What Caregivers Need to Know About Estate Planning for a Loved One With Dementia – Part 2

Last week, we started our discussion on estate planning for a loved one with a dementia diagnosis and what this means for their ability to protect their wishes through an estate plan. We covered:

  • What it means to have mental capacity or be incapacitated
  • How dementia affects capacity for estate planning purposes
  • The essential estate planning tools a person with dementia needs to create right away

However, as dementia progresses, estate planning must become more proactive and strategic than ever to avoid court and conflict over your loved one’s wishes in the future. If dementia becomes too advanced before planning is complete, the question of who will manage your loved one’s assets and care will be left to a judge who doesn’t know your loved one or their wishes.

Keep reading to learn what steps need to be considered when estate planning for someone with more advanced dementia.

Seek a Cognitive Evaluation

If your loved one’s cognitive capacity is in question, seeking a professional evaluation is a prudent and proactive step in the estate planning process. Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s primary care physician or a specialist in dementia care to assess their mental state and make a recommendation on your loved one’s ability to make estate planning decisions.

During this evaluation, the medical professional will talk to your loved one and ask them questions about their everyday life, how aware they are of their circumstances, and what they would do in certain situations, such as if a stranger came to the door or if a pipe burst in their home.

Your loved one doesn’t need to remember every detail about their life for the evaluation to be beneficial. The professional will be most concerned with your loved one’s ability to analyze a scenario and make a thoughtful decision on how to respond. For example, your loved one may not remember what day of the week it is but may remember they shouldn’t open the door for a stranger.

Receiving a report from your loved one’s doctor stating they have the cognitive ability to make estate planning decisions (at least when they are in a lucid state) protects their ability to make decisions for their finances and healthcare, and dissuades any future debate from third parties as to whether your loved one had the ability to make a plan in the first place.

Encourage Private Meetings Between Your Loved One and Their Lawyer

It may be second nature to help your loved one with appointments, especially if hearing and memory troubles make it difficult for your loved one to follow along. But as much as possible, allow your loved one to meet with their lawyer independently. A private meeting between your loved one and their lawyer will provide them with the opportunity to express their wishes without external influence.

Even if you have your loved one’s best intentions at heart and they would prefer to have you present during the meetings, encouraging your loved one to have private conversations with their lawyer when possible helps avoid questions about whether or not you influenced their estate planning decisions.

If it isn’t feasible for your loved one to have an entire meeting with their lawyer alone, make sure they at least have opportunities to talk to their attorney in private by leaving the room while your attorney confirms their wishes.
Be sure to document every time your loved one meets alone with their lawyer and ask their lawyer to document it as well.

Make Sure Their Estate Plan Is Executed Carefully

Unfortunately, errors that occur at the time an estate plan is signed are common. Every state has different laws for how estate planning documents are executed, how they can be signed, and what witnesses or notaries are required to make the document binding.

If your loved one’s plan isn’t executed properly, it can result in your family needing to involve a judge to determine whether the estate plan is still valid. This also creates an opportunity for family members to question whether your loved one had the mental capacity to create the plan at all.

It’s also essential to document your loved one’s capacity at the time the estate plan documents are signed. Make sure that their lawyer reviews the documents carefully with your loved one before they sign them, that the documents reflect your loved one’s wishes, and that your loved one is creating the plan of their own free will.

If you have any concerns about other family members questioning your loved one’s estate planning decisions or mental state at the time, ask your loved one and their attorney if they could record the signing meeting to dispel any claims that your loved one was coerced into planning or didn’t know what they were signing.

Conclusion

If your loved one received a dementia diagnosis and hasn’t addressed their legal matters, don’t despair – but act fast. Even in the advanced stages of dementia, individuals may have moments when they can participate in decision-making and estate planning. But, due to the progressive nature of dementia, time is of the essence for your loved one to create an estate plan, and the sooner they plan, the easier it will be for them to get the help they need as their condition progresses.

In cases where your loved one’s capacity is severely diminished and estate planning hasn’t been completed, your family will need to pursue a court guardianship. This legal arrangement involves a court appointing a legal guardian who assumes responsibility for making decisions on behalf of the person with dementia. This process can be stressful, and it’s possible the court will appoint someone your loved one never would have wanted to manage their assets or healthcare decisions.

To make sure your loved one’s wishes are documented before it’s too late, I invite you to schedule a free 15-minute Discovery Call HERE to learn more. Our team is dedicated to providing compassionate guidance and legal expertise to ensure the well-being and wishes of your loved one are preserved.

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What Caregivers Need to Know About Estate Planning for a Loved One With Dementia – Part 1

Caring for a loved one with dementia is a challenge that millions of families undertake each year. As a caregiver, understanding how a dementia diagnosis affects your loved one’s legal decision-making is crucial to ensuring their wishes are honored and that you are providing them with the best possible care.

In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of estate planning, even after a dementia diagnosis, as the best method to ensure the wishes and rights of your loved one are protected.

Estate Planning In The Early Stages of Dementia

Every adult should create certain legal documents to protect their rights and wishes, and this is no different for a loved one with a dementia diagnosis. What is important to remember is that in order to create a legal document, you need to have mental capacity – meaning you need to be fully aware of what you are doing and what the consequences of your choices will be.

