Archive for 2011
HOLIDAY GREETINGS AND ANNOUNCEMENT
All of us at Cramer Law Center wish you a most enjoyable holiday season. We are so grateful for your support which has made this a year of steady growth for our practice.
As part of that growth, Cramer Law Center is pleased to announce that we have hired Amelia Hough Henderson as an associate attorney. A double-Gator, Amelia earned her undergraduate degree in Business Administration and her Juris Doctorate with honors from the University of Florida. While in law school, she served as Chief Executive Articles Editor of the Journal of Law and Public Policy. Prior to joining us, Amelia gained experience working with probate and guardianship staff attorneys for the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Gainesville. The next time you are in the office, please take a moment to meet Amelia.
We wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year! Please note: our office will be closed on December 23, 26 and 30, 2011 and January 2, 2012.
MORE PERSONAL LESSONS LEARNED
As I shared with you in our last newsletter, my mother passed away recently. Although I help my clients on a daily basis with legal planning for the future, this personal experience has enlightened me as to the importance of certain legal and non-legal aspects of planning.
One non-legal aspect of planning involves your final arrangements. I strongly recommend making your wishes known to your family ahead of time. There are many potentially stressful questions to be answered after a loved one passes away. Which funeral home should we call? Would he want cremation or burial? Which cemetery would she want to be buried in? What would he want on his headstone? Where would she want the service to be held? Would he want visitation? What would she want the obituary to say? Things will run more smoothly for those you leave behind if they already have your answers to these important questions. In order to help our clients with their final arrangement decisions, we now have partnered with Hardage-Giddens Funeral Homes to provide planning workbooks.
Another area where you need to make your wishes known is with your “stuff”. By stuff we mean jewelry, collectibles, family heirlooms, etc. that your family may squabble over or that are not equally divisible among all beneficiaries. For example, if you have two valuable family heirlooms and three children to whom you have left everything “equally”, the most likely scenario will be that the family heirlooms will not remain in the family, but instead be sold and the proceeds divided among the three children. If you want family treasures to remain in the family, you need to do a written memorandum stating which family member(s) will receive each item.
Finally, I recommend against appointing all of your children as co-trustees of your Trust or co-personal representatives in your Will. Do you really want to leave everything hanging on a 2-1 vote? How you will be buried: 2-1 vote. Who will receive the treasured family heirloom: 2-1 vote. Parents must resist the urge to treat all children “equally” when it comes to naming trustees and personal representatives. Estate and trust administration decisions are generally best left to one person.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PRE-ARRANGED FUNERAL
The single most important benefit of estate planning is peace of mind. We often focus on the legal documents necessary for us to create an estate plan that provides such peace of mind. However, I recently had a personal experience that reminded me of the importance of one of the more practical aspects of planning.
My mother passed away a few weeks ago. Although my siblings and I had a general idea of what the funeral arrangements would be, no plans had been finalized. This lack of planning created a chaotic situation when I arrived to visit my mother in hospice care. I was immediately and less than delicately informed by the hospice caseworker that I had to make my mother’s funeral arrangements straight away. So before I could focus my attention on my mother in her final hours, I had to phone different funeral homes until I found the one I needed.
Making last-minute funeral arrangements for my mother added more stress to a situation that was already emotionally taxing. Especially after my experience, I highly recommend taking care of funeral arrangements in advance to avoid creating greater stress for your loved ones at such a difficult time.
ELDER ABUSE: SEVEN WARNING SIGNS
Many of us have elderly parents or grandparents who may be susceptible to abuse. Here are some warning signs to consider:
(1) Deliberate isolation of an older adult which results in the caregiver having total control.
(2) Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions.
(3) Power of Attorney given or recent changes of Will when the person is incapable of making such decision.
(4) Sudden changes in bank accounts or banking practice, including unexplained withdrawals of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder.
(5) Abrupt changes in Real Estate Deeds or other Financial Documents.
(6) Missing personal belongings such as art, silverware or jewelry.
(7) Placement in nursing home or residential care facility which is not commensurate with alleged size of estate.
An excellent way to protect against potential abuse is to have strong estate planning documents in place and open communication about the elder’s wishes and the contents of those documents with close family members. If you have a concern about a family member or close friend, call us for a confidential consultation.
