Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Upcoming Seminars on Estate Planning - Stoughton and Madison

Tomorrow, April 28th, I will be giving a free seminar at the Stoughton Library through WBBIC. The seminar is open to all, and will address the needs of anyone over 18, male or female, in relation to planning for illness, death, and taxes.

And Saturday morning I will be doing the same seminar, for a small fee, through the UW Mini Courses at the Union.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Post Office Locates Missing Ashes - The Importance of Planning

Last week the local news ran several stories about a man who flew to Hawaii to scatter his recently deceased mother's ashes. The ashes were shipped via the US Mail, but did not arrive in time for the planned ceremony. In fact, initial stories reported the ashes were lost. Later the postal service stated that the ashes had been shipped via a slower method; Express mail would have had them there in 2 days. Sadly, this is not what the son had been told at the post office. This story will hopefully have a happy ending and that one day the family can return and complete the desired ceremony. It also illustrates the importance of 1) letting your family know your burial wishes, and 2) anticipating a variety of snafus in planning.

Wisconsin residents have the ability to complete a free form, issued by the State of Wisconsin, called the Authorization for Final Disposition. It allows them to appoint a first and second choice person to handle burial/cremation arrangements. It is available on the Department of Health Services web site.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Poem: End of Days

Driving to the office last week I turned on Wisconsin Public Radio, and caught the brief Writer's Almanac segment. The poem was moving, and made me think about my clients and the decisions they make when completing living wills. Here is a literary take on the nuts and bolts of my practice. The Writer's Almanac web site has an audio link, it is worth a listen.

End of Days

by Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you—
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise—sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover's arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning's hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose

I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Promession - the latest in green burials

It's Earth Day, and I wanted to share an eco-focused blog post today. Earlier this month I came across on article about a Swedish ecologist/biologist who has developed an alternative to burial and cremation. She has called it promession:

Promession reshapes, dries and allows the body to be cared for by the soil. It offers a very natural connection with nature and a more appealing way to consider death.

mponent from the corpse.

Within a week and a half after death, the body is frozen to -18 degrees Celsius and then submerged in liquid nitrogen, a substance that Promessa Organic claims does not cause any environmental harm.

The body now very brittle is then treated to vibrations of specific amplitude that reduce the corpse to a fine organic powder, both hygienic and odourless. It finally is laid in a biodegradable container made of cornstarch.

“The remains are buried in a shallow grave and the living soil turns it into compost in about six to twelve months,” says Wiigh-Mäsak, who recommends planting a tree or rosebush next to the grave as a symbol of the deceased, knowing that the composted soil will support the plant’s life.

“It’s a beautiful and more joyful way to understand where the body has gone,” she says.

The entire promession is a closed and individual process, meaning that once the body is placed in the machine, or prometor, human hands do not handle the remains again.

To date, promession has been tested on the carcasses of hundreds of naturally expired pigs and cows. Wiigh-Mäsak planted roses above the containers and proclaims ‘excellent results.’

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Estate Planning Seminar, Stoughton Library

Next week I will be giving another seminar on wills and other important documents. The seminar is coordinated through WWBIC and will be held at the Stoughton library.

Understanding and Preparing Your Will

Thursday, April 28th from 6 - 8pm
Stoughton Public Library

Everyone over the age of 18 should consider estate planning!
Learn the key elements of estate planning and receive resources
to enable you to complete a plan of your own.

This program is brought to you by the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and the Stoughton Public Library.

Registration is required.

To register, call WWBIC at 608-257-5450.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Tax Day

It's that time to year again, tax day. This year it falls on April 18th. I came across this nice compilation of jokes related to taxes on cnbc. Enjoy:

To help ease the pain, here are a bunch of hilarious quotes about taxes:

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
— Albert Einstein

“The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.”
— Will Rogers

“The problem is that you keep thinking about it as your money.”
— IRS auditor

“Worried about an IRS audit? Avoid what's called a red flag. That's something the IRS always looks for. For example, say you have some money left in your bank account after paying taxes. That's a red flag.”
— Jay Leno

“It's income tax time again, Americans: time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”
— Dave Barry

”I just filled out my income tax forms. Who says you can't get killed by a blank?”
— Milton Berle

”I'm spending a year dead for tax reasons.”
— Douglas Adams

“The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
— Ronald Reagan

”If you are truly serious about preparing your child for the future, don't teach him to subtract — teach him to deduct.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don’t get wet you can keep.”
— Will Rogers

“Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.”
— Gerald Barzan

“The taxpayer — that’s someone who works for the federal government but doesn’t have to take the civil service examination.”
— Ronald Reagan

“I’m proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money.”
— Arthur Godfrey

“Did you ever notice when you put the words “THE” and “IRS” together, it spells “THEIRS?!”
— Author unknown

“People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”
— Author unknown

”I love America, but I can't spend the whole year here. I can't afford the taxes.”
— Mick Jagger

“Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.”
— F. J. Raymond

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16th - It's National Healthcare Decision Day!

