Celebrity Estate Plans Series Part 1 of 4: Michael Jackson

What is it about celebrities that always draws us in? For whatever reason, we just can’t resist a good, juicy celebrity story. Maybe it’s because we can relate in some way, or maybe we feel like we can’t relate and that’s what makes celebrities interesting. Their lives always seem attractive but somehow… just out of reach.

So for the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the lives of 4 celebrities and see what we can learn from their stories. I think you’ll be surprised to learn that you have more in common with these folks than you thought (even if you don’t also have your own private jet).

This week, we’re going to turn the spotlight on Michael Jackson. Even if you aren’t old enough to “Remember the Time” when Michael Jackson was dominating the charts, by the end of this article, you’ll see that he left holes in his estate plan that we can learn from.

Before we get started, however, I want to address the elephant in the room: many people, maybe you’re included, find Michael Jackson’s personal life and choices… concerning. That is completely understandable. The intent of this piece is not to defend or promote him in any way. Rather, this article’s focus is on his family and what they’ve endured in the court system for the last 15 years.

Now, let’s dive in and learn how you can avoid the same fate for your loved ones.

It’s As Easy as “ABC” (and 1, 2, 3)

Before we take a look at the specifics of Michael Jackson’s story, let’s dispel a myth about estate planning: That it’s only for the rich or philanthropic. You do not need to be rich, philanthropic, or famous to need estate planning. You need estate planning if you own anything – even a bank account – and have people in your life you love. It’s as simple as that (dare I say it’s as simple as “ABC” and 1,2,3?). So as you think about your own estate planning, it’s time to “Beat It” past the misconceptions so you’re empowered to do the right thing by your loved ones.

So what happened in Michael Jackson’s case? He had an estate plan that included a Will, and the Will established trusts for his mother, Katherine, and his three children, Paris, Prince, and Bigi.

Let’s stop right there because there’s already an increased potential for conflict with this setup.

When your assets pass via “Will” (instead of via Trust), your assets must go through a court process called probate, which, my mentor says, is a “lawsuit you file against yourself with your money for the benefit of your creditors.” Subjecting your assets and your family to probate can result in a long, time-consuming, and messy court process that can be unnecessarily expensive to resolve. Plus, the court process is entirely public, meaning anyone can access the records and see information about your assets and family that you would rather keep private.

A trust, on the other hand, bypasses the court process altogether, as long as your assets are owned in the name of the trust when you become incapacitated, or when you die. If your assets are properly transferred and retitled into the trust (this is called “funding” the trust), your estate can be administered privately and often takes less time than the court process does. A trust can be set up and funded while you’re alive, thereby avoiding probate, or it can be a part of your Will. When it’s part of your Will, like in MJ’s case, it isn’t established or funded until after the court process has played out. So if you’re trying to keep your family from going through the court process, putting a trust in your Will completely defeats the purpose.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far: if your intent is to keep your loved ones out of court and conflict, creating a Will alone is a “Bad” choice.

Peace of Mind For the “Man in the Mirror”

Since Michael Jackson’s assets were not owned in a trust, and instead his assets needed to pass via Will, there have been ongoing legal matters in court, which still aren’t resolved 15 years (yes, you read that right) after his death. Currently, MJ’s family is embroiled in a dispute with the IRS, and so the trusts he intended to be created for his mother and children remain unfunded, and therefore, some of his assets cannot be transferred to them, in the way it seems he intended. It’s also highly probable that the legal disputes continue to cost the estate a lot of money. That’s money that would have gone to his mother and children otherwise.

To make sure the people you love receive your assets in the way you want, I cannot underscore the importance of education and intent. This is exactly why my Life & Legacy Planning process begins with educating you first. The first time we meet, I will show you exactly what will happen to your family and your assets after your death, based on your current plan (or the state’s plan for you, if you don’t have a plan). From there, I help you make intentional decisions about what’s right for you and your loved ones, based on your desires, your assets, your family dynamics, and your budget.

Taxes – A Potentially “Dangerous” Situation!

The Jackson estate’s ongoing battle with the IRS also serves as a stark reminder of the tax implications that can affect your plan and your loved ones. When it comes to taxes, you can’t think in terms of “Black or White” – there are many shades of gray to consider. If you intend to avoid as many taxes as possible, you don’t want to cut corners by either doing your estate planning cheaply or on your own. That could be “Dangerous!” I can help you create a comprehensive plan that minimizes taxes as much as possible, potentially saving you and your family (lots of) money.

Speaking of saving money, taxes can significantly reduce the value of what you pass on to your heirs, which has a direct impact on your loved ones. To minimize this impact, together you and I will explore different strategies such as gifting assets during your lifetime, establishing irrevocable trusts, or using life insurance policies to cover potential tax liabilities.

So our next lesson from Michael Jackson’s story is: when it comes to saving money on taxes, the stakes are too high to go at it alone. Work with a professional who can advise you properly. We aren’t clear why Michael Jackson didn’t get the kind of support necessary to minimize taxes and protect his estate from a long drawn-out court process, but what we do know for sure is that we can help you and your loved ones.

Avoiding the “Thriller” of Legal Disputes

The Jackson case also highlights the importance of choosing the right representatives for your estate. These are the people who handle your affairs after you’re gone (they’re called “executors” if there’s a Will or “trustees” if there’s a Trust). MJ’s family members have criticized the representatives for the way they’ve managed the estate. In particular, Katherine Jackson has alleged that the executors have been too frugal and are holding onto assets to maintain control.

There’s always a possibility of conflict between your representatives and your loved ones, even if you aren’t famous and don’t have millions of dollars to fight over. So to help minimize the potential, we recommend you communicate your intentions to your representatives and to your loved ones during your lifetime. Consider holding a meeting so everyone knows what your wishes are and understands the intent behind your decisions. You may not be able to “Heal the World” on your own, but you can promote healing within your own family and prevent future conflict by opening the lines of communication now. We often facilitate these meetings for our clients.