Thankfully, a person does not need to constantly be in a state of capacity to create an estate plan. As long as your loved one has the mental capacity at the moment they sign their estate plan documents, the documents will be valid, even if they regress into a state of incapacity afterward.

In the early stages of dementia, and ideally long before any health problems surface, your loved one should create (or review and update) the following estate planning documents:

General Durable Power of Attorney

A General Durable Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal tool that allows your loved one to appoint someone to make financial and legal decisions on their behalf. Their POA can write checks, pay bills, maintain their home, and manage their financial assets.

This document becomes especially significant as dementia progresses. Encourage your loved one to designate a trusted individual as their financial Power of Attorney while they are still able to make such decisions.

A Revocable Living Trust

A General Durable Power of Attorney is an important tool, but many financial institutions place constraints on the use of a POA or don’t acknowledge their authority at all. To make sure your loved one has complete protection of their financial wishes, encourage them to establish a Revocable Living Trust and move their assets into the name of the Trust. Creating a Trust document alone is not sufficient. Assets must be retitled, and beneficiary designations updated to ensure all assets are covered by the Trust, and that the named Successor Trustee can step in with ease, when necessary.

As part of creating a Trust, your loved one will name the person they want to manage their assets when they are no longer able to do so. This person is called the Trustee or Successor Trustee. The Trustee and Power of Attorney are often the same person, but not always.

Determination of who should serve in what role, and at what point your loved one should give up control over their financial assets is part of what we counsel our clients to decide. If you have any uncertainty whatsoever, please call us to discuss. It’s far better to get the right tools in place, and the right people named, early than it is to wait until it’s too late. Once it’s too late, it’s really too late, and your family could be stuck with a court process as the only path.

By having these two estate planning tools in place and the support of our proactive guidance, you can rest assured that the people your loved one knows and loves will be able to manage their assets for them as their dementia progresses. One of the best things we’ve experienced about part of this process it that the people who have taken care of all of this before they begin to experience dementia are able to relax into a phase of life that can often be full of anxiety because they know it’s been handled.

Health Care Proxy

Similar to a General Durable POA, a Health Care Proxy appoints someone to make medical decisions on behalf of your loved one when they are unable to do so for themselves. Discussing and establishing a Health Care Proxy early on allows your loved one to express their medical preferences and ensures their wishes are honored.

Their Health Care Proxy should also be accompanied by a Living Will that outlines their desires regarding medical treatment, life support, and end-of-life care. Creating a Living Will and discussing their wishes with you ensures that their preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment, resuscitation, and other medical interventions are documented and respected.

The economic burden of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or advanced dementia can be significant – between $2,500 to more than $10,000/month is not unusual. The time to discuss these costs, and what you or your loved one want is right now, before dementia or Alzheimer’s makes it impossible to have any choice.

Plan As Early As Possible

One of the most crucial steps in preparing for the challenges of dementia is to help your loved one complete their estate planning while they still have the capacity to do so. Waiting until the later stages of the disease can limit their options and increase stress for everyone involved.

By addressing legal matters early on, you can ensure that your loved one’s wishes are respected, and their affairs are managed in the way they intended, by the people they trust, without the need for court involvement.

If you have a loved one with more advanced dementia, check back here next week as we explore late-stage estate planning options and methods to avoid family and legal conflict over your loved one’s care.

Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call HERE to learn more.

Holding Space for Grief: Ways to Comfort and Support A Loved One in Mourning

Losing a loved one is an incredibly challenging experience, and the journey through grief can be both complex and overwhelming. Unfortunately, we all experience grief at one time or another, and knowing how to manage your own grief and how to be there for others who are grieving is an important skill that can improve your life and relationships.

As your Personal Family Lawyer ® firm, we understand that our role extends beyond legal matters. In times of loss, it’s crucial to provide comfort and support to those grieving, and when they’re ready, guidance for the steps ahead.

In this blog, we explore practical and heartfelt ways to hold space for your loved ones who are mourning.

01 | Express Empathy

When someone is grieving, the simple act of expressing empathy can provide immense comfort. Let your loved one know that you are there for them, ready to listen without judgment. Phrases like “I’m here for you,” or “I’m so sorry for your loss” can make a significant impact.

If you have also lost a loved one, consider relying on your own experience to relate to their feelings and encourage the person that they will make it through this. Just be mindful to keep the focus on their feelings, as everyone experiences the emotions of loss differently.

If you aren’t sure what to say or aren’t able to be with them physically, a heartfelt card or a handwritten note can convey your sympathy in a tangible and lasting way. Being present on a telephone call can also be extremely comforting. Even if your loved one doesn’t want to talk, just being together in silence can help.

02 | Create a Safe Environment

Grief is a personal journey, and everyone copes differently. Some may need solitude, while others seek companionship. Respect your loved one’s grieving process and offer support tailored to their needs.

Grieving individuals often need a safe space to express their feelings without fear of judgment. Encourage open communication and let your loved one know that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions. Avoid offering unsolicited advice and instead, provide a listening ear.

Sometimes, just being present and allowing them to share memories or express their pain can be incredibly therapeutic.

If your loved one doesn’t feel like talking or being around others, don’t push them. Leave them a message of support and give them space. Check in with them only if you haven’t heard from them in an unusual amount of time based on your relationship with them.

