If you were to suddenly die today, would your loved ones know how to quickly find your estate planning documents? Would they know how to access all your financial accounts? How about your insurance policies? What about your login and password info to all of your digital assets?

One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity.

Don’t cause a logistical nightmare
Beyond burdening your loved ones with needless work and expense, if your planning documents, such as wills, prenuptial agreements, and insurance policies, can’t be located, it will be as if they never existed. The same goes for valuable assets like stocks, bank accounts, and other financial property no one knows about.

Given this, you should make sure someone you trust knows exactly where to find your planning documents – which should include an updated inventory of all your assets.

What to include in your planning binder or file
A little pre-planning and organization now can make things easier on your loved ones later.  Ensure you have updated copies (or the originals) of the following documents in one, easily accessible location:

  • An inventory of all your assets and their location
  • An advance healthcare directive
  • A will
  • Your living trust (if you have one)
  • Marriage or divorce certificate(s)
  • Instructions for your funeral and final disposition
  • Letters, cards, photos, and other treasured sentimentals
  • If you have minor children, a Child Protection Plan naming long and short-term guardians, along with detailed care instructions

Get your affairs in order—before it’s too late
Each family is unique, so this is just a baseline of what to include in your file. And because death or incapacity can happen to any of us at any time, don’t wait to get your affairs in order. Take steps now to give this gift to your family in the future.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.

Indeed, putting strategies in place to protect and pass on our wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of our assets upon death is just one part of the process.

And it’s not even the most critical part.

Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing to be prepared for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapcitated by accident or illness.

Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.

In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. This is true not only in terms of its potentially ruinous financial costs, but also for the emotional trauma, contentious court battles, and internal conflict your family may endure if you fail to address it in your plan. 

The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.

Where to start
Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.

If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others is revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.

To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.

You must name someone
The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult – and costly – for your loved ones.

This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning. An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.

What won’t work
Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer.

That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.

Don’t let a bad situation become much worse
You may be powerless to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during this already trying time.

If you’ve yet to plan for incapacity, we can counsel you on the proper planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, we can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated. Contact us today to get started.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support. Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his children, fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be saddened when someone so young and seemingly healthy passes away suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who we are.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can motivate us to savor life now AND act to protect the ones we love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death
Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. But since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was a start but not nearly enough.

Wills only apply to the distribution of assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

The power over medical decisions
During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.

Granting medical powers of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Without medical powers of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind. 

Learn from Perry’s example
Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, you owe it to your loved ones to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if something happens to you.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Retirement planning is one of life’s most important financial goals. Indeed, funding retirement is one of the primary reasons many people put money aside in the first place. Yet many of us put more effort into planning for our vacations than we do to prepare for a time when we may no longer earn an income.

Whether you’ve put off planning for retirement altogether or failed to create a truly comprehensive plan, you’re putting yourself at risk for a future of poverty, penny pinching, and dependence. The stakes could hardly be higher.

When preparing for your final years, it’s not enough to simply hope for the best. You should treat retirement planning as if your life depended on it—because it does. To this end, even well-thought-out plans can contain fatal flaws you might not be aware of until it’s too late.

Have you committed any of the following three deadly sins of retirement planning?

1. Not having an actual plan
Even if you’ve been diligent about saving for retirement, without a detailed, goal-oriented plan, you’ll have no clear idea whether your savings strategies are working adequately or not. And such plans aren’t just about calculating a retirement savings number, funding your 401(k), and then setting things on auto-pilot.

Once you know how much you’ll need for retirement, you must plan for exactly how you’ll accumulate that money and monitor your success. The plan should include clear-cut methods for increasing income, reducing spending, maximizing tax savings, and managing investments when and where needed.

What’s more, you should regularly review and update your asset allocation, investment performance, and savings goals to ensure you’re still on track to hit your target figure. With each new decade of your life (at least), you should adjust your savings strategies to match the specific needs of your new income level and age.

Failing to plan, as they say, is planning to fail.

2. Not maximizing the use of tax-saving retirement accounts
One way or another, the money you put aside for retirement is going to be taxed. However, by investing in tax-saving retirement accounts, you can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you’ll pay.

