All posts by Quiet Strategy

YEAR IN REVIEW – 2019

2019 has been a year of growth for the Rebecca Mason Law firm. 

Early in 2019, it became clear that the firm’s workload was too high for me to be out of the office two full days each week at the Municipal Court.  After I made sure that the court had transitioned from its carbon-less paper / typewriter system to a computer system, I stepped down from serving as a local judge at the end of February.

I was truly honored to have the opportunity to serve our community as its Municipal Judge.  The voters put their trust in me, and I believe I served with integrity and treated everyone who appeared in my court fairly.  It was a difficult decision. 

But it was the right decision. 

Refocusing all of my professional efforts on estate planning, probates, and guardianships has allowed the firm to significantly expand our client base and provide even stronger personalized customer service.

Estate planning is on nearly everyone’s to-do list.  All too often it is the first item to get de-prioritized as life happens.  But failing to plan can result in leaving behind a pretty big mess for your loved ones.

In 2019 we dramatically improved efficiencies in our process.

Our office keeps the momentum going when a client takes the first step of coming to the initial consultation.  Our team has been able to consistently provide to estate planning clients the first draft of their estate plan within two weeks – often in just one week – of the initial consultation, and we have improved the timing of the will signings, with nearly every client signing his or her estate plan within 30 days of our initial consultation.

This year, we also had several huge successes for our guardianship clients, and we had some interesting probates involving some pretty remarkable people.  I am blessed each day to have this opportunity to walk a difficult walk with people who have lost a loved one and help ease their load.

Refocusing also allowed me to spend more time with my family.  I was able to coach my daughter Eleanor’s U11 soccer team.  I haven’t played since college and it was incredibly fulfilling helping the girls learn and watching them fall in love with the sport.  For many, it was the first time they ever played soccer. Both of my daughters also participated in Girls on the Run, which culminates with a 5K at Miller Stadium in Milwaukee.  I was able to train with the girls and ran the 5K alongside Amelia.  And little Cory and I have been able to spend quality time reading the Harry Potter series together.   

As 2019 comes to a close, I am filled with gratitude and peace.  If I had the fortune of working with you this year, thank you.  If our paths did not cross this year, please know that I am here to help and hopefully we will meet in 2020!


Year in Review – 2020 Planning Resources

Estate Planning: a Gift for your loved ones
https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/10/estate-planning-gift-loved-ones/

Why everyone needs an estate plan
https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/06/why-everyone-needs-an-estate-plan-%ef%bb%bf/

Estate Planning: a Perfect Side Dish to Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving can be a happy time to visit with your friends and family. People often take this time to reflect on what you have to be thankful for and often that is your loved ones.

It is also a perfect time to talk about your estate plan. 

One of our clients started a tradition a few years back.  On Thanksgiving after the meal is eaten and before too many drinks have been consumed, he sits down with the son who will eventually take over as successor trustee.  He shows his son where he physically keeps his estate plan and other planning documents.  Walks him through where all the family assets are held.  He highlights what has changed over the previous year. 

If you are fortunate enough to enjoy spending time with your family, why, you ask, would you interrupt the joy by talking about your death?    

Why?  Because your estate plan is a gift to them.

Take the time to think about all of your investments, real estate, and accounts.  Contemplate all of your log-ins and passwords to your financials, your social media, and your digital libraries.   Consider your monthly and annual expenses.  Now imagine you are suddenly gone tomorrow.  Would your husband or wife know what to do?  Your daughter or life-long friend?

A friend was recently bemoaning the fact that her brother left no will and a mess that she now had to clean up without any idea as to what he wanted.  She is living the reality that your estate planning is – more than anything –  a gift to your loved ones.

When you fail to organize your documents and execute your estate plan, you are leaving your loved ones in quite a predicament.  We have opened probates that require us to call through every local bank and credit union trying to figure out where the deceased had accounts. We have had the surviving loved ones bring in boxes of financial documents not knowing whether their life insurance policies are still good, or whether retirement and investment accounts have been cashed out or rolled over into a different account. 

Tracking down assets can be time-consuming and expensive.  More importantly, you leave your loved ones with an ever-present uncertainty.  Did they find everything?  Are they wrapping up your affairs the way you wanted?