Be patient and understand that the stages of grief are unique to each individual. Even if your loved one is feeling better, they will likely have days or weeks where they will feel overwhelmed by grief again. Offer comfort in these moments without trying to change how they feel.

03 | Offer Practical Help

During times of grief, even daily tasks can feel insurmountable. Offering practical help, such as preparing a meal, running errands, or assisting with household chores, can make a world of difference to someone in mourning. Small gestures can alleviate the burden on your loved one, allowing them the time and space they need to navigate their emotions.

If your loved one is grieving for their spouse, they may be at a loss for how to manage their finances or other daily tasks that their partner normally would have handled. Offer to help them pay their bills, set up memorial arrangements, or inform your other relatives about the loss. If your loved one has children to care for, offer to watch their kids for a while, pick them up after school, or help with homework.

Where you’re able, try to assist your loved one as part of a routine or ritual. Establishing routines can provide a sense of stability amid grief. This could be as simple as giving them a weekly phone call to check in, a monthly visit to a special place, or inviting them over for dinner every Sunday. The consistency and socialization these routines bring can offer a source of connection and help ease the depression that comes with loss.

Ease The Burden of Loss on Your Family By Planning Ahead

In times of grief, the support of friends and family is crucial. But the best way to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that comes with the loss of a loved one is to create a plan ahead of time. By doing so, everyone you love will know exactly what you want to happen if you become incapacitated or die, and the care of your assets, bills, and loved ones will be handled quickly and smoothly by the people you trust.

Even more importantly, your loved ones will have the support of your Personal Family Lawyer® to walk them through any necessary legal steps they need to take during the mourning process.

To learn more about how we can help you create a plan that will provide guidance, comfort, and ease for your loved ones after your death or incapacity, schedule a complimentary call with our office.
We would be honored to be there for your family.

Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call HERE to get started.

Have Unused 529 College Savings? Roll Them Into a Roth in 2024

In December 2022, Congress passed the SECURE 2.0 Act, bringing significant changes to the world of retirement savings and student loans. Two key parts of the Secure 2.0 Act are set to take effect in 2024, and they could substantially impact your family’s financial future.

In this blog, we explain how the new law affects your unused 529 college savings account and what that means for your future savings.

You Can Now Roll 529 College Savings Into A Roth IRA

A 529 college fund is a tax-advantaged savings account that is designed to help families save for their children’s college education. With the SECURE 2.0 Act, Congress expanded the ways you can use these accounts by introducing a new rollover option, which is especially helpful if the beneficiary has money left over after their education is complete.

Starting in 2024, a 529 plan account beneficiary will have the opportunity to roll over up to $35,000 from your 529 college savings plans into a Roth IRA – and the best part is it’s tax and penalty-free.

But there are some rules you’ll need to follow to take advantage of this retirement fund boost:

  • 01 | Annual and Lifetime Contribution Limits

  • Any rollover from your 529 account is subject to annual Roth IRA contribution limits. For example, if in 2024 the Roth IRA contribution limit remains the same as in 2023 ($6,500 for individuals under 50), you can roll over an amount up to this limit, including yearly contributions withheld from your income. There is also a rollover contribution limit of $35,000 over your lifetime.

  • 02 | The 15-Year Rule

  • To qualify for tax and penalty-free rollovers, the 529 plan must have been open for at least 15 years. This 15-year clock starts ticking from the day the 529 plan was initially opened, usually by a parent or grandparent. It’s crucial to remember that changing the beneficiary of the 529 plan at any point may potentially restart this 15-year clock.

  • 03 | 5-Year Rollover Blackout

  • Funds that were contributed to your 529 plan within five years of the rollover date cannot be rolled over. Only contributions made outside of this five-year window are eligible. But, you can continue to rollover funds as time goes on and the 5-year window moves farther away from the most recent contributions.

Here’s an example of how these rules work in real life: Imagine your mother opened a 529 account for you in 2001. She contributed money to the account every year for 20 years, through 2020. When you graduated college in 2022, there were some funds left in the 529 account. You want to roll over these funds into a Roth IRA on January 1, 2024.

In this scenario, the account has been open for at least 15 years, so you can roll over funds into a Roth IRA, up to the annual contribution limit of $6,500 per year. But, the funds you roll over from the 529 cannot include funds your mother contributed in the 5 years before your rollover date of January 1, 2024. That means you can’t roll over funds contributed to the 529 account between January 1, 2019, and January 1, 2024.

Let’s look at another example: Your father opened a 529 college savings account for you in 1998 and contributed money to it every year until your graduation from trade school in 2015. Since graduation, you and your employer have contributed a total of $3,000 to your retirement account this year. There is $10,000 left in the account and you want to roll over the funds into a Roth IRA on January 1, 2024.

In this example, the account has been open for more than 15 years and all of the funds in the account were contributed to it more than five years ago, so all of the funds are eligible for a rollover. However, you can only contribute up to $6,500 to your retirement accounts annually. Because of this, you can only roll over a maximum of $3,500 from your 529 account into your Roth IRA this year if you or your employer don’t make any more contributions to your retirement this year. After the rollover, you’ll have $6,500 in your 529 account at the end of 2024.

In 2025, you’ll be able to roll over the remaining $6,500 from your 529 into your Roth IRA (if you make no other contributions from your income that year).

