Category Archives: Family

Estate Plan: What to do with a problematic in-law?

I see the impact of problematic in-laws on a weekly basis.

To be clear, I struck gold with my own in-laws.  They are extremely supportive and loving.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say the feelings are mutual.  One of the hardest things about social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is not being able to spend time together in person.  Thanksgiving and the rest of this holiday season are going to be particularly difficult.  

But not everyone has a great relationship with their in-laws.  In fact, based on what we see in our office, it is not uncommon for families to have at least one problematic in-law. Someone who is just out of sync with the rest of the family.  

Why does a problematic in-law impact your estate planing?

If you do not yet have an estate plan and you do not have a surviving spouse, Wisconsin law designates your children as the “natural objects of your bounty.” That means your child or children will inherit your estate.  When you have family harmony, this makes sense.  In fact, for those who have the foresight to make an estate plan, most leave their estate to their children (if there is no surviving spouse).  Many of us sacrifice a bit throughout our lifetimes with the hope of passing some inheritance to our children.  It is the natural order of things.

Some things are out of our control

And then your child goes off and marries someone you distain. Not someone who is a little annoying.  Someone who is simply awful, loathsome, and repulsive.  If your child inherits your estate, what happens if she predeceases you? Allows his spouse to consume the inheritance? What if she gets divorced?  

Problematic In-law
(Photo: Gillette Blog)

Part of growing up is allowing your child to make their own choices.  But our choices have consequences.  There are a few techniques you can use in your estate plan to address the problematic in-law.  This is not about teaching your child a lesson.  It is about protecting the inheritance.  

The most extreme option is to disinherit your child.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that one of your most important rights is the power to dispose of your property as you choose and, therefore, parents have no duty to leave their estate to their children.  Nonetheless, disinheriting a child can have significant emotional and financial consequences for your loved ones.  It can be emotionally painful for the child.  It can also deny your child funds that could provide additional financial stability.  Her siblings may feel guilty for inheriting their sibling’s share of the estate.  And it can lead to a court challenge and protracted litigation over the inheritance.  

You have options

In the alternative, you can work with your lawyer to decrease the likelihood that the problematic in-law receives anything from your estate.  The most common approach is to hold the funds in a trust for your child’s benefit and restrict the spouse’s access to the funds.  Then, if your child gets divorced, the assets are protected and preserved for your child.  And upon your child’s death, the funds can be directed to your child’s children (your grandchildren) or divided among your surviving children and/or charities.    

You can also skip a generation and gift the funds to your child’s children.  This is actually a common approach when a child predeceases – even when you like the in-law.  You can accomplish this through outright gifts to your grandchildren or holding the inheritance in a trust for their benefit until they are old enough to manage the funds responsibly.  

Your estate plan, or lack thereof, cannot be corrected after you die.  If you find yourself struggling with your child’s choice of spouse, you would benefit from a conversation with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning.  There may be a way to avoid or minimize conflict with a problematic in-law and maximize your child’s access to the inheritance.


Problematic In-Law Resources:

Blog: Wisconsin blended families & estate planning

by: Attorney Rebecca Mason

Blog: Dealing With Your Child’s Spouse

by: M.D. Jackson


Blog: 10 Tips for Dealing With In-Laws

by: Laurie E. Rozakis, PhD

Pumpkin Spice Estate Plan

New clients in the month of November receive a gift certificate to enjoy Wilson’s Coffee and Tea with your completed estate plan.

Bundled Estate Plan Gift Certificate:

Married Couples – $100
Single Individual – $50

Unbundled Estate Plans – $20

Rebecca Mason Law
Pumpkin Spice
Estate Plan

New clients in November receive a gift certificate to Wilson's Coffee and Tea with your completed estate plan

Bundled Plan Gift Certificate:
Married Couples - $100
Single Individual - $50

Unbundled Estate Plans - $20

Disclaimer:
 
*Contracts must have initial consultation in November and executed prior to 2021



*Contracts must have initial consultation in November and executed prior to 2021

Get Your Pumpkin Spice Estate Plan Started Today:


Online Resources:

Wilson’s Coffee & Tea

https://wilsonscoffee.com/

3306 Washington Ave.
Racine, WI 53405

Rebecca Mason Law

Estate Planning: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/estate-planning-estate-administration/
2020-11-30T14:57:00

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When you love someone with dementia

When you love someone with dementia, you lose the same person twice. 

As defined by the Mayo Clinic, Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities.  Several different diseases cause dementia  Alzheimer’s is one of the most common and well-known forms of dementia.

