Arizona Family Court – Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

 

 

If you have a blended family and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

 

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

 

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t specifically and intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you.

 

What Will the Law Do?

“Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So, clearly, this is no longer “non-traditional” but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on tradition.

 

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of California may not necessarily match your wishes.

 

For example, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

 

This may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation. If you have something different in mind as to how you would want things to go, there is good news. The state of California allows you to circumvent those laws, but only if you have an alternate plan in place BEFORE your incapacity or death.

 

Even within “traditional” families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are often even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

 

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. The courts are filled with these kinds of cases. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

When you’re considering all of this for the people you love, it’s important to have a trusted advisor who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s far better to know and plan than to leave it up to the law or a court to decide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you will also be saving them from years of potential legal conflict.

 

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

 

 

 

 

The pandemic is causing us to consider a lot of things that we may not have before, even if maybe we should have.

It brings to mind something a colleague of mine shared recently. One weekend last year, she left her small children with a babysitter and headed out to enjoy dinner at a restaurant with her husband. But as she sat there, a thought crept into her head and wouldn’t leave.

What would happen to her kids, she thought, if she and her husband got into a car accident on the way home?

And even though my colleague is a lawyer herself, and she had a will at home naming guardians for her kids, she didn’t have a definite and clear answer that provided the comfort she wanted. Her will was in a vault, and her named legal guardians lived on the other side of the country.  It was that thought that spurred her to take action.

Chances of COVID-19 Infection in the Family
If you are young and healthy, it might be hard to imagine that you won’t be there to care for your kids. But if the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that even a healthy person can contract a serious illness that leaves them incapacitated and unable to care for their children.

If there is more than one adult in the house, that may alleviate some of your worry. While naming legal guardians for your kids usually feels especially urgent for a single parent, parents with partners aren’t off the hook. You should take precautions too, especially since there are high infection rates among people who live in the same household.

A professor at the University of Florida has found a more than 19% chance that someone else in the household of a person infected with COVID-19 will also contract the disease. Researchers estimate the average incubation time is about four days and could be infectious for up to two weeks. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you and your partner could both contract the illness, possibly at the same time.

An Easy Way to Find Guardians for Your Children
Even if you never contract COVID-19, you are of course still human, and vulnerable to accidents and other dangers that could separate you from your kids—either temporarily or permanently.

If you haven’t already done so, there’s no better time to decide who would care for your children in the immediate term if something happens to you, even on a short-term basis. 

And, if you are having a difficult time deciding who to name as legal guardians for your children, we can even help you make the right decisions.

Officially answering the question of who will care for your kids if you can’t—even for a short time—is one of the best things you can do right now. It is a real, concrete way you can protect your kids during this scary time.

If you need help with the process, please do give us a call and we’ll be glad to walk you through it.

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

If you’re a parent, you may feel even more guilty than usual.  If so, you are not alone. Currently, the burden is on you to both carry on with your work and manage your child’s full-time care and education. Two full-time jobs that you’re trying to do by yourself, likely without teachers or care providers to help you.

If you are like most parents, you were probably struggling with guilt even before the virus. You may not always make it to every award ceremony or recital, and you might not have as much time to play with your kids or help them with their homework as you’d like. Those feelings of guilt may now be compounded by all the additional responsibilities you’ve taken on in a short space of time.

Take a deep breath and let yourself off the hook. I’m sure you are doing the best you can, and your kids see it, and know it too, even when they are being ungrateful pains in the rear.

Keep reading for a few ideas about how to shift the guilt.

Name Legal Guardians
Let’s start with one thing that is fully within your control, can help to alleviate feelings that you are not doing enough, and that you can get handled easily — name legal guardians for your kids, so only the people you choose will take care of them if anything happens to you.

Legally documenting your choices for who you want to take care of your kids if you can’t is a great first step to getting legal planning in place for the people you love. (Yes, I said “choices” because you want to name at least two alternates after your first choice.) And doing so can provide you with a lot of relief, if you have not yet taken care of this for your kids.