An Extra Bonus For Grandparent-Owned Accounts

In order to be considered for federal financial aid, students must disclose their personal and family financial information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). Funds in a 529 account created by a parent are counted as a financial asset of the student on the FAFSA application.

But funds in a 529 account owned by a grandparent or other third party have never been counted as an asset for FAFSA purposes. Only money withdrawn from the account is considered untaxed income of the student which FAFSA considers in its application review.

The big news is that with the new Secure 2.0 Act, any withdrawals from a grandparent-owned 529 for education expenses will no longer be considered untaxed income of the student, which means the funds will not hurt the student’s eligibility for federal aid.

Planning for What’s Really Important

To make sure there’s a plan for your future, give our office a call. We’d be honored to learn more about your goals for your family and share with you the unique process we use to ensure everything you own and everyone you love is cared for, no matter what.

Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call HERE to get started.

Flu Season Fundamentals: How to Keep Seniors Safe This Fall

The fall season is a beautiful time of year, but it also marks the beginning of flu season, which can pose a serious threat to your elderly loved ones. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to ensure their well-being during the colder days ahead, including making sure you’re able to step in and help them with their medical and financial needs.

Keep reading to find out how.

1 | Create a Power of Attorney For Healthcare

A Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare (sometimes called a Medical Power of Attorney) is a legal document that authorizes someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. If your senior loved one still needs to get a POA for Healthcare in place, now is the time to create one.

If they do have a POA for Healthcare, but it’s been a while since they created it, it’s time to review it to ensure it accurately reflects their current medical wishes and appoints a trusted individual as their agent for making healthcare decisions on their behalf.

Having a POA for Healthcare in place for your senior can provide peace of mind knowing that you or another trusted person can immediately step in and care for them during times of illness or incapacity, such as a severe case of the flu or pneumonia. A POA for Healthcare can also be used if you need to make a medical decision for your loved one during surgery or if they develop long-term memory problems.

Important: ensure that the POA for Healthcare for your senior loved one (or yourself) includes “living will” provisions either included in the POA or in a separate document, stating not just WHO should make decisions for you or your loved one, but how you would want those decisions to be made.

2 | Sign a HIPAA Waiver

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations are in place to protect an individual’s medical information. However, during flu season, it’s important to have the ability to communicate with your senior’s doctors to stay informed about their health.

A signed HIPAA waiver allows healthcare providers to share medical information with the individuals they’ve authorized to receive it. This can be crucial for keeping family members and caregivers in the loop about your senior loved one’s health status and treatment plans.

Whether your senior is feeling too ill to call their provider or needs help understanding their doctor’s instructions, a HIPAA waiver allows you to speak directly to your loved one’s provider to make caring for them as quick and easy as possible.

3 | Schedule a Check-Up

Before flu season is in full swing, it’s wise to schedule a comprehensive check-up for your senior loved ones with their healthcare provider. A check-up allows for a thorough assessment of their health, identification of any potential risks, and ensures that chronic conditions are being properly managed.

This proactive approach can help catch and manage new health issues early on and prevent complications down the line. Plus, having a check-up now will hopefully let your senior avoid the need to visit a crowded clinic waiting room during peak flu season because a health issue wasn’t detected sooner.

Don’t forget to bring a copy of your senior’s Power of Attorney for healthcare and their HIPAA Waiver to their provider’s office so they can scan it into their patient file to have it on hand and ready if needed.

4 | Create a General Durable Power of Attorney

To avoid exposure to the flu, colds, and rainy weather fall brings, many seniors appreciate the ability to stay closer to home. You can help keep them safe and make sure their daily needs are taken care of using a General Durable Power of Attorney.

This legal tool lets your senior appoint people they trust to take care of non-medical decisions and tasks, like going to the bank, paying bills, or making purchases.

Consider setting up or updating a General Durable Power of Attorney to grant this authority when needed. This legal tool ensures that someone is empowered to manage financial and other non-medical matters on behalf of your senior loved ones during flu season or any other time they might need assistance.

Just note that not all banks and financial institutions honor a General Durable Power of Attorney, so contact your bank to verify if they do and then contact us right away to set up your loved one’s affairs in a way to ensure you can instantly step in to help with their banking needs regardless of their General Durable Power of Attorney.

Proactively Keeping Your Loved Ones Safe and Healthy

Caring for your seniors’ well-being goes beyond routine medical check-ups and yearly physicals. When flu season rolls around, it’s important to take a proactive approach to ensure your senior loved ones can count on you for support in managing their needs. By doing so, you’ll help them access the best possible care that aligns with their wishes.

By following these fundamental steps you’ll help ensure your loved ones stay safe, healthy, and cared for during the fall season and the new year ahead.

To make sure your senior has the legal tools they need to stay safe and healthy this year, schedule a free 15 Minute Discovery Call with our office by clicking HERE. We’ll be happy to share how we support our clients from a place of service and how we can make sure your entire family is well cared for now and in the future.

Help Your Parents Avoid These New Financial Scams – Part 2

In part one of this series, we explored two popular scams that are targeting older adults this year: the grandparent scam, and cryptocurrency pickpocketing. In this week’s blog, I’m sharing two more scams that you and your parents need to be aware of, plus tips for staying protected.

Let’s dive in.

