Tag Archives: estate plan

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


National Healthcare Decisions Day

April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day. NHDD is an effort to encourage people to sign a Health Care Power of Attorney and engage in conversations about end-of-life care.

Advance care planning involves making future healthcare decisions that include much more than deciding what care you would or would not want.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.nhpco.org

What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A Health Care Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to direct the care you want to receive at or near the end stages of a terminal illness. You also appoint an agent to make decisions about your health care if you become incapacitated. The Health Care Power of Attorney provides written instructions to your agent addressing potential medical situations. 

Your Health Care Power of Attorney is one of the most important parts of your estate plan. In Wisconsin, if you do not have this document, nobody has legal authority to make decisions on your behalf (unless you obtain a court-ordered guardianship).  Not even your spouse.  And if you have children over 18, you have no authority to help your child if they are incapacitated without an advanced directive.

Too many people die in a manner they would not choose, and too many of their loved ones are left feeling bereaved, guilty, and uncertain.

National Healthcare Decisions Day – theconversationproject.org

Why is it so important to appoint an agent?  Medical advances make it possible to prolong your life despite a serious illness, or injury. Simply remaining alive may not be your only goal.  Many of us desire to have a quality life. Few want to simply exist hooked up to a bunch of machines. Your right to have medical treatment withdrawn or withheld is constitutionally protected. The right remains valid even if you become incapacitated

You also have the right to receive medical treatment even in cases that your doctors have deemed further treatment to be beyond hospital ethics standards or applicable laws. But you need an agent to advocate for you.

Leaving your care to local laws and Hospital Ethics guidelines?

As you can imagine, end of life medical care can – and often does – raise ethical and legal issues about your rights, the family’s rights, the medical profession’s role, and the state’s role. Part of this process is having a conversation about your end of life desires.

92% of people say that talking with their loved ones about end of life care is important, but only 32% of people actually have had the conversation.

National Healthcare Decisions Day organizers – nhdd.org

It is critically important that you talk with your loved ones. Especially a person you choose as your agent. Discuss your desires should you lack the capability to make decisions for yourself.  This is a personal decision. Your loved ones will want guidance to carry out your wishes to the best of their abilities. A surprising number of families, disagree over what an ill relative would prefer.  A Health Care Power of Attorney will help to make your wishes clear.  It will give your agent peace of mind.

National Healthcare Decisions Day Resources:

End-of-Life Planning: Free Guide Starts the Conversation

Wisconsin is participating in the annual initiative, and with Gov. Tony Evers’ proclamation, the State Bar of Wisconsin offers members and the public free access to its new end-of-life planning tool.


Bring a shovel: One community’s NHDD story and lessons learned for the future

Wisconsin Community NHDD Blog Post by:
Ellen Koski, MPH, CPH. Director, Fox Valley Advance Care Planning


The Conversation Project

National Healthcare Decisions Day Partner organization


With Dementia, More is Needed than a Boilerplate Advance Directive

Katy Butler, a New York Times author & end-of-life speaker. Post is adapted from her book, “The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life”.  More info on Katy here. 


NHPCO Blog: National Healthcare Decisions Day

Inspire, educate and empower the public about the importance of advance care planning.


Estate Planning: a Gift for your loved ones

National Healthcare Decisions Day related content Blog Post by: Rebecca Mason

Wisconsin blended families & Estate Planning

In Wisconsin when you are blending families, estate planning should be a higher priority on your to-do list.  The stakes can be quite high if you fail to plan. However with the proper estate plan, you have the ability to protect your children and your current spouse in the event of your death. 

Things are just a bit more complicated the second time around.

If you are in your second marriage, you have different things to consider in your estate plan.  You are likely a bit older. So, you probably have more assets. One or both of you may have children from a prior marriage.  Perhaps you and your current spouse entered the relationship with relatively equal assets. Perhaps one of you brought much more to the marriage. Each blended family is different.

What happens if you don’t plan in Wisconsin?

When a spouse from a blended family dies without an estate plan, it can be shocking to the family to learn how Wisconsin law distributes the assets.  What if an individual has children from a previous relationship, marries a new spouse, and dies without an estate plan?  In Wisconsin, generally speaking, half of the couple’s assets belong to the spouse.  The other half belong to his or her children from the prior relationship.  

It may be that you think it is fair for your assets to be split between your spouse and your children.  But what if your main asset is the home you live in with your spouse? What if your spouse loses the house because he or she can’t afford to buy out the one-half interest from your children?  Or maybe your spouse was independently wealthy and you believe your children should inherit what you brought into the marriage. 

Complications?