Quality Time Doing…Nothing
While you’re probably already spending a significant amount of time with your kids, you may be too tired or overwhelmed to plan big activities, or the things you used to do for “quality time” may not be available.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Nothing.

Yes, you read that right, nothing.

If you can take 15 minutes or so out of your day and do nothing with your child, it could be the best 15 minutes you spend with them, and with yourself, all day.

It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give to your kids, and the best part is you don’t have to do anything. Mostly, our kids really just want to know we are there, and will give them our full attention, without screens, even if they aren’t paying attention to us.

Talk About It
If you’re on an emotional roller-coaster right now, your kids are probably having some similar struggles. This is an opportunity to connect with them, and a good time to show them a little vulnerability of your own. Remember how important sharing words of love and comfort can be, both to them and to you.

If you have been feeling alone and need support, you can also reach outside of your family for help. Sometimes venting to your friends is enough, and chances are they’ll be able to relate! But if you are not getting the support you need, there are professionals who will communicate via phone and even text message. You can always reach out to us for a referral but you can also find local therapists and phone, video, and online therapists through Psychology Today’s directory.

The point is, you are NOT alone, and you don’t have to feel alone. There are resources available and if we can be of support to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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

It’s an unfortunate fact that predators emerge during times of crisis to take advantage of people. That means the COVID-19 pandemic can leave your elderly parents vulnerable in more ways than one. But even when things go back to normal, this chronic problem of financial exploitation will still be a risk.

We see it happen far too often. Maybe your parents live several hours away, or in another state or country, and someone in their community gets close to them. Or maybe they have a close relationship with a financial advisor who isn’t really looking out for their best interests. This person could even be another family member, friend, business partner, hired caregiver, professional advisor, or just a casual acquaintance.

Sometimes, when bad actors become involved with your parents’ lives and assets, it can lead not only to a loss of money, but even a loss of personal freedom. One of the worst cases of this I’ve heard of is the case of Milo, a retired veteran living in Arizona, and his son Greg, who lives in California. It all started when Milo asked Greg to help him protect his small amount of money from a family member who was “borrowing” it freely. All Milo had was a savings of $140,000 and payments of $3,700 per month from social security, a pension, and veteran’s benefits.

To help his father out, Greg applied for guardianship of Milo’s money, and the court granted it. But at the same time, without notifying Greg, the court appointed a professional financial Conservator that neither Milo nor Greg knew. The Conservator quickly set to draining Milo’s small savings, with the court barring Greg from filing any more motions.

The situation escalated even further when the Conservator decided to move Milo from his assisted living facility to a cheap lock-down facility where he wouldn’t even have access to the outdoors. This would, of course, free up more money for the Conservator to access. Before this could happen, though, Greg hurried to pick his father up and bring him back to California with him.

Now, the two are essentially on-the-run from authorities, who are trying to bring Milo back to Arizona and under the control of the Conservator. Milo and Greg are out of funds and are now trying to raise capital to mount a legal battle and free Milo from this terrible situation.

The scariest part is that Milo and Greg had all the proper legal documents in place. Sometimes, though, that is not enough to protect your parents from being taken advantage of—even to this extreme. Especially in a time of stress and confusion like the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently living in, it is vital to be vigilant and get the best possible counsel to avoid something like this happening.

This isn’t meant to make you paranoid or distrustful of the people around you, or of how your parents handle their own lives. Well, maybe it is a little. Mostly, though, it’s a call to encourage you and your family to be aware, educated, and empowered in knowing what risks are possible for your parents, and for your future inheritance.

Look out for the following “red flag” actions from influencers:

  1. Preventing important communication between family members;
  2. Withholding documents from other family members;
  3. Encouraging financial gifts or economic benefits to recently met connections (usually in the same network as your parents’ “new friend”);
  4. Naming recently met connections as attorney-in-fact (under a financial power of attorney), or as a joint owner on financial accounts, real estate, and other assets;
  5. Giving financial advice that may not be in your or your parents’ best interests, but rather in the interests of the advisor.