Also, know that you don’t have to choose family members to be your representatives – even if you feel pressured to do so. If you aren’t sure who the “right people” are, think about people you know who are not only trustworthy but also capable of handling complex financial and legal matters. There’s also the option of choosing a professional representative, as Michael Jackson did, who might be more appropriate for your situation. When you work with us, we’ll be there to “Rock With You” through all the different scenarios that could arise, so you can then choose the right people for your unique circumstances.

Our two final lessons from Michael Jackson’s story are these: 1) Communicate your wishes openly to your representatives and your family, and 2) Choose the right people to act for you when you no longer can.

By learning from the challenges faced by Michael Jackson’s family, you can ward off the possibility of a similar outcome for your loved ones. Your careful planning today can pave the way for a smoother transition of your assets in the future, ensuring that you are able to support your family after you’re gone, rather than creating a mess for them to handle without you. I’m here to serve you and help you ensure your estate doesn’t become a “Thriller” of legal battles, but instead a harmonious transition that would make even the King of Pop proud.

“You Are Not Alone” – We’re Here for You

It’s “Human Nature ” to want to avoid thinking about your death, much less plan for it. We get it. But when we face our mortality, we’re able to live a more fulfilling life. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with it alone. We’re here to support you every step of the way.

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we help you create a Life & Legacy Plan from a place of education and intention, so that your loved ones stay out of court and conflict. And once you’ve created your plan, you can rest easy knowing your wishes will be honored, your loved ones cared for, and your legacy preserved.

Click HERE to schedule a consultation and learn more.

Value Freedom? Here’s Why an Estate Plan Is Your Declaration of Independence

As you celebrate the Fourth of July and all it represents – freedom, independence, and the pursuit of happiness – take pride in the ultimate American liberty: the right to decide your own affairs, even after death or in the event of incapacity. An estate plan, specifically a Life & Legacy Plan, is the way to express your liberty. It’s your personal Declaration of Independence. I know; it sounds weird. How in the world can an estate plan give me freedom?

Here’s how: Creating a Life & Legacy Plan (a unique estate planning process I use in my firm) preserves your self-determination, protects your family, grows your wealth, and defines your legacy on your own terms. Just as the Founding Fathers declared freedom from the British crown over two centuries ago, your Life & Legacy Plan declares your autonomy from the courts, state laws, and conflicting viewpoints that could unravel your final intentions. Read on to find out how.

You Have a Plan: It Just May Not Be What You Want

The first thing to know is that you already have a plan for what happens in the event you become incapacitated or when you die. You may not know what that plan is, and you may not like what that plan is! You see, the government has created a plan for you, without your input. Or, you may have already created your own plan, but didn’t really understand the choices you made, haven’t updated it, or may not even own your assets in a way that has them covered by your plan.

When you have a Life & Legacy Plan, you get to override the government’s plan for you with your choices. YOU get to decide exactly how you want your assets collected and distributed – whether that’s providing for certain loved ones over others, leaving assets to chosen family members, who aren’t related by blood or marriage, but who have become close kin to you by choice, or donating portions to charitable causes near and dear to your heart.

With a Life & Legacy Plan in place, you maintain that plan throughout your lifetime, so as your assets change, your life changes, and the law changes, so does your plan. It grows with you, rather than becomes stale and outdated over time. Because you aren’t a stagnant human. You are evolving, changing and likely growing. Your plan needs to evolve, change and grow along with you, otherwise it’s not even worth the paper it’s written on.

The Liberation of Making Your Decisions With Eyes Wide Open

Planning for incapacity or death is the equivalent of planning for your best possible life, and for the best possible life of the people you love. It may not have ever been presented to you that way, but think about it – if you accept that you are going to die one day, and you may become incapacitated first, and you want your family and assets to be cared for in a certain way when those things happen, wouldn’t that naturally inform choices you’ll make around the allocation of your resources throughout your life?

We call this “eyes wide open” decision-making, and it leads to the most optimal use and allocation of your resources throughout your life, and makes things as easy as possible for the people you love, in the event of your incapacity or death. For example, when you consider how you want to be cared for in the event of your incapacity, and document those choices, you can then ensure you have the necessary close personal relationships to deliver on your desires, as well as the required financial means to provide for yourself or the people who will care for you (or your kids). Otherwise, you are just leaving it up to happenstance … or a judge … and we call that “eyes squeezed shut/pretend it’s not going to occur” decision-making, and it’s not responsible, mature or kind to yourself or the people you love.

The Power to Choose

The most mature, adult and loving thing you can do for yourself and the people you love is to clarify well in advance how you want to be cared for, if you cannot care for yourself, who should make decisions for you, and how you want those decisions to be made. In addition, it’s critical to provide a roadmap for the people you love, so they know what you have, where it is and how to find it.

Establishing a Life & Legacy Plan does all of that, and it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have because your loved ones will have to deal with it, whether it’s a little or a lot — and your choices while you are living, healthy and clear empowers them and minimizes their outlay of time, energy and attention they may not have, especially during a time of grief. With a Life & Legacy Plan we help you create, you can also account for special circumstances like children or spouses from previous marriages, loved ones with disabilities, or family members you intentionally want to omit. No more worries about assets getting unfairly split or ending up in the wrong hands.

Finally, holding a family meeting can unite your loved ones around a shared understanding of your intentions rather than driving them apart through conflicts and differing interpretations of your wishes. Your Life & Legacy Plan gives you the power to choose to create more ease for yourself and the people you love.

A Declaration of How You Want to Be Remembered

Your Life & Legacy Plan represents your final declaration of the values and life experiences you’ll impart to loved ones and the world at large. Use this opportunity to put your final stamp on how you want your individuality and life’s purpose remembered, rather than leaving it up to chance, or leaving a legacy of mess and drama.