PERILS OF “DO IT YOURSELF” ESTATE PLANNING
How many times have I heard the following: “I only have ‘a few thousand dollars.’ Why should I pay a lawyer to help me prepare an estate plan? I’ll just add my “son/daughter/grandchild to my accounts.” Let’s see how that works out.
Marginally senile great-grandfather places all his possessions – “a few thousand dollars” into a joint bank account with ne’er-do-well, 18 year old great grandson. Great grandson takes all the money and buys a nice new Corvette. Did that work?
Mom puts all her possessions – “a few thousand dollars’” into a joint bank account with loving daughter. A few months later, mom needs to be placed into a nursing home due to physical disabilities. Daughter, fearing all mom’s money will be “seized by Medicaid” or “taken by the nursing home” withdraws all the money and puts it into an account in her own name, then applies for Medicaid without mentioning the transfer. Did that work?
Man puts all his possessions – “a few thousand dollars” into a joint bank account with brother. Brother has a drinking problem, causes a car accident while driving drunk, and is sued. He has no insurance, and all his assets, including Man’s accounts, are taken to satisfy judgment. Did that work?
Dad puts all his possessions – “a few thousand dollars” into a joint bank account with son. Dad is in a car accident and suffers brain trauma. Who has authority to care for dad? Moreover, son is only 16. Who has authority to pay dad’s bills? Did that work?
Grandmother puts all her possessions – “a few thousand dollars” into a joint bank account with grandson whom she cherishes. Grandson is blind. Grandson was eligible for government medical assistance and work programs because of his financial need, but won’t be when grandma dies. Did that work?
Need I go on? These things cannot be discovered, or appropriately planned for, by an on-line “form.” Discovering these critical issues takes counseling. Creatively planning solutions that are acceptable to the client takes additional counseling. It is for that counseling that we are paid.
OCTOBER IS NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH AND NATIONAL DOWN SYNDROME AWARENESS MONTH!
This month we honor two groups of “special” Americans. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the many accomplishments of employees with disabilities. This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
October is also National Down Syndrome Awareness month. Created in 1981 to raise awareness about the abilities of people with Down syndrome, the celebration is highlighted by the Buddy Walk®, which was established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Today, the Buddy Walk program is supported nationally by NDSS and organized at the local level by parent support groups, schools and other organizations and individuals. Last year alone, more than 285,000 people participated in a Buddy Walk and the walks raised over $11.2 million to benefit individuals with Down syndrome. To find a Buddy Walk near you, visit www.buddywalk.org.
At Cramer Law Center, P.L., we think this is an ideal time to discuss the importance of Special Needs Planning. If your family includes a special needs child or adult, we hope your plan includes provisions for your loved one’s care when you are no longer able to provide it. If you do not have a special needs plan in place, we hope you will make an appointment with us at your earliest convenience to learn how we can use a wide range of tools, including a Special Needs Trust, to protect your loved one’s financial and emotional future.
PARENTS WITH YOUNG CHILDREN, BEWARE! REVOCABLE LIVING TRUSTS TO TAKE CARE OF MINOR CHILDREN
Many families with young children think they are too young to have a trust or that they don’t own enough for a trust. However, here is a true story showing that nothing could be further from the truth!
A few years ago, a young mother became an instant widow. Her husband died in an automobile accident. The husband had left life insurance, naming his minor son as beneficiary. So, not only did the young woman have to raise her son alone, but she had to go to court to be appointed guardian over the young son’s assets. This restricted her ability to use the assets, required her to account for every penny of the assets each year, and required her to pay court costs and attorney’s fees to do so.
Then, when the son reached age seventeen (17), he got into an argument with his mother and left. He moved out because he knew that he would be getting his inheritance within a year. Kids instinctively separate from parents in the early teen years, as any of us with teenagers can attest! The main leverage parents have to continue to encourage children is financial. Ordinarily, children are willing to stay with their parents until they have acquired the skills they need to go out and make their own way. However, when the financial balance is upset, children may be harmed by the assets they acquire.
Preventing children from receiving assets at eighteen (18), creating certainty in who will raise the children, and responsibly providing for them are goals that using a Revocable living trust for your planning can achieve. How much better would it have been for the family if the life insurance proceeds were left in trust for the child, with the mother appointed as trustee and able to use her discretion to invest and spend the money to raise the child without court supervision.
There are many aspects to family dynamics that come into play during the estate planning process. This is but one example. But it’s a good one!