We recommend you start talking with your elderly parents now about how they want their affairs to be handled. Also, you should immediately investigate any situation where you suspect your loved ones are being taken advantage of. There have been too many cases of financial abuse or inappropriate influence where family members are too late to stop the bad actor.

Ideally, you’ll know the value of your parents’ tangible assets (i.e., home, car, business, stocks) and intangible assets (i.e., generational stories, personal relationships, theological legacies). Additionally, you should be working with an advisor to help you understand how family dynamics and the law will impact you, and everything that matters to you and your parents when they’re gone.

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

Do your parents have an estate plan? Is it up to date? No matter how rich or poor you or your parents are, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be asking these and several other questions. When your parents become incapacitated or die, their affairs will become your responsibility, and it will be impossible to ask them to clarify anything. So, if you do not know whether they have estate planning in place to help you best support them, read on.  

The Best-Case Scenario

In a best-case scenario, your parents have an updated estate plan, and they’ve walked you through it. They have provided an inventory of their assets that’s easy for you to find listing out everything they own and how it’s titled. Ideally, the plan also includes directions on how to handle their non-monetary assets, and a video, audio recording or written stories that pass on their values, insights and experience. On top of all that, it’s best if they’ve introduced you to the lawyer who set it all up, so you know who to turn to when the time comes.

Less-Than-Ideal Scenarios

If that’s not the case, you could have some holes to fill. If they’ve not done any planning at all, now is the time to encourage them to get it done and support them in any way you can. If they already have a completed plan, it’s likely that it has been sitting on their shelf or in a drawer for years, not updated, with no inventory of their assets and no way to capture and pass on their intangible assets. Even worse, their lawyer could have been using outdated systems that are no longer recognized, which can lead to trouble down the road.

It’s also possible that if they’ve never updated their estate plan, it no longer tracks with their current assets, and may even require complex actions that are no longer necessary upon their death. Worst of all, you may have no idea what your parents own or how to find their assets, and at their incapacity or death you’ll be left with a mess, even though your parents had good intentions and thought their planning was handled.

The Worst-Case Scenario

In a worst-case scenario (which we see more frequently than we’d like), your parents may have worked with someone who exerted undue influence over their decisions. This person may have led them to write something into their plan that they either didn’t really want to or wouldn’t otherwise have chosen if they understood all their options.  

Either way, it’s critical for you to know who your parents have worked with to create their estate plan, and how and why they made the choices they did. If you aren’t in the know, now is the time to find out. 

If your parents are already discussing these matters but have not yet included you, you can ask them to schedule a family meeting with their existing attorney. On your parents’ request, that attorney should look forward to walking you through your parents’ planning, the choices they made, and how you will be impacted in the event of their incapacity or death.

You want to develop a relationship with their estate planning attorney now. This advisor can be one of the most important supporters of you and your parents during your time of need. It’s a relationship you will want to establish before you need it, so you won’t be scrambling during a time of crisis.

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

In many families, money matters are not typical dinner table discussion, but I think it should be. This is especially true when it comes to affluent parents. And, I hope this changes because one of the most important things you can do is talk to your kids (and your parents) about money.

According to the Spectrem Millionaire Corner, a market research group, only 17% of affluent parents said they would disclose their income or net worth to their kids by the time they turned 18. A nearly equal amount, 18% said they would never disclose these numbers to their kids. 32% of the parents surveyed by Spectrem said “it’s none of their business” when asked why they would not talk to their kids about money.

But, that’s faulty thinking. The amount of money generated by your family, and what will happen to it when you or your parents become incapacitated or die is definitely “family” business. In fact, whether your parents talk with you about it now, or you figure it all out after they die, your parent’s money has a huge impact on you.

If your parents are not talking to you about money, it could be because they are afraid that if you know how much money there is, it will make you lazy, unmotivated, or change the course of your life decisions in a negative manner. And, maybe you have the same fears of talking about money with your own kids.