All of our plans include a Life & Legacy recording that guides you to express your deepest hopes, guiding wisdom, and ethical frameworks acquired over decades of successes, struggles, and personal growth. You will share cherished stories, meaningful quotes, and carefully-cultivated philosophies that give your life meaning. The Life & Legacy recording is the most meaningful gift your family will cherish and carry into future generations.

So, this Independence Day, make your own personal declaration of freedom by establishing your own comprehensive Life & Legacy Plan. Take pride in exercising your liberties to the fullest by removing all uncertainties over your final affairs and ensuring your true wishes will be honored.

Let Us Be Your Life & Legacy Planning Partner

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, Life & Legacy Planning is all we do. We work with you to craft a plan on your terms, taking into account what you want, not what someone else has decided for you. And once you’ve created your plan, you can rest easy knowing your wishes will be honored, your loved ones cared for, and your legacy preserved.

Contact us to learn more about how we help you exercise freedom over your own choices. Click HERE to schedule a consultation.

They’re Not Kids Anymore! Navigating Your Child’s Transition Into Adulthood

When your child turns 18, they’re legally considered an adult even though they have a lot more growing to do (though they may not think so!). Just like any other adult, their health and financial information is protected by privacy laws. But unlike any other adult, that’s still your child and you want to be there to support them in a crisis. Unless you’ve planned ahead you won’t be able to step in and support your child.

As an estate planning attorney, I often see families caught off guard when I tell them this. Like those families, you may also assume that as a parent, you’ll always have a say in your child’s medical and financial matters. But you don’t. Under the law, you have just as much access to their medical and financial information as you do for Joe down the street (which is none).

The good news is that with proper planning, you can help your newly-minted adult child navigate this transition and ensure you’re able to step in if something happens. Here I’ll share 3 strategies to help you and your child make the transition to their adulthood as easy as possible.

Strategy 1: Education

The first strategy for a successful transition to adulthood is education. At my firm, I start every client relationship with education. That’s because I believe that education equals empowerment, which supports you to make the right choices for yourself and your family. Young adults also need to be empowered through education. The more you can teach your child about their new financial and legal responsibilities, the more empowered they’ll be to make the right decisions.

If you haven’t already started talking with them about legal and financial matters, now is the time s. Start with a kind of budgeting we call “money mapping”. Explain the importance of tracking their income and expenses, setting financial goals, and investing wisely, both now and for the future.

Help them understand the basics of banking, such as how to use checking and savings accounts, the benefits of maintaining a good credit score, and assist them in setting up their own bank account if they don’t already have one. Explain how to avoid overdrafts and the significance of keeping track of their balance. Introduce them to how to access credit, and use it responsibly. Explain how credit cards work, the importance of paying off balances in full each month, when it’s okay to carry a balance, and the long-term benefits of building a positive credit history.

And let’s not forget your child’s new tax obligations. Teach them how to file taxes, what documents they need, and how to understand their W-2 forms, or what it means to be a 1099. Explain the importance of keeping accurate records and how to navigate basic tax software.

Health care is another critical area where your child needs education. Let your child know that you can’t make medical decisions for them and you won’t have access to their health records anymore – unless they give it to you. I’ll cover which essential documents they need in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the importance of communication in helping them document their wishes properly.

Strategy 2: Encourage Communication

Adulthood often involves having difficult conversations (as if I’m telling you anything you don’t know!). Two of those conversations to have with your child have to do with their healthcare and financial decisions in the event of an emergency.

First off, I want to say that even thinking about your child being in an emergency medical situation is hard to think about, much less talk about. And it will probably be much harder for you than it will be for them. It’s OK. Take a deep breath. You can do this!

After you’ve breathed your way to calm, have an open conversation about what your child would want to happen in various medical scenarios. If they became incapacitated, who would they want to make decisions on their behalf? Both parents or one of you first, then the other? Or do they want anyone else involved in the medical decisions, if they cannot make them on their own. Be open to the possibilities that they have other people in their life that they may want to include, and be glad they are telling you about it, if that’s the case.

Do they know what a ventilator is and whether they’d want one if it became an issue? What about a feeding or hydration tube? And what about resuscitation? It’s necessary to talk about these things so your child’s wishes are honored. Who would they want to have access to them, in case of an accident or an illness? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can help your child create a health care directive and medical power of attorney.

Have the same conversations about finances. Do you know which and how many financial accounts they have? If they’re in college, how will you access their account to stop tuition payments or housing payments if necessary? Will you be able to access their checking account if bills need to be paid? Your child may be reluctant to discuss these matters with you, but assure them you have no intent to violate their autonomy. You simply want to be there for them, if needed.

Strategy 3: Legal Planning

Once you and your child have had these difficult conversations, emphasize the need to get a legal plan in place so their wishes are documented and honored. At the least, your adult child’s legal plan should include the following documents:

Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive. A health care proxy grants someone, usually you, the authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf if they cannot. An Advance Directive complements this by outlining their medical treatment preferences in various scenarios, ensuring their wishes are respected even when they can’t voice them.

HIPAA Authorization. The HIPAA Authorization is equally important. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is designed to protect patient privacy, but it can also prevent you from accessing your child’s medical information without their explicit permission. By signing a HIPAA Authorization, your child can ensure that you can speak with doctors and receive updates on their condition.

Living Will. A Living Will is another important document to consider. This outlines your child’s wishes regarding end-of-life care, such as whether they want to receive life-sustaining treatments. Having these preferences documented can provide clarity and guidance during difficult times, ensuring that their wishes are honored.

Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney allows your adult child to appoint someone (again, usually you) to manage their financial affairs if they are unable to do so. This can include everything from paying bills to managing bank accounts and handling investments. Without this document, you might find it difficult to step in and help when needed.