Beneficiary designations and joint ownership can complicate the situation – sometimes with devastating results.  If you name your spouse as your beneficiary on your bank account, he or she will inherit everything in that account.  When your spouse dies, his or her children stand to inherit everything, cutting out your children entirely.  

If you are in a blended family, consider what you have in assets, how much you and your spouse brought into the marriage, how the assets are held (for example, homestead vs. liquid assets). And the current financial security of your spouse and your children.  Then talk with your spouse.  The best approach is to be direct and honest – with yourself, your spouse, and your children.  And then consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your decisions are properly reflected in your plan.

If you are intentional about it, you can plan in a way that makes sense for you and your Wisconsin, Blended family

Racine Elder Law Attorney Rebecca Mason

“The best approach is to be direct and honest – with yourself, your spouse, and your children. “

Racine Elder Law Attorney, Rebecca Mason

Blended Family Resources:

Good Therapy – Blended Family Issues

Blended Families and how they work, Wisconsin Public Radio

Parenthood in America Excerpt for Blended Families

Estate Planning: a Gift for your loved ones

Preparing your estate plan is a wonderful gift that you give to your family and friends. It not only saves money for your surviving loved ones, but it can also avoid unnecessary complications.

“Estate planning isn’t something you do for you. You do it for the ones you love.”

Elder Law Attorney – Rebecca Mason

Estate Planning is all about the details

So much of estate planning focuses on the more obvious assets. For example, your home, bank accounts, and investments. But don’t make the mistake of forgetting about your personal property.

It’s unlikely your loved ones are going to want all (any?) of your stuff. Generationally we are all very different. For example, many Millennials seem to be more agile preferring to live minimally, and able to move across the country for an opportunity. Boomers and Gen X are equally as disparate. Think about what your family would really want to safeguard and what they may need to sell in an estate sale for example.

“Estate planning is often about making it simple for your loved ones to manage your affairs.”

Elder Law Attorney – Rebecca Mason

Does your health care POA provide guidance for care?

Your health care power of attorney is one of the most important parts of your estate plan. When we prepare this for our clients, we include a four-page memo that walks through various questions about your desires for your health care.

Importantly, we also include discussion topics (if you could plan it today, what would the last day or week of your life be like?). So we consider all of these scenarios with specific questions about which types of treatments you would or would not want. Imagine a serious diagnosis of X disease. Would you want a treatment that would result in severe pain and nausea for 2-3 months? Would you be willing to endure the side effects if the chance of regaining your health was 1%? More than 20%? More than 50%?

We encourage our clients to go through the memo with their named agent to give their agent peace of mind when the time comes to decide about their health care. It’s a tough conversation, but meaningful. As a result you find out a lot about yourself and your loved ones.

The Motley Fool Agrees

“Health care and financial power of attorney documents are the most important parts of nearly every estate plan. How you want to live, and how you want to die, are very personal decisions.”

Michael Aloi (TheRetireGuy) Motley Fool

Do you already have an idea of what you want in your Estate Plan?

Our flat fee pricing structure helps make this option more viable.
So if you are on top of things and already have your plan in place, a well-crafted estate plan is a fantastic gift to give.

Planning for your estate and end of life care can fall to the back burner while juggling daily pressures and priorities. However, planning ensures that your wishes are known and followed by your loved ones in the event of a crisis or emergency. Consider these questions when beginning a discussion with family members:

Questions to consider in your Estate plan or conversations with family:

  1. Do you have a will? Where is it? Do family members have access?
  2. Do you have an advanced directive, such as a living will? Or health care durable power of attorney? Where is it?
  3. Who has your power of attorney? Is it the executor of your estate? How can he/she be contacted?
  4. Have you selected a funeral home? Planned or paid for a burial site?
  5. What is the location of essential personal papers?
    • Birth certificates
    • Marriage certificates
    • Dissolution of marriage
    • Social Security
    • Military service records
  6. Where do you keep life, health, property, and long-term care insurance policies?
  7. Where is your checkbook? What bank do you use?
  8. Do you have a safe deposit box? Where is it, and is the key accessible? Do you have a list of contents? And do family members have access?
  9. Have you made a list of investments (savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, etc.)?
  10. Have you considered including a plan for your digital records and assets in your estate planning for example?
  11. What are the names and contact information of the financial advisers/institutions that have the investments?

Interesting Estate Planning Articles:

The Estate Planning Gift To Give Your Millennial Children In 2019

“For the Gen X and Millennial generations, estate planning might be the last thing on their mind. Overwhelmed by debt and trying to get their day to day financial lives on the right path, the nagging of their parents might make them resistant to following their advice.
There’s one thing Boomers can do to ensure their children do the right thing when it comes to estate planning: they can make a gift of estate planning to their adult child”

Link:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/megangorman/2018/12/12/estate-planning-millennials-boomers/#45bec9e6230d

by Megan Gorman Forbes Contributor Personal Finance
I write about achieving wealth and how it intersects with our lives.