But the truth is that whether you know exactly what’s there or not, you have a general sense of your family’s financial situation and it’s already impacted your decisions in a myriad of ways. And the best way for your family’s money to impact your decisions in a positive manner is to have open conversation about it.

If you are a child of well-off parents who are not talking to you about money, consider that your job is to learn to communicate with your parents in a way that will have them trust you, and the decisions you will make if you know just how much there is.

When money has come up in the past, have you behaved immaturely? Have your actions or words caused your parents not to trust you? If so, you can change that now. And consider the possibility that your parents would love to see evidence of your maturity in this arena.

If you are a parent yourself, one of the most important wishes you have for your children is probably that they learn to handle money well. And as a parent myself, I know you want to influence them in the most positive way possible when it comes to money (and everything else, for that matter).

Consider how you would want your children to approach you to have the money conversation, and how you can do exactly that with your parents?

We all must learn about our family’s money eventually. And if that doesn’t happen until after our parents die, it can be a much bigger burden to deal with, and we can lose tremendous opportunities for passing on more than just money.

As an prosperous parent, or the child of prosperous parents, getting into conversations about money now is a huge opportunity to pass on values, insights, stories and experiences that will be lost if you wait until incapacity or death to start facing that topic.

I believe it’s one of the most valuable, ongoing conversations I’m having with my children – and parents. And it’s one of my favorite things to help my clients get going in their own families.

Don’t underestimate the power of these conversations. Talking to your kids (or your parents) about money is one of life’s real opportunities for your family to come together and use your whole family wealth to create more connection from one generation to the next.

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

As you no doubt already know, on January 26, 2020, basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on a wooded hillside 30 miles north of Los Angeles. Also killed in the tragic accident was his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers who were friends and colleagues of Kobe and his family. Kobe’s survived by his wife Vanessa and three other daughters: Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.  The exact cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Kobe’s sudden death at age 41 has led to a huge outpouring of grief from fans across the world. Whenever someone so beloved dies so young, it highlights just how critical it is for every adult—but especially those with young children—to create an estate plan to ensure their loved ones are properly protected and provided for when they die or in the event of their incapacity.

While it’s too early to know the exact details of Kobe’s estate plan (and he very well may have planning vehicles in place to keep the public from ever knowing the full details), we can still learn from the issues his family and estate are likely to face in the aftermath of his death. I’m covering these issues in hopes that it will inspire you to remember that life is not guaranteed, every day is a gift, and your loved ones are counting on you to do the right thing for them now.

Kobe’s sports and business empire
Between his salary and endorsements during his 20-year career with the L.A. Lakers, Kobe earned an estimated $680 million. And that’s not counting the money he made from his numerous business ventures, licensing rights for his likeness, and extensive venture capital investments following his retirement from the NBA.

Given his business acumen and length of time in the spotlight, it’s highly unlikely Kobe died without at least some planning in place to protect his assets and his family. But even if Kobe did have a plan, when someone so young, wealthy, and successful passes away this unexpectedly in such a terrible accident, his family and estate will almost certainly face some potential threats and complications.

For example, due to his extreme wealth, Kobe likely created trusts and other planning strategies to remove some of his assets from his estate in order to reduce his federal estate-tax liability. However, because he was so young and still actively involved in numerous business ventures, it’s quite unlikely that all—or even the majority—of his assets had been fully transferred into those protective planning vehicles.

And seeing that Kobe owned the helicopter and the weather at the time was poor (many other flights had already been grounded), there’s also the real potential that the families of those killed in the crash will file civil lawsuits against his estate. Regardless of how extensive Kobe’s estate plan is, it’s doubtful that the lawyers who drafted his plan considered the possibility of so many potential wrongful-death lawsuits.