It may also be important for your adult child to have a plan in place for what happens after death. If that’s the case, they need a will or trust. Reach out to me and I can educate you and your child on whether post-death planning is needed at this stage in your child’s life.

Finally, life circumstances will change, so let your child know it’s important to review their documents regularly and update them as needed. Encourage your young adult to revisit their decisions periodically, especially if they experience significant life changes such as getting married, moving to a new state, or starting a new job. At my firm, constant contact is part of our process so our clients never have to remember on their own to update their plan. We do the remembering for you.

Your Next Step

Now that you are armed with 3 strategies for navigating your child’s transition into adulthood, your next step is to book an appointment with our firm so we can support you to have these conversations, and to get your child’s legal plan in place.

Now, before you go thinking that you don’t need an attorney and can use a cheap online tool, or even AI, I encourage you to think about what’s at stake. Your child’s health and well-being. Your child’s growth. The opportunity to teach your child about how to prioritize the things that matter most. When I work with you, one of the best things I can do is to get to know your children as they become adults. Ideally, it will be me (or my firm) that they’ll turn to for guidance throughout their lifetime, and to be there for them, when you can’t be. No cheap legal plan can do that.

The Support You and Your Child Need

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we know that navigating the transition to adulthood can be challenging, both for you and your child. Understanding the legal changes that come with turning 18 and using the 3 legal documents (and the conversations that go with them) in this article can help you provide the support and guidance your child needs. But you don’t need to navigate this transition alone. We can educate you and your child about their new legal responsibilities, support you to have the hard conversations, and help your child put a legal plan in place.

Contact us to learn how our Life & Legacy Planning process supports your family to make the very best decisions about the things that matter most. Click HERE to schedule a 15-minute conversation.

Father Knows Best: Avoiding Common Estate Planning Pitfalls

If you’re a father, you’ve always strived to provide the best for your family, ensuring their well-being and securing their future. However, even the most well-intentioned plans can falter if you overlook the complexities of estate planning. So this Father’s Day, let’s celebrate all of you dads and explore some common pitfalls that fathers often encounter, then offer practical strategies to navigate them successfully.

Heads up before we dive in; I’ll provide some stories below that illustrate what happens when a dad hasn’t created an estate plan or hasn’t updated it over time. The names of the people below are made up, but the scenarios I’ll describe are common.

Pitfall No. 1: Procrastination

If you’re a father, the weight of responsibility for your family’s well-being often rests heavily on your shoulders. However, even the most well-intentioned plans can fail if you overlook the complexities of estate planning. One of the most significant pitfalls is procrastination, or postponing the process under the assumption that you have ample time or that your assets are currently too modest to warrant formal planning. But the truth is that estate planning is crucial for individuals of all ages and asset levels! Unexpected events can occur at any time, leaving your loved ones in a bad situation if you haven’t properly documented your wishes.

Take for example, John, a 45-year-old father of three, who put off creating a will, thinking he had decades ahead of him. You can’t really blame him, can you? Many of us are in the same boat. However, he passed away tragically and unexpectedly, leaving his family to deal with his affairs in the court process called probate. The probate process was lengthy, and his assets were frozen and unavailable for his kids until the court process played out. In addition, probate drained his assets, so there wasn’t as much to leave his kids in the end.

I doubt this is what John would have wanted.

So dads, to avoid the procrastination trap, it’s essential to approach estate planning with a sense of urgency. Start the process as soon as possible, and review your plan regularly to ensure it remains aligned with your evolving circumstances and family dynamics (keep reading for more information on how I can help!).

Pitfall No. 2: Failing to Update Your Plan Over Time

This brings us to another pitfall: failing to update your plan after significant life events, such as marriages, divorces, births, or deaths. Life is inherently dynamic, and your estate plan should reflect those changes. Your plan should reflect your life as closely as possible, otherwise it could become ineffective or even invalid. And if that happens, you end up like John, even if you already have an estate plan.

Updating your estate plan over time is crucial. So make a habit of reviewing your plan at least every three years, preferably annually, or whenever a major life event occurs. When you work with me, I will help you ensure your plan accurately reflects your current wishes and aligns with any changes in state or federal laws.

Pitfall No. 3: Not Communicating With Loved Ones

Contrary to common belief, estate planning is not solely about legal documents, such as a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney. Documents are merely the byproduct of good estate planning. The real power of estate planning is in having open and honest communication with your loved ones. However, many fathers make the mistake of keeping their estate plans a closely guarded secret, leaving their families in the dark about their intentions and wishes. This lack of transparency can breed misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentments that can undermine the effectiveness of your plan and strain family relationships.

Let’s look at David’s story for a greater understanding. David, a successful business owner and loving father, always assumed his oldest son would take over the family business after his passing. So David’s estate plan included a provision wherein his oldest son inherited the business. When David died, however, his son revealed that he had different career aspirations and didn’t want to run the business. This led to family conflict – because David didn’t have a “Plan B” in his estate plan.

As a result, the family had to go to probate court, spending lots of time, energy, attention, and money, to get the business transferred to the one family member who wanted to run the business. Had David discussed his wishes openly, the family could have addressed their concerns together and arrived at a mutually agreeable solution that would have saved them the unnecessary hassle of probate court.

So what can you learn from David’s story? Share your wishes with your family members, explain your reasoning, and address any concerns they may have. This open dialogue can foster a deeper understanding and strengthen the bond between you and your loved ones. It also allows your loved ones to provide valuable insights and perspectives that can help refine and improve your plan. What a loving gift to give your family!

Pitfall No. 4: Not Working With a Professional

The last pitfall I’ll address is going at it alone, or doing your plan cheaply online. As I pointed out above, estate planning is not just about creating a few documents and putting them away on a shelf until something happens. There’s much more to it.