03 | PERSONALIZED PHISHING EMAILS

Imagine opening your inbox to an urgent email from a seemingly legitimate source – perhaps your bank, a popular online retailer, or even a social media platform. The message claims there has been suspicious activity on your account and urges you to click a link or provide sensitive information to verify your identity. This is the classic phishing email – a crafty attempt to deceive you into revealing your personal data.

Phishing has been around since email became mainstream, but what has changed is the depth to which scammers feign legitimacy. Even if you or your parents are familiar with phishing email schemes, new approaches and advances in technology are making it harder than ever to detect a phishing email.

Same Scammers, New Tricks

Phishers often pose as trusted entities such as banks, governments, or department stores. But in recent years, phishers have been sending their victims more personalized emails to trick them into thinking the message is from someone the victim personally knows or is personally connected with. The email will address the victim by name and may appear to come from a friend, co-worker, or supervisor. It may even contain a legitimate-looking email domain, signature, or logo.

The email will usually claim that there is a time-sensitive matter that needs to be addressed, such as a gift that needs to be purchased for a co-worker’s birthday or important client, and asks the victim to purchase the gift via online gift cards, PayPal, or crypto.

For example, you may see an email that reads:

“Hi Jim, this is Mr. Boss. I’m going to be in meetings all day today but I need to send a gift to our new client right away. Please purchase a $200 gift card on Amazon and send it to this email address. I will then forward it to our client.”

Some phishers will pose as banks, lending agencies, or debt relief programs and claim that you have been approved for special credit or financial assistance. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, student loan pause, and hurricane season, you may have seen an email like this:

“Hi Aaron, it’s Gav with Hardship Relief Program. We tried reaching you at your home and did not hear back… I’m not sure if you’ve spoken to an assigned agent yet, but I do see that you’re pre-approved for our Hardship Program. So, what I’m going to do is keep this in a pending status. Please give me a call between the hours of 8 AM and 10 AM EST to go over the details. My number is 555-886-3424.”

Identifying Scams: It’s All in The Details

Before you respond to any kind of email requesting a phone call, consider whether the sender’s request seems legitimate. Did you actually open an account or fill out an application? Is it normal for your boss to email you about important requests?

Always scrutinize the sender’s email address, even if it looks legitimate, by hovering your cursor over the email address to reveal its true origin. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never share personal information via email, no matter how professional the sender’s email appears.

Check the email and “from address” for typos, and verify the information provided by the sender, such as the company name and phone number, by searching for it online. When in doubt, contact the company directly through official channels to confirm the authenticity of the message.

04 | THE ONLINE OVERPAYMENT SCAM

In the world of online buying and selling sites like Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Craigslist, scammers are increasing their attacks and their success by preying on the good conscience of other people.

In the overpayment scam, the fraudster contacts the victim pretending to be interested in purchasing an item the victim has listed for sale online. The scammer offers to purchase your item, usually at an inflated price and appears to make a payment that’s higher than the agreed-upon amount.

The scammer then requests that you refund the excess amount they “accidentally” sent, and will usually act panicked, upset, and harried. The scammer may even threaten to report the victim to the police for “stealing” the scammer’s money.

But here’s where the twist comes in: the overpayment sent by the scammer was actually fake – a fraudulent check or a forged payment confirmation email that made it seem like you received funds when in fact the scammer didn’t send anything at all. When you refund the overpaid amount, you’re essentially giving away your legitimate money, and by the time the scam is realized, the scammer has disappeared into the digital abyss.

To protect yourself and your parents from this sinister scam:

  • Always require online buyers to pay through traceable means, such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo.
  • Avoid sending and receiving money from strangers through non-refundable money transfer services like Zelle.
  • Never accept more money than the purchase price.
  • If the buyer wants a refund, verify that you actually received the funds by logging into your payment servicer account and checking your balance there. Do not rely on a confirmation email which can be easily faked, especially if your payment account does not show any payment received.

Preserving Your Assets and Protecting Your Loved Ones

Staying on top of constantly changing financial scams can feel overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can help keep yourself and your aging parents safe from the financial and emotional harm scams cause.

As your Personal Family Lawyer™ firm, we’re available to help guide a discussion with you and your parents about your financial well-being as part of your estate plan, including how to catalog their assets and how to make it as easy as possible for you to help each other in the case of an emergency or scam attempt.

If you want to know more about how working with a Personal Family Lawyer® firm can help you and your family, schedule a free 15-minute discovery call today. It would be my honor to look after your family’s plans now and for years to come.

AARP and The Red Cross Celebrate Make-A-Will Month, But Here’s What They Didn’t Tell You

August is National Make-A-Will Month and you may have received an advertisement in your inbox or mailbox from AARP or the American Red Cross reminding you to get your Will taken care of this month. Both AARP and the Red Cross promoted their partnerships with FreeWill.com, a website that claims to help you create a legally valid Will in just 20 minutes.

A Will is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of getting your affairs in order, so the advice presented by AARP, the Red Cross, and National Make-A-Will Month itself sounds really good. But in reality, the message of AARP and the Red Cross for Make-A-Will Month could leave your family with a stressful mess when you die or if you become incapacitated first.

To understand why, it’s important to know what a Will does and where its limits lie.