Here’s the bottom line: the post-death handling of Kobe’s affairs is surely going to be complicated. Though you almost certainly don’t have a Kobe-size estate to pass on, that makes it even more important for you to handle your planning—and really get it done right. Kobe’s family can afford years in court, lawyers upon lawyers, and a loss of some assets to taxes and lawsuits. Your family, on the other hand, probably cannot.

Trusted support when it’s needed most
Since Kobe’s wife Vanessa survives him, and it’s been widely reported that they married without a prenuptial agreement, it’s most likely that she will inherit everything. And due to the “spousal exemption,” those assets will pass to her tax free. Yet despite the protection from estate taxes, if she does inherit everything directly, all the estate-planning, financial-planning, business-management, and wealth-preservation responsibilities for Kobe’s immense fortune will now pass to Vanessa.

That’s an overwhelming responsibility, especially while she’s mourning the loss of both her husband and child, as well as parenting three other daughters who’ve just lost their father and sister. Given the vast scope of Kobe’s estate, ongoing business ventures, and likelihood of lawsuits and other legal complications, Vanessa will need the advice and support of her trusted counsel now more than ever. And I do hope she has that support, and that it was established well before this point in time.

Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans and the associated legal documents, leaving the spouse and other family members largely out of the loop. Though we can’t know if this was the case with Kobe’s lawyers, such situations occur frequently enough that there’s a real possibility this could be true for Vanessa as well.

Don’t let such a scenario be true for your family. There is immense value in not only getting your estate planning handled now, but also in accomplishing that with a family-centered law firm as your partner.

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

If your child requires or is likely to require governmental assistance to meet their basic needs, do not leave money directly to your child. Instead, establish a Special Needs Trust.

A trust that is not designed with your child’s special needs in mind will probably render your child ineligible for essential benefits. A Special Needs Trust is designed to manage resources while maintaining the individual’s eligibility for government benefits. Planning is important because many beneficiaries as adults will rely on government benefits for support. If the disabled person has assets in their own name, they might lose eligibility.

Medicaid, and other public benefits programs, will not pay for everything your child might need. A Special Needs Trust can pay for medical and dental expenses, annual independent check-ups, necessary or desirable equipment (such as a specially equipped van), training and education, insurance, transportation, and special foods.

Unfortunately, some Special Needs Trusts are unnecessarily restrictive and generic. Many trusts are not customized to the particular child’s needs. Thus, the child fails to receive the support and benefits that the parent provided when they were alive. For example, children who are high functioning and active in their communities can benefit from a Special Needs Trust that is carefully tailored to provide adequate resources to support their social lives.

Does your child have significant medical concerns? Should the trust allow for birthday gifts for other family members? What about travel expenses to visit loved ones? Do you have a preferred living arrangement for your child? Your child’s special needs trust should address all these issues and more.

Another mistake attorneys with special knowledge in this area often see is a “pay-back” provision in the trust rather than allowing the remainder of the trust to go to others upon the death of the child with special needs. If a “pay-back” provision is included unnecessarily, Medicaid will receive the remainder (up to the amount of benefits provided) in the trust upon the death of the beneficiary. These “pay-back” provisions, however, are necessary in certain types of special needs trusts. An attorney who knows the difference can save your family a small fortune.

A Special Needs Trust will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes parents make. Although many people with disabilities rely on SSI, Medicaid, or other needs-based government benefits, you may have been advised to disinherit your child with disabilities—the child who needs your help the most—to protect that child’s public benefits. These benefits, however, rarely provide more than subsistence, and this “solution” does not allow you to help your child after you are incapacitated or gone.

Disinheriting your child with special needs might be a temporary solution if your other children are financially secure and have money to spare. But permanently disinheriting your child with special needs could be a huge mistake! It is not a solution that will protect your child after you and your spouse are gone. The money can be lost in a lawsuit, divorce, liability claim, or adverse judgment against your other children. For example, what if your child with the money divorces? His or her spouse may be entitled to half of it and will likely not care for your child with special needs. What if your child with the money dies or becomes incapacitated while your child with special needs is still living?

