder just needs to be able to investigate a situation. They can then tell the dispatcher for the service if 9-1-1 is needed, so the first responder doesn’t have to be strong or even able bodied.
  8. Don’t forget the outside. Arrange lawn care or snow clearing ahead of time if that service isn’t already in place.
  9. Have a way to get in touch. These days, Skype can be a good connection for computer savvy elders and traveling adult children to stay in communication. Remember, though, you are doing this to unplug. I’d suggest that, if possible, you ask the paid caregivers and the neighbor or another nearby person to only contact you in a true emergency. Alternately, if you feel you simply must talk daily—perhaps if your elder is isolated—then call or set up Skype for a specified period of time. This is something you have to work out for yourself. Additionally, you can pre-address note cards to send so your parents get mail from you. This is something I did on a rare getaway. I even mailed one card from home so that my parents had a card the day after I left. The notes made them feel like I was in contact, yet it was a small detail for me and didn’t distract from my good time.
  10. Make a list and check it as often as you need to. Does it cover everything you can think of that your loved ones may need? If so, follow the advice of counselors and support groups and mentally detach from the home situation while you are away.

Detaching may be the hardest step, but unless you do so, you aren’t really taking a vacation. Admitting that you need a break is key to helping you recognize, prevent and avoid caregiver burnout. You can’t control what will happen tomorrow. You can’t control how your parents will react to your absence. But you can control (to some degree) your worry, because that stems from your attitude.  Credit: Bursack/AgingCare

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