A Will Does Not Cover All of Your Assets

Advertisements and public campaigns about making a Will can make it seem like a Will can take care of all of your needs and all of your assets after you’ve died. In reality, a Will only covers certain items of your property, including any property owned solely in your name and any property that doesn’t have a beneficiary designation.

That means a Will does not control property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants or owned as marital property with a spouse, meaning you can only give away your share of any property you own with others, not the entire property.

Assets such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies that have beneficiary designations are not controlled by your Will at all but will instead be paid out directly to the person listed as your beneficiary on each account. Because of this, it’s especially important to make sure your account beneficiaries are up to date. And, that you have backup designations in case your chosen beneficiary isn’t living at the time of your death.

Even if your Will states that you want your wishes to apply to all of your assets, the wishes in your Will are always trumped by beneficiary designations and co-ownership laws.

A Will Does Nothing For You If You Become Incapacitated

Since your Will doesn’t have any authority until after you’ve died, you can’t use it to give someone you trust the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated due to illness or injury. An incapacity can occur as a result of a car accident, an injury sustained while playing with your softball league, or due to an illness, and may be temporary or permanent.

Tasks like paying your bills, managing your money, and maintaining your home may all require help if you become incapacitated. Likewise, you’ll need someone who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unconscious or unable to communicate your medical choices effectively, such as if you’re in an induced coma in the hospital or have memory problems due to an injury or degenerative condition.

Unfortunately, the people named in your Will have no authority to make decisions for you or act on your behalf while you’re alive unless you’ve given them that power through a separate Power of Attorney. Without it, your loved ones may need to go through a court guardianship process to gain the authority to take care of you and your home.

A Will Must Be Filed in Court to Be Used

One of the biggest estate planning myths I hear from clients is the belief that by having a Will, their loved ones won’t need to go to court after they die.

Sadly, this is the opposite of the truth.

A Will only has the authority to control your assets and represent your decisions when it is filed under a probate case in court after your death. If you named someone in your Will to manage your estate or watch over your children, that person will have no authority to do so while you’re alive.

Your chosen representatives can only begin the process of managing your assets and following the wishes you’ve left in your Will only after a judge or court commissioner has formally given them the power. While court oversight can be helpful if there is any confusion or disagreement about your estate, the probate process can be long and expensive. Often, the process can take 18 – 24 months or sometimes even longer.

Due to the length and complexity of the process, going through probate can easily cost your family tens of thousands of dollars.

In addition, because probate is a public court proceeding, your Will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for scammers to use this information to try to take advantage of young or vulnerable beneficiaries who just inherited money from you.

A Will is Not an Estate Plan

Organizations often promote a message of the importance of creating a Will because a Will is a tool that most people have heard of and are familiar with, which makes it an easy launching point to talk about the importance of planning for your assets and your loved ones. But the thing is, a Will isn’t the one-and-done solution that most people are led to believe.

The terms “Will” and “estate plan” are often used interchangeably to mean a tool for dispersing your assets and protecting your wishes, but these two terms are not the same. In reality, a Will is just one piece of your overall estate plan, not the entire plan itself. An estate plan isn’t just one or two documents – it’s a range of strategic decisions about the allocation and title of your assets, and it’s a set of tools and counseling-oriented planning that make sure everything and everyone you love is taken care of both while you’re alive and after you’re gone.

Your complete estate plan may include a Will, a Trust, Powers of Attorney, and other tools that are tailored to your specific situation, local laws, and your vision for the future.

And even more important than both a Will and a Trust, is an inventory of your assets so your family knows what you have, where it is, and how to find it when you become incapacitated or die. Without an inventory of your assets, your family will be lost when something happens to you. A comprehensive inventory updated throughout your lifetime is a critical, and often overlooked, piece of an estate plan that is just a Will.

Trusted Guidance and Counseling

An online program may be able to give you a legally valid Will or other legal documents, but just because something is legally valid doesn’t mean it will be effective. And any document created through a 20-minute online tool is almost guaranteed not to work for you and your loved ones when they need it.

If you’re ready to see how having an estate plan created for your family with heart-forward professional guidance is different than just creating a Will online, schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session™ today. During the session, we’ll review an inventory of everything you have and everyone you love, and together look at what would happen to your possessions and loved ones when something does happen. Then, I’ll help you develop a plan that works exactly as you want it – at your budget and with your vision – to make sure your loved ones are taken care of when you can’t be there.

Most importantly, any document created using an online tool will lack the knowledge, guidance, and personal counseling of a trusted expert who knows your situation and cares about your plan’s effectiveness.

That’s why I don’t just create documents – I guide you and your family through every step of the process, now and at the time of your passing. I even help all of my clients pass on something more valuable than their money – their values, stories, and wisdom – through a Family Legacy Interview.

To get clarity on what you and the people you love truly need schedule a free 15-minute discovery call at this link to learn more.

Help Your Parents Avoid These New Financial Scams – Part 1

Fraudsters and scam artists are nothing new, but changing tools and technology are making it easier than ever for scammers to target their victims, especially seniors. To protect your aging parents (or yourself) from these con artists, it’s crucial to equip yourself with the knowledge of how these scams work and what your loved ones need to know to keep their assets and emotions safe.

In this two-part series, we’ll explore four of the most recent and insidious financial scams that have surfaced, shedding light on their tactics and providing you with practical steps to shield your parents from potential harm.