These are just some of the concerns parents of special needs children need to navigate. The bottom line is to get a special needs trust in place with the help of an advisor who understands the unique issues inherent with special needs situations.

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

In the first part of this series, we discussed the early warning signs of diminished financial capacity in the elderly. Here, we’ll discuss planning strategies that can protect your loved ones from incapacity of all kinds. 

With more and more Baby Boomers reaching retirement age each year, our country is undergoing an unprecedented demographic transformation that’s sure to challenge our society in many ways. There’s been lots of talk about whether Baby Boomers will have enough savings for retirement and the strains the generation will put on Social Security and Medicare.

But there’s another issue that’s getting far less attention—the coinciding increase in the prevalence of dementia.

Along with swelling senior population, the nation is expected to see a corresponding rise in those suffering from age-related dementia—cases of Alzheimer’s alone are expected to double by 2050. While the cognitive decline from dementia affects nearly every mental function, many people aren’t aware that one of the first abilities to go is one’s “financial capacity.”

Financial capacity refers to the ability to manage money and make wise financial decisions. A decline in financial capacity not only makes seniors more likely to mismanage their money, but it also makes them easy targets for financial exploitation, fraud, and abuse.

Last week, we listed six warning signs of a decline in financial capacity. Here we’ll discuss estate planning strategies that can help protect your elderly loved ones and their assets from the debilitating effects of dementia and other forms of incapacity.

Reducing the risks
Taking steps to reduce the risks of diminished financial capacity is vital, but stepping in to help manage an aging parent’s money without threatening their sense of independence and privacy can be a real challenge. Even if they’re aware of their own impairment, many are reluctant to ask for help, and some may even deny there’s a problem.

Ideally, you should address the potential for dementia and other forms of incapacity with your senior family members well before any signs of cognitive decline appear. Waiting until they start showing signs of dementia will only exacerbate the complications and could even invalidate planning efforts.

Start by having a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved ones about the risks involved with incapacity, and how estate planning can help protect them. Approach the subject with care and compassion. Reassure them that your goal is to make certain they retain as much control over their lives as possible—and talking about the issue early on is the best way to do that.

For example, you should let your aging parents know that if they become incapacitated without proper planning, you’ll have to go to court and petition to become their legal guardian. This process is not only quite costly and emotionally taxing, but there’s a possibility that the court could appoint a professional guardian, rather than a loved one such as yourself.

A court-appointed guardianship would mean that a total stranger would control all of their affairs—financial and otherwise—which is something they likely wouldn’t want. Professional guardianships also open the door for potential exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous guardians, which is something that’s on the rise given the sharp uptick in the senior population.

However, unless you have the legal authority to make your parents’ financial decisions, your ability to manage their money will be seriously limited. You might be able to work together with them for a while without such authority, but at some point, their cognitive impairment will likely reach a stage where you’ll need to assume full control—and that’s where estate planning comes in.


Put a plan in place
The best option would be for your aging loved ones to put in place a comprehensive plan for incapacity as soon as possible. This way, they can choose exactly who they want making their financial, medical, and legal decisions for them if and when they’re no longer able to do on their own.

There are a number of planning tools that can be used in an incapacity plan, but a will alone is sufficient. A will only goes into effect upon death, so it would do nothing should your elderly parents become incapacitated by dementia.

While a will is important in planning for death, your parents should also put in place planning tools specially designed for incapacity. One such tool is durable financial power of attorney. This document would give you (or another person of their choosing) the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of their financial and legal affairs in the event of their incapacity.

The downside of financial durable power of attorney is that it sometimes is not accepted by banks and other financial institutions, and you might still end up needing to go to court to get control of your parents’ affairs.

A revocable living trust is a MUCH better estate planning tool to transfer control of your parents’ financial assets to you without court intervention should they become incapacitated. A revocable living trust, created while your parents have capacity, can plan for the transition of their assets to your care and control in a way that feels safe and secure to them. Bring your parents to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session to learn more about how this would work.