Depending on your employment and financial situation, there are numerous different plans available. From traditional IRAs and 401(k)s to Roth IRAs and SEP Plans, you should consider using one or more of these investment vehicles to ensure you achieve the most tax savings possible.

What’s more, many employers will match your contributions to these accounts, which is basically free money. If your employer offers matching funds, you should not only use these accounts, but contribute the maximum amount allowed—and begin doing so as early as possible.

Since figuring out which of these plans will offer the most tax savings can be tricky—and because tax laws are constantly changing—you should consult with a professional financial advisor to find the one(s) best suited for your particular situation. Paying taxes is unavoidable, but there’s no reason you should pay any more than you absolutely must.

3. Underestimating health-care costs
It’s an inescapable fact that our health naturally declines with age, so one of the riskiest things you can do is not plan for increased health-care expenses.

With many employers eliminating retiree health-care coverage, Medicare premiums rising, and the extremely volatile nature of health insurance law, planning for your future health-care expenses is critical. And it’s even more important seeing that we’re now living longer than ever before.

Plus, these considerations are assuming that you don’t fall victim to a catastrophic illness or accident. The natural aging process is expensive enough to manage, but a serious health-care emergency can wipe out even the most financially well off.

Start preparing for retirement now
The best way to maximize your retirement funding is to start planning (and saving) as soon as possible. In fact, your retirement savings can be exponentially increased simply by starting to plan at an early age.

Let us know if we can help. We’ll be glad to review what you have in place now, advise you about what you need, introduce you to advisors you can trust, and ensure you and your family are well-protected and planned for, no matter what.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

End of life Decisions 91024Decisions about your health care are some of the most important you will ever make.

Unfortunately, too many people put off making health care plans, often until they are no longer able to assert their wishes. At that point, it becomes too late and they have forfeited their right to make their own health care choices.

Including health care documents in your estate plan can ensure your decisions are always your choice, even if you cannot speak for yourself. Health care documents that clearly state your wishes should be included in your comprehensive estate plan. Here are three documents you need to include in your estate plan to ensure your wishes are respected:

Health Care Directive

This document allows you to name a health care agent. This will be the individual who you grant the authority to make certain decisions on your behalf. A health care agent may also be called a health care surrogate or a personal representative.

In your directive, you can include specific instructions on the health care measures you desire if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. These are life and death decisions; make sure your agent is someone you trust.  Work closely with a trusted estate planning lawyer to ensure your directive provides clear guidelines for your agent to follow.

HIPAA Authorization

Your health care agent or personal representative will need access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care. To do this, your agent will need a HIPAA authorization. This will ensure he or she has access to your medical records from HIPAA-covered health care providers.

Living Will Declaration

A living will provides specific guidelines for your end of life care. While your health care directive can include provisions for your agent to make certain decisions about your ongoing health care, a living will tells your agent how you would like those decisions made, such as if and when you want life support to be removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition and what kind of care choices should be made for you, if you cannot make them for yourself. These types of absolute decisions about your life should be included in a living will for extra protection and assurance your desires will be known and honored.

These documents, if carefully crafted, will help you express and enforce your healthcare wishes, even if you cannot speak for yourself. If you want to ensure your preferences for your ongoing and end of life care are respected, these are the documents you need to have in place.

Dedicated to empowering your family, increasing your wealth and building your legacy,
Marc Garlett 91024

health appHave you given any thought to how emergency medical care providers know who to contact or what to do if you are in an accident? Some people wear wristbands that contain important health information, such as drug allergies. But there’s an even better tool located in something many of us already carry every day-our iPhones.

The Health App

The iPhone, manufactured by Apple Inc., comes with a free Health app which allows users to track details of their health. From the Health Dashboard, a user can track daily steps, weight, and heart rate. Even nutrition and sleep patterns may be managed using the app.

But setting aside all that fancy stuff, Health is a great app for ensuring medical personnel, such as of emergency room staff and paramedics, have critical information for both treatment and contact purposes.

Users can create an “emergency card” that others can access directly from the lock screen. Even if a passcode is required to unlock the phone, the emergency card can be accessed simply by pressing the Emergency button on the lock screen. Users can choose the information that is displayed, and the information input into the emergency card is not shared with other apps.