Instead, work closely with an estate planning firm like ours, who can help you craft a plan that fits your unique family dynamics, wishes and assets, as well as keep in touch over time to ensure your plan is updated and works when you need it to. At my firm, we support you with all this and more, including helping you structure your plan in a tax-efficient manner, minimizing the impact of taxes on your assets and ensuring your loved ones receive the maximum benefit from your estate.

I also help you address any unique circumstances within your family, such as a family business, a child with special needs or a family member with addiction issues, ensuring that your plan is tailored to meet the specific needs of your loved ones.

So dads, after reading this, I hope it’s clear that estate planning is a profound expression of your love and responsibility as a father. By taking action now, you can navigate the pitfalls and create a lasting legacy that transcends your lifetime. Remember, your knowledge and attention to detail today can shape the future of your loved ones for generations to come.

How We Support You to Avoid These Common Pitfalls

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we understand that protecting your family goes far beyond just legal documentation. Our mission is to empower you to enshrine your hopes, values, and profound love for your children into a comprehensive plan that preserves your family’s integrity for generations to come. We take the time to truly understand what family means to you—the struggles you overcame, the values you hold dear, the future you envision. And then we help you craft a tailored estate plan that meets your needs and stays updated over time.

So this Father’s Day, give yourself and your children the greatest gift: your love. Book a call with our office to learn how we can support you, and by extension, your entire family. Simply click on the scheduling link HERE.

Memorial Day Reflections: Crafting Your Lasting Legacy With Estate Planning

Memorial Day brings with it an opportunity to reflect on the concepts of mortality, remembrance, and legacy. As we remember the brave men and women who lost their lives serving in the military, may this day also inspire you to think about the legacy you wish to leave behind.

But, first, what is a legacy, really? “Legacy” is often misunderstood and so is estate planning. Legacy and estate planning are often perceived as “only for the wealthy” and/or “philanthropic”. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Legacy isn’t just about money or wealth. As my colleague Ali Katz says: “Legacy is the choices you make now, the actions you take now, the way of being you are now, and the ripple of impact beyond your lifetime.”

Legacy includes capturing your life stories, passing on your values, and ensuring your loved ones have a record of the essence of what matters to you. These are the things you leave behind that mean the most to your loved ones. Money can’t even compare. Thinking of it this way, it’s easy to see that every human has a legacy to create and leave behind, including you!

Estate planning, on the other hand, is something many people think they understand, but really don’t. It isn’t just about getting your Will done, or documenting what your end-of-life health care wishes are. Estate planning, like legacy, encompasses much more. It’s not about getting some documents signed. Estate planning is the vehicle that allows you to leave a legacy.

So let’s dive in for more understanding on what “legacy” really means and how you can secure your legacy for the benefit of your loved ones.

Understanding What Legacy Truly Is

Legacy, at its core, is about connecting the generations, and Life & Legacy Planning is the way to do it. Here’s an example. Consider a teacher who has spent her career fostering curiosity and resilience in her students. She may not have millions of dollars to give away, but she can use her estate plan to leave her personal library to a local school. She may even set up a small scholarship fund in her estate plan so she can continue supporting education long after she’s gone. And, if she has children or close friends she cooks for regularly, she may leave a book full of her recipes they all love.

Her legacy then becomes not just about the resources she left behind, but about inspiring future generations to value learning and perseverance, and nourishment. Similarly, your estate plan can be crafted to perpetuate the principles you deem most important, making your influence felt well into the future.

So now, take a minute to reflect. What principles are most important to you? How do you want to use them to connect your generation to the next?

Estate Planning as a Form of Love

In emphasizing the value of estate planning as the vehicle that allows you to leave a legacy, know that estate planning should be tailored for each person, each person’s family dynamics, and each person’s values. No two people are the same, no two families are the same, and therefore, no two estate plans should be the same. This personal touch transforms estate planning from a mundane task, that most people put off because they don’t see the value, into a powerful act of love.

Proper and customized estate planning can also alleviate the potential for family conflict, which oftentimes results in irretrievably broken family relationships. But when you use estate planning as a vehicle for securing your legacy, it has the power to preserve these relationships and uphold family harmony. Estate planning is then transformed into an enduring gesture of care and love.

Consider as an example a devoted husband and father who deeply valued his family’s annual summer retreats to a beloved lakeside cabin. Understanding the special place the cabin held in his and his family’s hearts, he specifically detailed in his Will his wish for the property to remain in the family, passing down to his children and grandchildren.

He also set up a small fund to cover the cabin’s upkeep, ensuring that his family would continue to enjoy it without financial burden. In doing so, this loving husband and father not only preserved a cherished family tradition but also created a physical space for remembrance and togetherness, allowing future generations to share in the joy and serenity he found there. This thoughtful element of his estate plan demonstrates how such preparations are acts of love, weaving his memory and values into the fabric of his family’s future.

Take another minute to reflect. How would you craft your own legacy into a plan of action?

Practical Steps to Create Your Legacy

Taking the first step in estate planning can feel daunting, but when you frame it as an act of love and legacy preservation, it becomes a deeply meaningful process. Start by identifying what matters most to you. This could be family traditions, a commitment to charity, a passion for art, or anything else that defines your personal story and values. Begin by listing these priorities and considering how they can be integrated into your estate plan.

Next, consult with a Personal Family Lawyer (“PFL”) who understands the intersection of legacy and estate planning through a special process called Life & Legacy Planning. (We are licensed in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.) A PFL will help you get clear on your values and goals, then together, you’ll create a customized plan that fits you and honors the legacy you wish to leave behind. For instance, if you, like the devoted father in the example above, have a cherished family property, a PFL can advise you on how to set up a trust to manage that property and stipulate how it should be maintained and used by future generations.