The Holiday Season is upon us.  When you gather, find a way to talk about your estate plan with your family.  If you don’t have your plan yet, you may be able to get one before the holidays if you act now.   It’s a good time to take the opportunity to start talking about how you want your things divided as a way to begin the process.


Resources:

Mass Mutual Blog Post: https://blog.massmutual.com/post/thanksgiving-estate-planning

Rebecca Mason Law Blog Post: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/10/estate-planning-gift-loved-ones/

You Can’t Take It With You! – A Halloween Candy Story.


After a night of trick or treating, our son consumes nearly all of his Halloween candy before we make it home.  If it were left up to him, he would eat the entire bucket that night. 

In contrast, one of our daughters will first organize her candy into chocolate, gummy, hard candy, etc.  She will then eat just a few pieces of her candy that night and limit herself to one piece of candy per day to make it last as long as possible. 

She certainly shows a great deal of self-control.

But at what cost? 

Inevitably, as the winter holidays approach, I will throw out a large amount of her old, now stale, Halloween candy to make room for the candy canes, peppermint kisses, and chocolate treats.  She ends up missing out on a good portion of her Halloween candy. 

Now, I am not advocating eating an entire bucket of candy in one day.  But perhaps living life to its fullest and enjoying what we have while it’s still good isn’t the worst approach. 

And given that this is now an annual occurrence, perhaps it makes sense for her to make a plan for that excess Halloween candy and give some away while it’s still fresh.

I met with a potential client at his home who was in the end stages of a terminal illness.  He was living at home with his sisters providing 24-hour care.  His mental capacity was slipping.  He had good days and not so good days.  He wanted me to draft a will that gave his estate to his sisters and their brother and to disinherit his children as they had been estranged for decades.   When I came back to his home to review his will, he was having one of his not so good days and was angry with his sisters because he didn’t want to eat his lunch and they were being pretty persistent that he needed to eat.  He decided that he was going to take his money, his boat, and his truck with him and not leave anything to his family.  I explained that he couldn’t take it with him when he passed.  He insisted he would find a way.

Needless to say, we did not execute a will that day. 

He passed a little while later without ever executing a will.  His estranged children will inherit everything.

None of us know when we are going to die.  But we do know that you can’t take it with you.  While we are here, we can live life to its fullest.  Maybe eat a few extra pieces of Halloween candy.  And if we are lucky enough have something left when we die, we can have a plan in place long before we lose the capacity to do so to make sure the transfer of wealth goes smoothly and according to our wishes.

Our own Halloween Candy – Rebecca Mason Law Resources:

https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/10/estate-planning-gift-loved-ones/

Elder Law Attorney v. Internet

In the age of Pinterest boards, YouTube videos, and political Tweets a “do it yourself” mentality pervades our society. DIY can be a good route for home decor, it’s not always the best idea for estate planning. An experienced elder law attorney can help you put together an estate plan that works for you, your beneficiaries and your assets.

DIY estate plans can have catastrophic consequences.

A client hired our elder law firm to help with the probate of his dad’s estate.  Her father had remarried later in life after his kids were grown and his wife also had children from a prior marriage.  His wife passed first and left everything to dad.  Dad frequently discussed his intent for all their children – his and his wife’s – to inherit equal shares of his estate.  Dad prepared a will using an online legal service. 

The will was clear about how he wanted his estate distributed, however it was not signed in front of two witnesses.  A fatal flaw for a will in Wisconsin, and one an elder law firm would probably not make.  It therefore does not control the distribution of his estate’s assets.  Without a will, his children are entitled to inherit everything, cutting out his wife’s children.

Online Legal Services can Create Significant Problems. 

Another client came to us after her partner passed.  They had never married.  Her partner created a will using an online service to leave her everything and it was correctly executed.  Unfortunately, the forms were not completed correctly, with the beneficiary portion was left blank in the final version.  Without being named as a beneficiary, she was not entitled to any of the estate. Instead it was distributed to estranged relatives.