At Rebecca Mason Law, we counsel many clients through the heartbreaking process of losing a loved one to dementia.  It is one of the most difficult things a family can experience.

The early stages are some of the hardest as you watch your loved one’s memory fade in and out.  In the beginning, many struggle with knowing their memory is fading and that there is nothing they can do to stop it.  Some become belligerent and violent.  While others withdraw.

As dementia progresses, the brain slowly dies.  Many come to a point where they cannot recognize their loved ones. 

Rebecca Mason's Grandma had Dementia

My grandma suffered from dementia.  Near the end of her life, she had no idea who I was — but she could recite word for word the commencement speech she gave to her 8th grade class nearly 80 years prior.  She would ask me why her grandchildren never visited her.   

It is hard.  There is no fix and no easy way to get through Dementia.  You grieve when they forget who you are.  You grieve every time they don’t remember your face, every time you have to reintroduce yourself, every time have a conversation with your loved one about yourself as if you are not you.  And again when they physically die.

By Rebecca Mason


Dementia Resources Online:


Alzheimer’s Navigatorhttps://www.alzheimersnavigator.org/

Alzheimer’s Navigator helps guide Caregivers. You can create a personalized action plan and link to information, support and local resources.


Alz Connectedhttps://www.alzconnected.org/

Get connected to others impacted by Alzheimer’s or Dementia


Rebecca Mason Law Serviceshttps://rebeccamasonlaw.com

Planning To Ensure Your Independence this 4th of July

Jul 4, 2020 | Estate Planning, Rebecca Mason Law Blog

For the first time in 15yrs, we are not celebrating our independence by walking in the Racine 4th of July parade. We are all sad about this and it underscores the uncertainty of 2020.  

Mason Girls Celebrating Independence

As we consider Independence Day 2020, a lesson we can learn from this year is that the future is uncertain. How do we protect ourselves, our family, and our businesses from a sudden loss of autonomy? This year in particular, many of us have had to face this type of concern head on.  Is there a way to be more prepared? A durable power of attorney for can go a long way to help.

The durable power of attorney allows you to name someone who can make decisions for you if are unable. With the durable power of attorney for finances & property, your designated decision maker will have the authority to act on matters related to your finances and property on your behalf. For example, your agent will be able to pay your bills, manage your income and handle your affairs in the way you would want if you could not act independently.  For your health care power of attorney, your agent has the authority to work with your medical team to make decisions about your health care.

Through your estate plan, your chosen decision maker will be able to fulfill your wishes if you cannot act for yourself.

What makes a power of attorney durable?

When you are working with Rebecca Mason to create your estate plan, is durability important? The durability provision means that it is able to be used in the event of your incapacity. This is a critical aspect to your estate plan. While a power of attorney is a vital tool in all respects, you will need it most in the event you cannot make your own decisions.

Power of attorney documents are just one facet of your comprehensive Wisconsin estate plan.

Rebecca Mason Law Resources:

Do you want to discuss your independence?

Contact us anytime:

Happy Father’s Day, dad


Father’s day, like many holidays, can invoke strong emotion. We work with many families who have unresolved issues when a loved one dies. It can be very difficult for loved ones to find closure in these situations.  

Some unresolved issues are so deep and hurtful that they cannot be resolved. 

Father's Day

A few years ago, my father posted on Facebook that he tripped and fell while on a walk and ended up having to go to the ER.  Although we were Facebook friends, we had not talked in years.  He was living in Washington DC and remarried – I had only met his wife once.  He had never met his grandchildren. 

As I read my father’s post, I thought about the families I counseled in my law firm conference room as they struggled through the death of an estranged family member.  Given that a minor fall landed him in the hospital, I worried we might not have much time left.  I decided I did not want that for me and, more importantly, my children.

I reached out to him and extended an invitation.  They came to Racine for a visit with us almost immediately!  My kids were excited to meet them and welcomed them with open arms.  Before the pandemic, they visited us here in southeast Wisconsin regularly, and we all flew out to visit them a few times.

It has been wonderful getting to know each other as adults and watching them with their grandchildren. 

I know it is not always possible.  But, for me, letting go of the past and accepting the present has brought me such peace and allowed me and my children to get to know two amazing people.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.  And happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, and father figures out there! 


Rebecca Mason Law Resources:

Our Services: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/

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

10 questions to ask your loved ones: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/02/28/10-questions-to-ask-your-loved-ones/

Online Resources for Father’s Day:

What to consider when reconnecting with Family:

Real Racine Event Calendar: http://www.realracine.com/events/


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/

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.”