01 | THE GRANDPARENT SCAM

One of the toughest parts about being the victim of a scam is the emotional and mental stress it usually causes. Scammers intentionally use urgency, alarm, or guilt to trick victims into making hurried decisions to send money to someone who needs “help.”

In the new “Grandparent Scam,” fraudsters will call or text senior adults pretending to be their grandchild. The scammer will claim that they’re in trouble and that they need the grandparent to send them money right away to bail them out of jail, buy a ticket home from a dangerous location, or pay for damages caused by a car accident.

In these scenarios, the scammer will usually ask the grandparent, “Grandma, do you know who this is?” to trick the grandparent to reveal the name of their grandchild so the scammer can use that name for the rest of the phone call. The scammer will then ask the grandparent to wire money to “help” the grandchild and ask that the grandparent don’t tell the grandchild’s parents for fear of them getting upset.

Some scammers are even using AI to disguise their voices while on the phone with the grandparent to sound more convincing. This scam preys on the love and concern our parents have for their children and grandchildren, and can easily cause young or tech-savvy parents to fall victim as well.

To protect your parents from being victimized by this scam, talk to them about the importance of never disclosing personal or financial information or the names of their loved ones in a text, phone call, or email. Instead, instruct them to ask who the caller is and to wait for the sender or caller to respond. If in doubt, the senior should ask the sender personal questions that only their real grandchild would know, but a scammer wouldn’t. Most importantly, encourage your parents to contact you before wiring or transferring money to anyone for any purpose, no matter what.

One strategy we particularly love is to have a family code word or phrase. For example, your code phrase may be “Cosmo is a spotted dog” and that code phrase would be known by everyone in the family so that if anyone is contacted in an emergency situation, the person could ask what’s our family code phrase, and the person calling, texting or emailing either knows it or doesn’t. And, if they don’t, it’s a no-go for help.

02 | PICK-POCKETING YOUR CRYPTO WALLET

The world of cryptocurrency brings new investment opportunities for those willing to try it out, but with this new financial arena comes new risks and safety measures.

In order to store cryptocurrency, you will need a digital wallet, as that’s the safest way to hold your cryptocurrency. Your cryptocurrency wallet doesn’t actually “store” money like a traditional wallet; rather, it stores passcodes, known as keys, that allow you to send and receive digital currency to and from the wallet.

Wallets come in two forms: hot and cold. A “hot” wallet stores your cryptocurrency in a location that’s connected to the internet—exchange-based wallets, desktop wallets, and mobile wallets. Because they’re connected to the internet, hot wallets are the most convenient, but also the most vulnerable to hacking.

A “cold” wallet, conversely, stores your cryptocurrency in a location that’s completely offline. Ironically, the most secure type of wallet for storing digital currency is a cold “paper” wallet. Paper wallets involve printing out your keys and storing them in a secure location. While paper wallets are the most secure option, if you lose the codes, it’s the same as losing paper currency—meaning there is no way to recover your investment.

But no matter what kind of wallet your loved one keeps their crypto in, anyone with the “key” to that wallet can access and steal the funds – no hacking required.

How the Scam Works

To gain access to your wallet, scammers will lure you to give them your wallet’s key by pretending to be representatives of a cryptocurrency company like Bitcoin or Coinbase, or by portraying themselves as a crypto broker. Once the scammer has your keys, your cryptocurrency is completely vulnerable, even if it’s kept in a “cold” offline wallet.

With the keys, the scammer can move your crypto out of your wallet and disappear with it forever, and since the cryptocurrency market is not attached to the banking system, there is no way to recover cryptocurrency once it’s stolen.

To help protect your parents from these scams, talk to them about the importance of never, ever sharing their wallet keys with anyone besides you and any other trusted family members. This is essential to keep your parents’ crypto investments safe.

In all cases, whether your loved ones have crypto in a hot wallet, paper wallet, or directly in a crypto exchange, make sure they’ve given you the details of where their crypto is stored and how to access it in the event they’re incapacitated or die. Otherwise, it’s completely lost.

If you don’t know how to find and access your parent’s cryptocurrency in an emergency or don’t know how best to plan for your own crypto, please talk with us so we can guide you on how to include your crypto information in your estate plan.

Helping You Protect the Ones You Love

Your parents’ financial security is a priority that demands proactive measures, especially in the face of emerging scams that exploit their vulnerability. By remaining vigilant and arming yourself with knowledge of these scams, you can effectively shield your family from falling prey to these fraudsters.

But remember, communication is key. Talk openly with your parents about these potential risks, and encourage them to reach out to you or a trusted professional before making any financial decisions.

As your Personal Family Lawyer firm, we’re here to guide you through the intricacies of safeguarding your family’s financial future and can make it even easier to protect your parents by helping them establish estate planning tools to record and pass on digital assets like crypto, Powers of Attorney to help manage their assets, and Trusts to protect everything they love for years to come.

To learn how we can help you protect your parents from these scams, schedule a free 15-minute discovery call at this link to learn more.

What the National Debt Ceiling Extension Means for Your Family

You’ve probably heard about the national debt ceiling and its recent extension, but you might wonder what it has to do with your everyday life as a family. While it may seem like a distant matter, the national debt ceiling extension can have a significant impact on your family’s financial well-being and future planning.