Now Is The Best Time Of Year For Giving To Family Members

“When you plan to give income-producing property, giving early transfers this year’s income from your tax return to those of other family members, and they might be in lower tax brackets than you.”

Link:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobcarlson/2019/01/15/now-is-the-best-time-of-year-for-giving/#6f87354d76c1

Bob CarlsonContributorRetirement
I research/write about all facets of retirement/retirement planning.

Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich

“Although there are dozens of types of trusts, the most common trust used for these purposes is a revocable living trust. Such a trust allows you—the grantor—to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and in the process can avoid probate and heartache.”


Link:
https://www.barrons.com/articles/trust-estate-planning-51550696439


By Sarah MaxFeb. 23, 2019 8:00 a.m. ET

Thank you for reading! Do you have friends or loved ones who could benefit from this content? Please comment below and consider sharing from our site at the bottom. We would love your comments too! – The Team @ Rebecca Mason Law

Racine Elder Law Attorney Rebecca Mason

Racine, WI Elder Law Attorney – Rebecca Mason

Estate Planning for Gen X

We are all grown up now.  Many of us are married.  Many have kids graduating from high school, some are just starting our families.  Most of us have real jobs, retirement plans, life insurance, and own our home.  Yet many of us have not started estate planning?

Many of us don’t want to think about something happening, but it does. The best time to do your estate planning is now.  Before something sudden and unexpected happens.

With the proper planning, you can name someone to help you with your finances and make health care decisions for you should you become sick or injured and not able to make decisions for yourself.  In your estate plan you can also choose who becomes the guardian of your children if you die unexpectedly. 

Through beneficiary designations or a carefully crafted trust, you can avoid probate.  If you don’t make your own plan, the courts will make the decisions for you.

You have worked hard for what you have. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can protect your loved ones and your assets.

Estate Planning Resources

State Bar of Wisconsin –
Wills/Estate Planning: Answering Your Legal Questions

Rebecca Mason Law on Google Maps

The team at Rebecca Mason Law is ready to help the local Racine and surrounding communities. Our expert staff can help you create a sensible estate plan no matter the size of your bank account.

Why everyone needs an estate plan.

Some people think they don’t need an estate plan because they do not have millions in their estate.  This is far from the truth.  There are many other reasons to make a plan.  If you have minor children, you will want to name the person or persons who will serve as their guardian(s) if something happens to you.  Does your child have special needs?  You can plan so that they can inherit without losing government health insurance and other benefits.  Are you part of a blended family?  Without the proper estate planning, you may be surprised how Wisconsin state law divides your assets.  Do you own a small business?  You can avoid having to probate your business assets with the proper tools. 

Estate planning is also more than creating a trust or a will. 

A comprehensive estate plan includes power of attorney documents that set forth your wishes for your medical care and financial interests if you become incapacitated and names an agent who will ensure your wishes are followed.  These documents are some of the most important parts of your estate plan.  In Wisconsin, no person – not even your spouse – has the legal right to be involved in your medical decisions or even know about your medical needs if you are incapacitated.  You can give someone those rights by naming as your agent in your health care power of attorney. 

It is the same for your adult children.  Once your child turns 18, you need to be named as their agent in order to be involved in their care.  Similarly, no person has the legal right to assist with your financial matters. The documents you need to include in your estate plan will depend on your particular goals and assets.  Along with minimizing taxes and fees, effective estate planning can provide guidance, peace of mind, and lessen burdens for your loved ones.

Links:

Estate Planning @Rebecca Mason Law

Tax Season is a great time to create an Estate Plan Blog

Tax season And estate planning?

We are about half-way through this years Tax season. Did you know the recent changes to the tax laws may impact your estate plan? These changes may have not been anticipated when you created or last reviewed your plan. 

A well-crafted estate plan can help minimize estate taxes. And strategically handle your assets when you pass.  But these documents can become outdated. Especially when there are significant changes to the law, to your assets, or to your family.

Even if you are not affected by the changes to the tax laws during this years tax season. While you are gathering your financial paperwork from the last year to give to your accountant. You can use many of those same documents to make a list of the current state of your assets – such as bank accounts, investments, life insurance, real estate, etc. 

The list of your assets will inform and direct your discussion with your attorney, allowing you to compare this information to what you had when you executed your last estate plan.  If you have never executed an estate plan, you can use the information to begin the process of creating your first estate plan, during this years tax season.