Hiring an Elder Law Attorney Is Less Expensive in the Long Run

For many, the biggest draw of DIY estate planning websites is the low cost. However, a DIY estate plan can ultimately be more expensive. Many elder law attorneys charge flat fees for estate plans, whereas legal services for a probate are billed hourly. If the DIY will fails or is contested, the costs will far exceed the costs of hiring a lawyer to draft your plan originally. 

Lawyers are Experts

elder law lawyers know how to handle the complicated situations that can arise in estate planning. Owning a business, marrying more than once, and having a disabled child are just a few examples of complexities in estate planning. Generic online forms are often not equipped for these issues. Working with an attorney guarantees that your loved ones will be taken care of, no matter how intricate your family tree. 

State Laws Matter

Estate planning is at the intersection of several areas of law. Estate planning involves dealing with real estate, taxes, and health care, among other things. As many have found out Laws also vary widely by state, which online estate planning tools don’t always account for properly. In order to make sure that your estate plan is valid and aligns with your wishes, it’s important to work with an experienced elder law attorney in your state. 

Maximize Value

Beyond ensuring that your estate plan is valid, elder law attorneys can help you maximize the value of your estate. After learning more about the contents of your estate, your attorney can help determine exactly which documents you need and how you can avoid unnecessary taxes. 

An elder law attorney can work with you to identify your goals for your estate and make them a reality.


Resources:

Check out some relevant articles:

Forbes Articles:

Is Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning a Valid Option?

The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills

Rebecca Mason Law Blog Posts:

National Health Decision Day

Estate Planning: A gift for your loved ones

When Beneficiary Designations Fail

Beneficiary designations are an efficient and effective way to transfer your inheritance to your loved ones without them having to go through a costly and lengthy probate.  In many cases, it is relatively simple.

As an example, let’s imagine our client, Sue, is a widow with two adult children. Sue wants them to inherit her estate in equal shares. She names her son and daughter each as a 50% beneficiary on her:

  • Money Market accounts
  • Certificate of deposits (CDs)
  • Savings Account

After Sue passes, her children complete a request to the bank for the distribution and submits the request with a copy of her death certificate. Both children receive their 50% share of the Money Market, CDs, and savings account within weeks.

Although this process can work well, it is risky to have beneficiary designations serve as your only means of estate planning.  You should always couple this with a Will or a Trust.  This is because there is potential for beneficiary designations to fail, resulting in your estate plan not meeting your goals.  Two of the most common ways beneficiary designations fail are: (1) you are mistaken in who you believe you named as a beneficiary; and, (2) the person you named dies before you.

The first problem has an easy fix

You can contact each of the financial institutions that hold your assets and ask them to mail you a document confirming who you have named.  Usually this request can be made by phone.  You may also be able to log in to an account online and obtain this information electronically.

Let’s assume Sue is recently a widow and thought she and her late husband had named their two children as contingent beneficiaries. Following her attorney’s advice, she calls her bank and discovers that she, in fact, has no beneficiaries named. They mail her a form to name her children. She completes it and brings it into her local branch. First problem solved.

The second problem can be more complicated

Each financial institution (your bank, credit union, etc.) has their own policy on what happens if your named beneficiary predeceases you.  Common ways financial institutions address predeceased beneficiaries are that their share passes instead:

  • To the other people you named who survive you; or,
  • To your estate – resulting in the need for a probate. 
Beneficiaries

In addition, although some financial institutions allow you to name contingent beneficiaries, not all financial institutions treat contingencies the same.  The two common ways contingent beneficiaries are treated by financial institutions include:

Turning back to Sue: now assume Sue’s son tragically predeceases her. After Sue passes, her daughter contacts the bank and is told that under their policy, because a named beneficiary predeceased Sue, his share must be paid out to Sue’s estate. As a result her daughter inherits her half outside of probate, but the other half must now go through the lengthy and costly probate process. Because Sue’s will divides her estate assets between her son and daughter, her daughter will also inherit half of the probate assets. The other half will go to her son’s children. This was not what Sue wanted. She intended for her son’s children to inherit his full half of the estate assets.