SEPTEMBER 11-17 IS NATIONAL ASSISTED LIVING WEEK
Americans are living longer than ever before. Eventually, many of us will require nursing home care or assisted living. How many? Studies indicate that one in two women and one in four men will reside in a nursing home at some point in their lives.
The National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), a division of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), helps Americans celebrate our aging citizens each year with an official “National Assisted Living Week”. In 2011, the celebration runs from September 11th through the 17th. During this time, assisted living facilities and nursing homes across the country will bring together nursing home residents, staff, families and community members for events, promotions and games honoring seniors.
This year’s theme is Forever Proud. It was chosen, in part, to remember the tragic events of 9/11/01 ten years ago and how our country pulled together in a spirit of unity and pride afterwards. On another level, the theme was chosen to address pride in other areas as well: pride in a lifetime of work well done; pride in skills mastered and goals accomplished; pride in the achievements of family and friends.
As an estate planning attorney, I applaud the efforts of the NCAL and hope that you will take part in this year’s celebration. We also hope that National Assisted Living Week serves as a reminder to you about the importance of long-term planning. If your current plan does not incorporate legal tools and strategies to protect your assets against the high cost of nursing home or assisted living care, now would be a good time to contact us to add this important component.
In a similar vein, if you, a loved one or a dear friend has recently been informed that they will need to enter a nursing home in the near future, we may be able to obtain assistance from Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other sources to help cover the costs. Even if you or someone you care for is already in a nursing home and has been denied such assistance in the past, we may still be able to help.
As our nation reflects upon the events of 9/11/01 this year, we hope you will feel a surge of pride not only in our country, but also in your own accomplishments thus far in life, and for those yet to come.
In keeping with the theme of August as “What Will Be Your Legacy?” month, we would like to introduce you to “Priceless Conversations”. Share the meaning of your life, the events that shaped your decisions and which causes and people have significance. Thoughtful reflection gives heirs a sense of the wholeness of your wealth and the financial decisions you make. We have a tool for sharing your life story with future generations called “Priceless Conversations” – a precious gift that integrates legacy building into your estate planning.
Recording a “Priceless Conversation” is a way for us to make tangible the “non-financial” dimensions of your wealth for you and your loved ones. Using a handful of interesting questions and a digital recorder, we help you share and save the lessons and experiences of your life. There is no homework, no tedious research, no writing, and no camera. We help you turn a simple chat into a touching and lasting treasure. The process is simple, practical and fun. “Priceless Conversations” can be individual, family, or group events.
Leaving a legacy involves more than just dollars and “cents”. Help future generations have a “sense” of who you are.
When you’re gone, how will you be remembered?
At the end of the day, how will your life have made a difference?
When all is said and done, what will those you love say about what you’ve done?
What have you accomplished with your wealth?
Not just your money, but all the wealth – the real wealth – you have at your disposal?
Whose lives have been touched by your life?
Let us know if you wish to explore how recording “Priceless Conversations” can benefit you.
JULY IS NATIONAL RECREATION AND PARKS MONTH
Let’s take a break from discussing boring new Legislation. Did you know that 75 percent of Americans live within two miles of a public park or recreation facility, and that more than 75 percent of us visit them each year? In recognition of the importance of parks and recreation facilities in our lives, and to foster the well-being of our environment and communities, the National Recreation and Park Association designated the month of July as Recreation and Parks Month in 1985.
As your estate planning law firm, we tend to focus on the financial security of you and your family. Of course, we are also concerned with your physical and emotional well-being. This is why we wholeheartedly support National Recreation and Parks Month and hope that it will serve as a reminder for you and your loved ones to take advantage of our valuable resources. Here are just a few of the benefits afforded by taking advantage of what America’s parks and recreation facilities have to offer:
• Improved physical and mental health. Recreation and active living can help increase life expectancy by as much as two years and make for a more balanced, happier life
• The development of specialized skills, a positive self image and creativity in children and grandchildren
• Increased ability to concentrate and learn
• The opportunity to build stronger family relationships by spending quality time together
• And, perhaps most of all, the opportunity to get out and enjoy time spent with family and friends in a beautiful setting
If you would like to learn more about the parks and activities near you, visit NRPA.org. Then, take advantage of the next nice day, gather your family and friends together, and head out to the nearest park for a little recreating!