A PFL will also record a Life & Legacy Interview that your family will cherish for years. The Interview allows you to express your love, hopes, and reasons behind your decisions and is a comforting and clarifying piece for your loved ones, ensuring they understand your intentions and feel your presence in the provisions you’ve made. You can even record messages to send to beneficiaries that provide stories and details about a special possession or heirloom and why you chose to give it to them.

By taking these steps, you’re not just planning for the future; you’re crafting a legacy that carries your values and love forward, ensuring that your impact on the world persists and that your memory continues to serve as a source of inspiration and unity for those you hold dear.

Memorial Day Is an Opportunity for Action

This Memorial Day, as you reflect on the sacrifices of those who gave their all (and what a legacy that is!), take action to get your estate plan in place. Remember, estate planning is not just for the wealthy; it is for everyone. It’s about making your mark, much like the soldiers we honor, whose legacies are remembered for generations.

So let this Memorial Day be the catalyst for you to start or update your estate plan. In doing so, you honor your life and ensure connection among the generations. Just as we come together as a nation to remember, let’s also take steps to put our love into action.

How We Can Help You Take Action Today

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we don’t merely dispense legal counsel; we empower you to reflect on how you want to be remembered and how you want to pass on the values you hold dear. We take the time to fully understand what’s important to you, and then together, we’ll craft a thoughtful and holistic plan that results in the greatest gift you can leave your loved ones: your love.

To learn more about how we approach estate planning as the intersection of love and legacy, schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with our office.

10 Steps to Take Now to Secure a Comfortable Retirement: Part 2

Welcome back to our discussion on securing a comfortable retirement! In the first part of this series, we explored essential steps including estate planning, preparing for long-term care, and passing on your legacy. As we continue with the second part of our series, we’ll delve into additional areas that are crucial for ensuring your golden years are not only financially stable but also enriched with independence, health, and continued personal growth. So let’s pick up where we left off.

Step 6: Plan for the Transfer of Your Assets

Why It’s Important: Adapting your living environment to meet your changing mobility and health needs can enhance your independence and quality of life (and who doesn’t want that?!). As physical abilities change with age, a home that accommodates these changes can help maintain a higher level of independence, reduce the risk of accidents, and potentially delay or avoid the need for an assisted living facility. Moreover, comfortable and accessible living conditions contribute significantly to happiness and well-being in your later years.

Practical Steps:

Assess Home Accessibility: Evaluate your home for potential mobility issues and consider modifications like ramps, wider doorways, or bathroom grab bars.

Explore Senior-Friendly Housing Options: If extensive modifications are too costly or impractical, consider moving to a senior-friendly community that offers additional amenities and services.

Find a Personal Family Lawyer in Your Community Who Offers Elder Care Planning. A Personal Family Lawyer (“PFL”) who offers elder care planning can help you navigate your options and create a plan that preserves your assets for your loved ones, rather than draining them for housing and health care costs. Go to personalfamilylawyer.com to find the nearest PFL who offers elder care planning and make an appointment on their website. (Our office serves Massachusetts and New Hampshire.)

Step 7: Embrace Technology for Independence

Why It’s Important: Modern technology can significantly improve the convenience and safety of daily life for seniors. Technologies that assist with daily tasks can extend independence, reduce caregiver burden, and enhance your overall quality of life. Additionally, health-monitoring technologies can alert caregivers and medical professionals to potential health issues before they become severe, ensuring timely medical intervention.

Practical Steps:

Health Monitoring Technologies: Employ devices that can monitor vital signs and remind you to take medications. Your doctor may be able to help with this.

Consider Using Smart Home Devices: You can automate lighting, heating, and security to manage your home environment easily. If you aren’t technologically savvy, ask a younger family member to help. Gen Z can figure that out in a heartbeat!

Step 8: Stay Active and Engaged

Why It’s Important: Active engagement in physical, social, and mental activities can significantly enhance your quality of life and health in retirement. Maintaining an active lifestyle helps prevent common age-related health problems, improves mental health, and provides valuable social interactions that can combat loneliness and depression. When you engage in a variety of activities you also keep your mind sharp and gain a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Practical Steps:

Join Community Groups or Clubs: Engage in activities that match your interests, such as book clubs, gardening, or volunteering. If you’re active on Facebook, you can find groups there that meet in your local community. Joining online groups counts too!

Regular Exercise: Participate in senior-friendly exercise programs to maintain health and mobility.

Pursue New Learning Opportunities: Consider taking classes at local community colleges or online to keep your mind sharp and learn new skills.

Step 9: Develop a Sustainable Retirement Budget

Why It’s Important: A well-planned budget is crucial to ensure that your savings last throughout your retirement years. A sustainable budget helps you manage your finances effectively, avoiding overspending and ensuring that you have funds available for unexpected expenses. A good budgeting practice can also help you maintain a comfortable lifestyle while safeguarding against market volatility and economic downturns.

Practical Steps:

Identify Essential vs. Non-Essential Expenses: Consider making adjustments to your spending habits if needed to ensure you can cover necessary costs while still enjoying your retirement.

Plan for Unexpected Costs: Include a buffer in your budget for unforeseen expenses to avoid financial strain.

Consult with a PFL. A PFL, as part of their unique PFL Life & Legacy Planning process, will help you get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before. Together, you’ll create a complete asset inventory (we call it a “personal resource map”, so you know exactly what you have and how long it will last. The inventory also ensures that your loved ones will be able to find your assets after you’re gone, so nothing is lost to the government. Check out your State’s Department of Unclaimed Property website (findmassmoney.gov in Massachusetts) and prepare to be shocked to see how much money has been lost! Traditional estate planning attorneys will not help you, but a PFL includes the inventory as part of every estate plan.

