Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Death of a Thriller

Michael Jackson entertained us for nearly all of his 50 years. And, unfortunately, his death continues to be a source of attraction for millions. Attention is now focused on whether the singer died with a valid will. Current news stories report that a will from 2002 is his most recent, and may be filed as soon as July 2nd. Reports indicate that his estate is divided between his mother, three children, and various charities. While most people do not have an estate with assets and liabilities in the hundreds of million dollar range, many people do have young children.

One valuable lesson from his early death is that the only valid way for a parent to name a guardian for minor children is in a will. Through proper planning, parents can nominate the person(s) who should raise children, and who should manage the finances. This is an issue that can rip families apart. Take the time to think through the decision now, and hopefully it will never come to pass.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Compassinate Choices' Speaker in Madison

As a member of the First Unitarian Society, I receive the Madison Unitarian newsletter. Reading the most recent edition, I noticed that Barbara Commbs Lee, who is an activist with Compassionate Choices, will be speaking at the Society on July 12th. Compassionate Choices is a national right-to-die organization, with a local chapter. Lee's speech is entitled "Death with Dignity, Religious Freedom and Authentic Wholeness". This is an important and controversial topic, if you would like to learn more you may want to attend the service at either 9am or 11am on July 12th.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bid on an Estate Plan!

Regularly I donate my legal services to charitable organizations. This year, as in the past, I have donated a gift certificate for 50% off an estate plan, with a limit of $150, to the Angel's Wish Auction. Here is a great opportunity to be charitable, and take care of your estate plan. It can be used towards a will, trust, or powers of attorney. You must be over 18 and reside in Wisconsin. Good luck bidding! To view all items up for auction, click here. The auction ends June 30th at 5pm.

Why Angel's Wish? Our two cats were both adopted through the organization, and it is one way in which I give back to a wonderful non-profit.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Will of Michael Crichton

The author of Jurassic Park, Michael Chrichton, died last year and his estate is possibly more interesting than his books. One daughter, a son born 3 months after he died, 4 ex-wives, and a widow. Hollywood lives may be extreme, but a lesson learned from this case is to make sure a will mentions children born or adopted after the will is executed. Yes, his will mentions his daughter, but not his son. For more, visit Portfolio.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Parents, Children, and Trusts

When I work with parents who have young children, I usually recommend that they create a testamentary trust. This is a will, but it also has a trust embedded within it. If both parents die (or the parent in a single-parent home), a trust comes into existence. There is a nice summary of why a testamentary trust works well for families with young children on a web site I monitor. As always, it is best to consult with an attorney before creating any documents. Usually, if you take the time to explain your situation to a professional, and you'll be pleased with the end result.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Green Cemetery

Interested in an eco-friendly burial? Have you considered a green cemetery? Many people find the idea intriguing, however, the effort to bring a green cemetery to Wisconsin (or the Midwest) still needs help. I serve on the Board of Advisors for the Trust for Natural Legacies. The organization is still conducting a land search, but hopes to have a functioning green cemetery soon. To learn more about TNL and green cemeteries, check out the most recent newsletter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Five Wishes

Often I will have clients or seminar attendees who ask me about the Five Wishes form. This is a form that is designed to take the legalese out of advance directives. Yes, it may be easier for the person to understand....but according to this blog post, it may also deminish the legal effect of the document. These documents may initially make estate planning more affordable, but not if in the end you need to hire a lawyer to do a guardianship or litigate a form. As I often say, it is less expensive to bring a lawyer in to set something up then to hire one to clean up a mess.

If you are thinking about advance directives, good for you. Just make sure you are investing your time and money into something that will hold up if needed.

Long-term care insurance via the government

In this AP story, it appears that Senator Kennedy has proposed that working Americans can purchase a long-term care insurance policy from the government. The plan would cost $65/month, and pay (after 5 years) not less than $50/day.

Interesting idea. We'll have to see what comes out of Washington when all is said and done.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Decline in Charitable Giving

Giving USA reports that charitable giving to all kinds of non-profits was down 5.7 percent in 2008. No surprise given the state of the economy. Despite the drop, Americans still donated $307 billion. NPR has a nice article on the topic. Giving may be down from the year before, but Americans still appear to be donating a large sum of money. As I previously wrote, if you are considering a donation, you may want to use www.charitynavigator.org to evaluate the organization.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fees for TODs and PODs?

Reading listserve emails for the elder law section of the State Bar, I noticed one that said a client was just informed by a large brokerage house (unnamed) that they would now be charging fees for TODs (transfer on death). These forms, basically a beneficiary form, allow a person to name a person or persons who should receive the asset upon death. The beauty of these forms is that they (usually) allow a person to avoid probate....the assets transfer upon death. All that is needed is a death certificate and a form from the company. But, in this world of squeezed financial markets, fees appear to be popping up. The unnamed firm is charging $75 to have the form completed, $50 for each change, and $200 when the person dies.

I'm a frugal person, and this is not common practice...or at least it hasn't been. My advice, shop around for another broker. If they are charging for this, what else are they charging for?