How to Get Started

Click the icon that looks like a white square containing a red heart. The Medical ID card should open. Click the “Edit” button in the upper right hand of the screen and input the information you want to be available from your “Lock” screen, such as the following:

  • Birth date;
  • Medical conditions;
  • Medical notes;
  • Allergies and reactions;
  • Medications;
  • Blood type;
  • Organ donor information;
  • Height and weight; and
  • Emergency contact information.

With the Health app, you can arm your emergency health care providers with critical information, potentially saving your life and ensuring your loved ones are contacted in the event of an emergency. So why not spend a few minutes to take advantage of this valuable, free tool today?

Dedicated to your family’s health, wealth, and happiness,
Marc Garlett 91024

graduate estate planning 91024If you’re the parent of a new graduate from high school this year, congratulations! I know you’ve put a lot of time and effort toward that diploma, and whatever their next step in life will be, you surely want to protect them just as much now as you always have.

So before you pack your kid off to college or just an apartment across town, you need to know that when they leave, they will be taking along many of the legal rights you held before they turned 18.

Once a child turns 18, they are no longer considered a child in the eyes of the law. As such, you no longer have the legal right to access their medical, school, or banking records without their permission. Here are three simple steps you should take before your child leaves the nest to help ensure their safety and your peace of mind:

1. Create an advance healthcare directive. Once your child becomes a legal adult, they need to have an advance healthcare directive that will allow you to access their medical records and make medical decisions for them in case they become incapacitated. This is essential in case of an emergency. They will also need to sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form that allows medical professionals to share information with you.

2. Use technology. The American Bar Association recently released a free app for iPhone and Android that allows you to store an advance directive and other important documents on a smartphone. The app comes in two versions: the Lite version stores a PDF version of an advance healthcare directive and HIPAA form; the Pro version ($3.99) provides more functionality, including the ability to email documents. The app is called My HealthCare Wishes and is available from the iPhone App Store or Google Play for Android devices. There are also online solutions such as DocuBank.com which stores medical records and allows those to be accessed by medical professionals anywhere in the world.

3. Add an ICE app to your child’s phone. Add an ICE (In Case of Emergency) app to the home page of your child’s phone that lists your contact information and also create an ICE listing in his or her phone contacts with this information. Your child is much more likely to always have their phone with them than to carry a printed card or document.

For more information on protecting your family, call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Estate Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure the security of your loved ones. Be one of the first two people to mention this article and we’ll waive our $750 planning fee PLUS create a free healthcare directive for your young adult child.

Health Care 2Everyone agreed on one thing: Marlise Munoz was dead. The 33-year-old Texas wife, mother and paramedic got up in the middle of the night on Nov. 26, 2013, to tend to her toddler son and suffered a pulmonary embolism. After her husband Erick, also a paramedic, was able to briefly get her breathing again she was transported to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she was placed on life support.

But everyone knew, and two days later medical tests confirmed, she had no brain activity. In every sense of the word, Marlise was dead.

Unfortunately, Marlise was also 14 weeks pregnant which turned this tragedy into a travesty that was only cut short by a Texas court late last week. JPS Hospital refused to remove Marlise from life support because of The Texas Advance Directives Act, which states that, “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment…from a pregnant patient.”

Erick and Marlise’s parents had asked JPS Hospital to remove her from life support after her death was confirmed, stating that she had expressed to them many times that she did not want to be artificially kept alive. As a paramedic, she knew what that could have meant for her loved ones.

However, Marlise never executed an advance medical directive or a living will clearly stating her wishes. This is why all of our advanced health care directives specifically address pregnancy (and we never use a form due to ambiguities in many of the form documents), for every plan we draft for a woman who can bear children.

But Marlise didn’t have that in place and her family had no choice: they had to go to court. They also had to endure the worldwide media frenzy surrounding their personal tragedy, and were buffeted by activists on all sides of the issue.

On January 24, a Texas District Court Judge finally ordered the hospital to declare Marlise dead and release her body to the family. Her attorneys had successfully argued that she was no longer a “patient” since she met every benchmark for death. She was removed from life support on January 26 and will be buried in a private family ceremony.

This sad case is an extreme example of what can happen when legal protections are not put in place prior to a tragedy that can happen to anyone. To put the proper protections in place for your family, contact our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.