Step 10: Review and Adjust Your Estate Plan Regularly

Why It’s Important: Life changes, and so should your estate plan to ensure it continues to meet your evolving needs and circumstances. Regular reviews ensure your plan works when you and your family need it to, keeping them out of court and conflict after you’re gone. If your estate plan is current with the ever-changing estate and tax laws, chances are it will work and your wishes will be honored if you become incapacitated or when you die.

Practical Steps:

Meet with your PFL to review your asset inventory at least every three years. All PFLs will review your asset inventory and overall plan every three years free of charge.

And now we’ve come to the end of our 2-part series on how to enjoy your retirement with ease and peace of mind. I hope you’ve found this information helpful and inspired you to take action right away because what matters most to me is your ability to live a fulfilling life and give your loved ones a legacy they will treasure.

We Can Help Secure Comfort in Your Retirement

At our firm, we do more than just assist with your immediate retirement planning needs; we ensure that your future is as vibrant and secure as possible. The intricacies of adapting your living space, integrating modern technology for better health and independence, staying socially and physically active, and managing your finances can make retirement seem overwhelming. As your Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we simplify these aspects and tailor solutions to fit your lifestyle and aspirations, all within your time and budget.

If you want to explore how we can help you develop a retirement plan that not only safeguards your finances but also enriches your daily life, we encourage you to book a complimentary 15-minute call with us. Together, let’s make your retirement years as fulfilling and carefree as possible.

10 Steps to Take Now to Secure a Comfortable Retirement: Part 1

Retirement is more than just an end to the working years; it’s an exciting new phase of life that requires thoughtful preparation and strategic planning. Since May is Older Americans Awareness Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore 10 steps you can take now to ensure a comfortable and fulfilling retirement. In this article, we’ll discuss the first 5 steps, why they’re important, and how to implement them. Next week, we’ll continue with the remaining 5 steps.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Step 1: Plan for the Transfer of Your Assets

Why It’s Important: Effective estate planning ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, potentially reduces estate taxes, and can prevent a lot of legal complications for your heirs. Proper estate planning also helps to avoid the public, often lengthy and costly process of probate, ensuring that your heirs have quicker access to the assets you leave behind. Moreover, clear directives in estate planning can prevent family disputes (sometimes resulting in irretrievably broken relationships) and ensure that your specific instructions are followed, preserving your legacy exactly as you intend.

Practical Steps: Consult with a Personal Family Lawyer. A Personal Family Lawyer (“PFL”) always starts the client relationship with education about your options that align with your specific family dynamics, assets and wishes. From there, your PFL will help you create a tailored Life & Legacy plan that works when you and your family need it to, keeping you and them out of court and conflict. Importantly, a PFL can also help you avoid unnecessary taxes before and during retirement (and who doesn’t want that?).

Life Insurance: Having adequate coverage to handle any debts and funeral expenses can provide a financial cushion for those who depend on you. As part of the PFL Life & Legacy Planning process, your PFL can educate you about how much insurance you need and how to pass the funds to the people you want, while avoiding unnecessary taxes and ensuring the funds are available as soon as possible.

Find a PFL in Your Community, like North Shore Planning. Go to personalfamilylawyer.com to find the nearest PFL and make an appointment for a 15-minute consult call on their website. Many PFLs have virtual offices for your convenience, so if there isn’t a PFL listed in your locality, choose the closest one. (Our office serves Massachusetts and New Hampshire and offers in-person and virtual appointments.)

Step 2: Prepare for Long-Term Care Expenses

Why It’s Important: As we continue to live longer, so does the probability of needing some form of long-term care. These services, whether in-home care, assisted living, or nursing facilities, can be costly and are not typically covered by Medicare. Without proper planning, the high costs of long-term care can quickly deplete retirement savings, potentially leaving less financial support for spouses or other family members. Furthermore, preemptive financial planning can significantly ease the emotional and logistical challenges of arranging for long-term care.

Practical Steps:

Research Long-Term Care Insurance: Investigate different policies early, ideally in your 50s or early 60s, before premiums rise significantly. Compare benefits, coverage limits, and the reputation of insurance providers.

Learn About Government Programs: Understand what Medicare covers and explore Medicaid eligibility for long-term care, which varies by state but generally requires spending down your assets.

Find a PFL in Your Community Who Offers Elder Care Planning. Preparing for long-term care can be tricky because the laws are quite complicated. However, a PFL who offers elder care planning can help you navigate your options and create a plan that preserves your assets for your loved ones, rather than draining them for health care costs. Go to personalfamilylawyer.com to find the nearest PFL who offers elder care planning and make an appointment on their website.

Step 3: Pass on Generational Wealth

Why It’s Important: By ensuring that wealth passes effectively to future generations, you can secure their financial future and teach them how to manage and grow that wealth responsibly. Furthermore, generational wealth can enhance the lives of future family members and their communities by providing educational opportunities, fostering entrepreneurship, and supporting philanthropic efforts. It also instills a sense of responsibility and stewardship, which are crucial for maintaining family wealth over generations.

Practical Steps:

Educational Trusts: A PFL can help you set up trusts that release funds for your children or grandchildren based on milestones such as graduation from college. These trusts also have tax benefits, and a PFL can educate you about how they work.

Create a Family Investment Plan: Include younger family members in discussions about family investments to educate them about financial principles.

Step 4: Leave a Legacy

Why It’s Important: What your family will treasure most is not the financial gifts you leave, but your life lessons, values, and memories that define your family heritage. A well-planned legacy can inspire and guide future generations, providing them with a sense of identity and belonging to a greater family story. You can ensure that your philosophical and ethical beliefs continue to influence even when you’re no longer present, helping to shape the character and choices of your descendants.

Practical Steps:

Record Life & Legacy Interview with a PFL: All PFLs include an interview as an important part of their unique Life & Legacy Planning process. The interview ensures your family has a piece of their family history they can hold onto long after you’re gone. They’ll also treasure being able to see you and hearing your voice whenever they want.