As you can see, some of the policies of the financial institutions may align with your estate planning goals.  But there may also be unintended consequences that significantly alter your plan. The only way to know how each of your financial institutions will handle a predeceased designee, however, is to contact them and ask them to provide their policy on contingent and/or predeceased beneficiaries.  It is essential to with an estate planning professional to ensure that your beneficiary designations compliment your estate planning goals.


Resources:

Johnson Bank – 6 Estate Planning Steps to Take Now

https://www.johnsonbank.com/Resources/Articles/2014-06-18-Estate-Planning-Steps-to-Take-Now

Rebecca Mason Blog Posts

If friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow?

Cliff Jumping

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

Henry David Thoreau

A little earlier this summer, we took our kids to Door County for the weekend with a group of friends.  The pilgrimage to Door County seems to be a standard for many families.  And this is for good reason!  It is beautiful, restful, and there is some kind of magic that seems to always happen there that rejuvenates you and allows you to reconnect with your loved ones.

During this year’s trip, we took our kids — 7, 8, and 10 — cliff jumping at the Sand Dunes State Park.  So we literally got in the car and drove about an hour to tell our children to jump off a cliff.  It was my first time and theirs.  If you’ve never been, please know: that last step right before your first jump is utterly terrifying.  But the plunge into the water is exhilarating. 

In my law practice, I help people plan for their death and ensure their assets are properly distributed to their loved ones after they pass.  We walk a difficult walk alongside many.  We get to know our clients and their families as they struggle through some pretty tough times.

Given my day job, it’s probably not surprising that as I stood at the top of the cliff before taking my first plunge, I paused to reflect and was comforted knowing my family would be OK because my affairs were in order.  You know, if I did not survive when I defied my mother’s advice and actually followed my friends and jumped off that cliff. 

Holding the hands of my daughters, we counted to 3.  And then we jumped, continuing to hold hands as we leapt off sturdy ground and launched ourselves through the humid summer air into the frigid Lake Michigan waters.  As I resurfaced to the sounds of their shrieks of laughter and pure joy, I absolutely found “my eternity in [that] moment.” We have all had those moments.  And may we have many, many more.

Most people put off estate planning because we don’t want to think about or talk about our death.  It does no good to live in fear of the inevitable.  I was reminded of this quite clearly as I prepared to jump of that cliff.  In knowing your affairs are in order truly gives you peace.  I am not ready to die.  I do not want to die any time soon.  Yet, we can’t control when that will happen.  (Although my mom would say, choosing not to jump off that cliff makes it less likely to happen that day.)

But you can make sure everything is in order so that you can be confident in taking (calculated & safe) opportunities to “live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, [and] find your eternity in each moment.” 

1 thing your Graduate might not Be Considering…

My Facebook and Instagram feed is filled with excited posts about friends’ children’s graduations and their decisions about which colleges they will be attending. 

This is certainly an exciting time of the year. So much effort has gone into preparing for this moment!

At the risk of spoiling this celebratory time, however, I recommend you consider the following before they leave your nest:

What happens if your now-adult child experiences a medical emergency?

Why should you think about your child experiencing a medical emergency before she or he heads to college? Imagine receiving a call from your child’s college roommate that your child was in an accident and rushed to the hospital.  Then imagine you call the hospital and they tell you that they have no legal authority to share any information with you about your child’s condition. And you have no ability to weigh in on the medical decisions.

“The risk is real. Accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults. A quarter-million Americans between 18 and 25 are hospitalized with nonlethal injuries each year.”


Deborah L. Jacobs – Forbes

Many do not know that, in Wisconsin, once your child turns 18 you can no longer be involved in his or her medical decisions without your child’s express permission.  What happens if your child is unconscious or otherwise unable to grant this permission following an accident or illness?  Without planning ahead, you have to have a hearing in court to obtain a guardianship. 

No person should be spending time in law offices and courtrooms while their child suffers in a hospital.  You belong at your child’s side. 

The resolution is easier than you think

With a Health Care Power of Attorney document, your adult child can designate you (or another adult) as his or her Health Care Agent to receive information and assist with decisions if he or she is not able to do so.