So what exactly is the national debt ceiling extension?

The national debt ceiling is a legal limit set on the amount of money the government can borrow to finance its operations and meet its financial obligations domestically and around the globe. When the government reaches this limit, it cannot borrow more money unless Congress raises or extends the country’s debt ceiling. If the ceiling isn’t raised and the United States can’t pay back its debts, the country’s global creditworthiness is affected as well as financial security abroad and at home.

Congress raised the national debt ceiling on June 3, 2023, which means the United States will not default on its loans. This is good news, and yet the extension of the debt ceiling can still affect the economy and your family.

Here’s how the national debt ceiling extension can affect the economy, and your family, and what you can do to mitigate the impacts

Access to Credit and Loans

You likely rely on credit and loans for various purposes, such as buying a home, financing education, or handling unexpected expenses. When the national debt ceiling is extended, it can create uncertainty in the financial markets, leading to higher interest rates and tighter lending conditions. This means that securing affordable credit and loans for major life milestones or managing financial emergencies may become more challenging.

One of the ways you can mitigate this impact could be to consider starting a business or a side hustle, so you can create multiple revenue streams instead of just being reliant on one, and leverage access to business credit, which can be more accessible and less expensive than using personal credit, even in tight lending markets.

Consumer Confidence and Spending Habits

Your family’s financial health may be closely tied to the state of the external economy. When there is uncertainty surrounding the national debt ceiling, coupled with high inflation, it can affect consumer confidence and spending habits. As people become concerned about the government’s ability to manage its debt, they may tighten their spending, leading to decreased demand for certain goods and services. This can have a direct impact on your job stability, income growth, and even your ability to save and invest for the future.

One way to mitigate this risk is to begin to separate the well-being of your family from the greater economy by creating your own local economy, wherever possible. If that feels far afield, consider ways that you can begin to generate income locally by making a product that friends and neighbors would want and need, or providing a side service within your local community.

Government Programs and Support

Government programs and support play a crucial role in many families’ lives, especially during challenging times. However, when the national debt ceiling is extended, it can put pressure on government budgets, leading to potential cuts or delays in funding for essential programs and services. This may directly affect your access to healthcare, education, housing assistance, and other forms of support that your family relies on.

If you have a child or family member with special needs or an elderly family member you are supporting this may affect you even more. Now is the time to get into closer relationship with your nuclear and extended family, marshall all the family resources, and get into conversation around how you can use all the family resources to support all of the children and elders in the best way possible. If you need help speaking to your parents, or considering how best to ensure a lifetime of support for a child with special needs, give us a call and let’s strategize together.

Tax and Fiscal Policies

Changes in tax and fiscal policies, often influenced by the national debt, can have a significant impact on your family’s finances. As the government seeks ways to manage the national debt, it may consider adjustments to tax rates, deductions, or credits. These changes can directly affect your take-home income, savings, and overall financial planning. Understanding and adapting to these shifts is crucial for effectively managing your family’s budget and long-term wealth and legacy.

You can be fairly certain tax rates will go up to support the debt extension. And, the middle class, especially those who do not know how to mitigate tax impacts with legal entity structuring, are likely to bear the burden.

Ongoing Guidance for Your Family

We understand that managing your family’s financial and legal well-being can feel overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know how changes in the law and the financial landscape will affect you. But remember, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. As your Personal Family Lawyer® firm, our mission is to provide you with the support and guidance you need as you navigate changes in the law so you can build a life you love while protecting and preserving your wealth and legacy for the next generation.

While we aren’t financial advisors, we can connect you with a trusted network of professionals and work alongside your financial and tax advisors to make sure your estate plan coordinates with your overall financial plan and protects your family’s wishes and wealth no matter what the future brings.

Ready to protect your family’s wealth and preserve your assets and your story for generations to come? Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call at this link to learn more.

Contact us with questions about this topic.
Contact us with questions about this topic.

Are Hybrid Insurance Policies a Better Option than Long-term Care Insurance Policies for Meeting Nursing Home Costs?

Many people are aware of the high cost of nursing home care. Unfortunately, nursing home costs in Massachusetts rank as some of the highest in the nation and can exceed $12,000 a month. Some insure against these potential costs by purchasing long-term care insurance (LTCI). However, LTCI polices are not without their drawbacks. LTCI premiums can be high and there is generally no residual death benefit if the insurance is not used. Insuring against a risk that may never come to pass without any return on the investment does not sit well with some.

One alternative to purchasing a LTCI policy is to purchase a hybrid life insurance policy that provides long-term care benefits. While hybrid premiums can be five to fifteen percent higher than LTCI premiums, these policies provide a residual death benefit that regular LTCI policies do not. While the downside is if the hybrid policy holder does indeed require long-term care, the value of the death benefit is diminished by the payments made by the insurer toward nursing home care, for many the chance of providing a death benefit for surviving loved-ones is worth the price of the increased premiums. Hybrid policies also function as low-yield investments, which is another benefit they have over regular LTCI.

Of course, those that cannot afford long-term or hybrid policies or are too unhealthy to pass underwriting have other options and can employ trust and gifting strategies that render hard-earned assets uncountable by MassHealth. Contact the Law Office of Brandon L. Campbell for a complimentary telephone consultation to see if any of these strategies may be right for you.