Step 5: Cultivate and Share Family Values and History

Why It’s Important: Continuing the idea of leaving a legacy, know that strengthening family bonds through shared history and values helps maintain a sense of continuity across generations. This cultural and historical continuity enhances their psychological resilience and emotional well-being. Additionally, a well-documented family history can serve as a valuable asset for educational and genealogical purposes, enriching the lives of current and future generations. Here are some steps you can take outside of recording a Life & Legacy Interview with a PFL.

Practical Steps:

Create a Family Archive: Gather photos, letters and important documents in a digital format to ensure preservation and easy sharing. Enlist the help of a younger family member (Gen Z, anyone?) if you need to. Also consider writing down recipes, stories, and holiday traditions that can be passed down as family legacies.

Compile Family Histories: Write or record stories about family elders, significant events, and the origins of family traditions. Note that writing these down the “old school” way, i.e., pen and paper, will be meaningful to younger generations. They’ll love having a piece of paper with your handwriting on it.

Host Family Reunions: Regular gatherings not only help reinforce family bonds but also allow older generations to impart wisdom and traditions firsthand.

So whether you’re a few years away or are about to retire now, it’s never too early (or too late!) to start planning. Be sure to check back next week for even more steps you can take to ensure peace of mind when the time comes.

Let Us Help Secure Comfort in Your Retirement

At our firm, we do more than just guide you through estate planning; we provide you with peace of mind, knowing you are free to enjoy retirement. However, understanding the complexities of retirement—from estate planning to ensuring long-term care and preserving generational wealth—can be daunting. That’s why, as your heart-centered Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we streamline the process, making it as easy on you as possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to create a Life & Legacy Plan that secures your comfort in retirement, we invite you to schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with our office. Let us help you live your best life, every step of the way.

Schedule a call here to get started.

The Dark Side of the Internet: Protect Yourself From Online Scams and Digital Attacks

In the digital age, online scams and cyber attacks are becoming more frequent, posing risks to not only everyday users but also to lawyers who manage clients’ sensitive information. But there’s no need to fear if you take measures to keep your data safe. And if (when?) you’re working with a lawyer, you should also know what actions lawyers take to protect your data. Taking these two approaches, let’s discuss how you can safeguard yourself from these digital attackers and how lawyers ensure their clients’ data is protected from the bad guys.

And since this article is being published around “Star Wars Day” (i.e., May 4th, as in “May the fourth (Force) be with you”), I’ll refer to the bad guys as the “Dark Side” just for fun.

7 Tips to Protect Yourself From the Dark Side

Navigating the internet safely requires vigilance and knowledge about potential threats, even as the Dark Side constantly comes up with online scams and attacks designed to steal personal information or harm your devices. Here are some essential steps to protect yourself from these cyber threats and ensure your digital experience remains secure.

  1. Verify who you’re interacting with and confirm the identity of anyone asking for personal details online. Scammers often pretend to be from a trusted company. If you receive an email or message that looks suspicious, or even a little off, contact the company directly using information from their official website.
  2. Create strong passwords. This is crucial. Your passwords should be long, unique, and include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using common words or sequences that can be easily guessed. Additionally, use different passwords for different sites. A password manager can help you generate and manage secure passwords.
  3. Don’t click on links or attachments without knowing who the sender is. Clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources can be dangerous. These can lead to fake websites designed to steal your information or install malware on your device. When in doubt, don’t click, especially when links come to you via text. Never, ever click a link sent to you via text without verifying that the sender is a real friend or company you are doing business with.
  4. Keep your software and devices updated. Regular updates help fix security vulnerabilities. Use antivirus software to protect against malware and other threats.
  5. Educate yourself about the types of scams that exist, such as phishing emails that ask for personal information or offer too-good-to-be-true deals. Being aware is your first line of defense.
  6. If you get a call from a bank, a government agency or even from a child or grandchild asking for money or gift cards for any reason, or access to your computer, tell the caller you will call them back. Hang up, and call your child or grandchild directly, OR the bank or government agency and find out if they were actually calling you. As an added measure, with your family, have a family “code phrase” that must be spoken out loud in the event of an emergency, such as “blackie is a brown dog” or something unique that only your family would know.
  7. MOST IMPORTANT: Never give anyone remote access to your computer, unless it is from a tech support company you engaged with proactively, meaning you called the tech support line on the Company’s website directly, and you initiated the request for support. Scammers will pretend they are from Coinbase or your bank, and tell you they need to access your computer to resolve your account problem. Do not fall for it.

It’s also important to note here that the elderly are the most targeted group for online scammers. So if your parents fall into this age group, pass along this article to them so they are armed with knowledge to protect themselves.

The Dark Side Won This Time, Now What?

Even after taking all these measures, sometimes the bad guys get away with it and scam you, or a loved one. If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, it’s important to act quickly. Immediately inform your bank or relevant service provider if you’ve shared any sensitive information. They can take steps to protect your account. You should also update your passwords right away, especially if you believe they may have been compromised. Again, ensure your new passwords are strong and unique. You may also want to report the scam to the alleged sender, so they know someone is impersonating them and can take protective measures themselves. And if applicable, report the scam to the relevant online platform, or even the local police, consumer protection agencies, or internet crime complaint centers.

Rest Easy Knowing We Have Your Back

At our law firm, we don’t just give legal advice; we’re your trusted advisor for life. If you’ve been scammed, we can help you set up your affairs in such a way that there are layers of protection built-in so it doesn’t happen again. As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we’re also here for your family. If your elderly parents don’t have an estate plan in place – or it’s been a while since they had it reviewed – we are here for them too. We can help them protect not only their data, but everything they want to pass on to you.

If you want to learn more about how we can help you and your parents create a Life & Legacy estate plan that keeps your family out of court and conflict and ensures your plan works when you need it to, schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with our office.

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.

.

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.