While you are considering this power of attorney, also consider discussing who your child wants to help with your child’s finances. A Power of Attorney for Finances and Property allows your child to name someone to access financial records and make decisions about your child’s financial affairs if they are unable to do so.

During these festive months before you send your child off to college, I encourage you to have a conversation with them about who they want to help them in a medical emergency. It only takes a moment. And then schedule an appointment to meet with an attorney to ensure your child is covered before he or she leaves for college.


Resources:

Forbes Blog Post. Two Documents every 18 year old should sign. https://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2014/08/15/two-documents-every-18-year-old-should-sign/#55b6ff0b6e33

Women and Wealth

Women control more private wealth than ever before.  According to the Boston Consulting Group, in 2010, women controlled approximately $34 Trillion of the private wealth.  By 2020, we are expected to control $72 Trillion of the private wealth, which represents a full 1/3 of all private wealth. 

How is wealth shifting to women?

Women are increasingly business owners, entrepreneurs, primary or sole breadwinners, and are likely be the surviving matriarchs of our families:

  • There are approximately 10.6 Million women-owned businesses in the United States – and women are responsible for 70% of all new business startups in the United States.
  • In families that have a husband and wife, 40% of wives now make more than their husbands.
  • Two out of three women over 75 are single – many due to the death of spouse, as women frequently outlive their husbands. 

The Great Wealth Transfer is coming

In the next 25 years, it is anticipated that 45 Million families in the U.S. will transfer 68 Trillion from the Baby Boomer generation to the next generations. As a result of women living longer, most of the private wealth that changes hands in the coming decades is likely to go to women. 

Yet, the wealth management industry has historically focused on male clients.  Perhaps that is why many women do not engage in financial planning or wealth management.  Interestingly, however, of women who increased their involvement in their financial affairs, 90% reported an increase in their quality of life.  It is empowering to take control over your finances.  Seek out one who is a good fit for you.

Estate planning lawyers have similarly catered to males.  Not surprisingly, studies show that 70% of widows change their estate planning attorney after the death of their husband.  I see this frequently in my estate planning practice with many widows choosing to move their business to my firm.  Often because they want to work with a woman-owned firm.  Just as frequently, it is because we treat them with dignity and do not assume they lack sophistication simply because they are women.

In Closing

The shift in wealth is in process.  From one generation to the next.  And women stand to benefit greatly over the next few decades.  For women, having a plan to manage our wealth and to protect our legacy is critically important.  Part of protecting our legacy is ensuring that our money supports the people we love and the causes we are passionate about.  Once you have hired that wealth management or financial planning professional, you can work with them to see how best to grow and preserve wealth for your children and how to best support the charities that align with your values.  Then turn to your estate planning lawyer to help you make sure that your wealth transfers seamlessly to the next generation and that the charities you currently support are not forgotten.


Resources:

Blog Post: Leveling the Playing Field
by: Boston Consulting Group

https://www.bcg.com/documents/file56704.pdf

Rebecca Mason Law Estate Planning:

https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/estate-planning-estate-administration/

On Earth Day We asked… Can Estate Planning be Eco-Friendly?

My husband and I try to instill in our children a love for nature.  This photo is of our middle daughter, Amelia, as we hiked through Johnson Park in Racine last fall.  Living in such a beautiful part of the world, it’s easy to spend hours outside with loved ones. We take the kids hiking and camping whenever we have a spare moment. 

Not only do we get to experience nature, but we also unplug and experience each other without interruption.

Attorney Mason and her daughter hiking on Earth Day in Racine County
Attorney Mason and her daughter, Amelia hiking in Racine County Wisconsin

As we consider Earth Day, we are proud that our love for nature is being passed on to our children.  I am also proud to extend this ethos beyond our families weekend adventures. It has become a fundamental part of my firm’s estate planning practice.

Have you considered a green burial?

We routinely ask our clients if they have considered a green burial.  A “green burial” is an Eco-friendly approach to burial. Traditional burial method fills your body with a formaldehyde solution and encases your body in a casket. Caskets are often not bio degradable.

During a green burial, your body is not embalmed. You are buried in a container that is 100 percent bio degradable.  Sometimes no casket at all. The body is wrapped in a cloth.  Did you know you can also choose to be buried with a tree sapling? This metaphorically and actually allows your body to become the tree.