Yet having the legal authority to make your parents’ financial and legal decisions is just part of an overall incapacity plan. They’ll also need to put in place planning strategies designed to address their healthcare decisions and medical treatment like medical power of attorney and a living will. 

We can help your aging parents and other senior family members develop a comprehensive incapacity plan, customized with the specific planning vehicles to match their unique needs and life situation.

Don’t wait until it’s too late
While incapacity from dementia is most common in the elderly, debilitating injury and illness can strike at any point in life. For this reason, all adults age 18 and older should have an incapacity plan. Moreover, such planning must be addressed well before cognitive decline begins, as you must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent for the documents to be valid. Given this urgency, you should discuss incapacity planning with your aging parents right away.

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

As we head into the thick of the holiday season, you’re likely spending more time than usual surrounded by family and friends.

The holidays offer an opportunity to visit with loved ones you rarely see and get caught up on what’s been happening in everyone’s life. And though it might not seem like it, the holidays can also be a good time to discuss estate planning. In fact, with everyone you love—from the youngest to the oldest—gathered under one roof, the holidays provide the ideal opportunity to talk about planning.

That said, asking your uncle about his end-of-life wishes while he’s watching the football game probably isn’t the best way to get the conversation started. In order to make the discussion as productive as possible, consider the following tips.

1. Set aside a time and place to talk
Trying to discuss estate planning in an impromptu fashion over the dinner table or while opening Christmas gifts will most likely not be very productive. Your best bet is to schedule a time separate from the festivities, when you can all focus and talk without distractions or interruptions.

It’s also a good idea to be upfront with your family about the meeting’s purpose, so no one is taken by surprise, and are more prepared for the talk. Choose a setting that’s comfortable, quiet, and private. The more relaxed people are, the more likely they’ll be comfortable sharing about sensitive topics.

2. Create an agenda, and set a start and stop time

To ensure you can cover every subject you want to address, create a list of the most important points you want to cover—and do your best to stick to them. You should encourage open conversation but having a basic agenda of the items you want to address can help ensure you don’t forget anything.

Along those same lines, set a start and stop time for the conversation. This will help you keep the discussion on track and avoid having the conversation veer too far away from the main points you want to discuss. If anything significant comes up that you hadn’t planned on, you can always continue the discussion later.

Keep in mind that the goal is to simply get the planning conversation started, not work out all the specific details or dollar amounts.

3. Explain why planning is important
From the start, assure everyone that the conversation isn’t about prying into anyone’s finances, health, or personal relationships. Instead, it’s about providing for the family’s future security and wellbeing no matter what happens. It’s about ensuring that everyone’s wishes are clearly understood and honored, not about finding out how much money someone stands to inherit.

While some relatives might be reluctant to open up, being surrounded by the loved ones who will ultimately benefit from planning can make people more willing to discuss these sensitive subjects.

Talking about these issues is also a crucial way to avoid unnecessary conflict and expense down the road. When family members don’t clearly understand the rationale behind one another’s planning choices, I’ve seen it breed conflict, resentment, and costly legal battles.

4. Discuss your experience with planning
If you’ve already set up your plan, one way to get the discussion going is to explain the planning vehicles you have in place and why you chose them. Mention any specific questions or concerns you initially had about planning and how you addressed them. If you have loved ones who’ve yet to do any planning and have doubts about its usefulness, discuss any concerns they have in a sympathetic and supportive manner.

For the love of your family
Though death and incapacity can be awkward topics to discuss, talking about how to properly plan for such events can actually bring your family closer together this holiday season. In fact, our clients consistently share that after going through our estate planning process they feel more connected to the people they love the most. And they also feel clearer about the lives they want to live during the short time we have here on earth. 

When done right, planning can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and offer peace of mind knowing that the people you love most will be protected and provided for no matter what.

Most importantly this holiday season, enjoy being in the moment and strengthening your bonds with the important people in your life.

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