What else can be done on Earth Day?

We also found ways to cut waste by offering a “paper-lite” estate plan. With the help of newer tech and our fantastic millennial staff, we have a secure portal. The secure portal allows us to share drafts and obtain client feedback without using paper.  Our clients can also securely access their estate plan from literally anywhere in the world (as long as there is internet access). 

In Wisconsin, the final Estate Plan needs to be signed to comply with state law.  But digitizing large portions of the estate planning process can significantly reduce the use of paper and our impact on the earth. While at the same time improving the process.

We know these efforts are not huge changes. But each small change we make adds up.


Earth Day & Estate Planning Resources:

The Green Burial Council: https://www.greenburialcouncil.org


The Biodegradable burial pod that turns your body into a tree:
https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/world/eco-solutions-capsula-mundi/index.html


It’s National Healthcare Decision week!

April 16th kicks off National Healthcare Decision week.  Now is the time to commit to yourself and your loved ones that you will have that difficult conversation about medical interventions you want and don’t want when you are unable to make decisions on your own.  Perhaps because you are at the end stages of a terminal illness.  Maybe you are in a coma following an accident and likely to recover. 

Through your Health Care Power of Attorney, you designate someone to make decisions when you are unable to do so.  But your agent needs your guidance.  Having a conversation will give your agent peace of mind when tough decisions need to be made. 

We always recommend having a discussion about general desires and some specific situations that could arise.  We also know it is a tough conversation. But it is a meaningful conversation. Additionally you will learn a lot about yourself.  You will also walk away from the conversation with a deeper bond with your loved ones.

Here are a few questions to begin the discussion:

  1. Would you want your health care agent to take into account the effect (financial, emotional) your treatment has on family?
  2. Do you have a strong preference to die at home if it is at all possible?
  3. If you could plan it today, what would the last day or week of your life be like? Where would you be? Who would be present? What would you be doing? What would you eat if you could eat? How about your final words or last acts?
  4. Are there medical treatments you fear?  Does it relate to the possibility of pain? Loss of dignity while undergoing the treatment? Being alone? Being overly-sedated or in a lingering state of unconsciousness?
  5. Imagine that you have Alzheimer’s disease and it progressed to the point where you cannot recognize or converse with your loved ones. When spoon-feeding is no longer possible, would you want to be fed by a feeding tube?  So would you want other life-sustaining treatments that might prolong your life? For how long?
  6. Imagine you are seriously ill, doctors are recommending a course of treatment that usually has very severe side effects, such as pain, nausea, vomiting, and weakness that could last for months.  Would your willingness to endure the side effects depend on the likelihood of regaining your health?  What if there is a 1% chance?  20%? 50%? 75%?  Does your answer change if you are likely to regain your health for only another 6 months to a year?
  7. If you were near the end stages of a terminal illness with a condition that caused much pain, would you want to be sedated, even to the point of unconsciousness? Or would you want to be awake to be with your loved ones even if it meant experiencing a significant amount of pain?
  8. Imagine you have dementia causing confusion. So only half the time, you recognize and interact with friends and loved ones on a simple level. You also have circulatory problems, which resulted in one leg being amputated because it developed gangrene. Now, the other leg develops gangrene and the doctor recommends amputation because the condition could be fatal. So would you want the operation?

Have the conversation.


Rebecca Mason and her team are extremely professional – a true pleasure to work with. They ask questions you haven’t thought of and are proactive and thoughtful in their approach to helping you get your plan finalized.

Kimberly K. – Customer Satisfaction Survey – 4/2019

Share your views so that your loved ones and your medical team will know what care and services you prefer, and what treatment you would refuse, in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes.

National Healthcare Decisions Week Resources:


Wisbar – Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16: Download End-of-Life Planning Guide and Start That Conversation:

https://www.wisbar.org/NewsPublications/InsideTrack/Pages/Article.aspx?Volume=8&Issue=7&ArticleID=24735


Wisconsin Medical Society:


Rebecca Mason Blog: Estate Planning: a Gift for your loved ones