Your taxes are probably done, so now tackle another unpleasant task -- completing your power of attorney for health care, living will, and power of attorney for finance.

Learn more about National Healthcare Decision Day by visiting its web site. You can find free forms, stories, and more.

Remember, completing these forms is a gift to your loved ones.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetically put, Esther Rauch does a wonderful job addressing the issue of talking about death. This excerpt is from an op ed that appeared in the Bangor Daily News.

Many of us will have written wills, making sure that our coveted possessions are distributed according to our wishes after we die. Few of us have made plans for our own end-of-life goals of care before death. We need to talk about end-of-life care with our families, our physicians, our lawyers, our financial planners, our spiritual advisers and anyone else who can help us to plan for what happens to us as we lay dying.

Emily Dickinson was right in pointing out the “solemn industries” of death. Before death, however, as we move somewhere toward the end of life, we need to enact the solemn industries of dying. We must remember that we are mortal and therefore we will die; we should be prepared.

Esther Rauch is a retired vice president of Bangor Theological Seminary. This column is derived from a talk she gave at Ethics Grand Rounds at Eastern Maine Medical Center as part of a panel on the topic of dying and death.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Privacy and the Living Revocable Trust

Do I need a Living Revocable Trust? That is a question many clients pose to me. The answer is usually no. However, there are a few situations that make a living revocable trust a good idea. One is when the clients wish to keep their financial affairs and wishes private. It is technique often employed by the rich and famous, including the late Elizabeth Taylor.

As for the disposition of the estate, who will get what? Taylor structured her will as a "revocable living trust"—which is generally a private contract between the decedent and trustees (who include, in this case, her son with second husband Michael Wilding, Christopher E. Wilding). Unless her heirs dispute the division of the estate and file a lawsuit questioning the validity of the trust, it will likely remain private.

In an email, Taylor's attorney, Paul Gordon Hoffman, wrote that as the actress "wished to keep her personal and financial situation private, I cannot confirm or deny" any matters not in the public record.

Living trusts can complicate matters, and should not be rushed into. If you think you need one, you should consult with an attorney who focuses on estate planning and probate. Beware, there are companies that sells these documents, but they are not lawyers and do not actually transfer any assets...meaning they are useless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Donate It For Charity Auction?

Yesterday I was working with some new clients, and when I asked how they wanted the 1930 Model A Ford bequeathed we hit a road block. The car is "his" and he adores it. Neither his wife nor his children have any interest in it....he looked to me and said, "do you have any ideas?" I did. I suggested that he leave it to a specific charity for them to auction of as a fundraiser. He is considering the idea and will let me know next week. This is just a nice little story about how personal a will can be, and how simple things can make a difference in the operating budget of a non-profit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16th

National Healthcare Decisions Day is fast approaching. According to Pew Research Center study, 71 percent of Americans have considered their end-of-life treatment preferences. However, very few of them have communicated these wishes to their loved ones or physicians.

In the past five years, four out of 10 Americans had a friend or relative suffer from a terminal illness or go into a coma. Most of them had to deal with the medical crisis along with the issue of withholding life-sustaining treatment. Unfortunately, waiting until there’s a medical emergency is often too late. At that point, many patients are unable to communicate their wishes.

There is now a web site,, where you’ll find free advance directives forms for every state, along with other resources.

Some topics are hard to talk about, but as I tell my young children, the easy approach doesn't make it the right approach.

I agree with this op ed, communicate your thoughts, do an advance directive.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Free Estate Planning Seminar, St. Joseph Hosptial

I received this press release, offering a free estate planning seminar in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, through St. Joseph Hospital, the evening of April 28th. I am not affiliated in any way, however, I routinely give seminars and like to spread the word. In fact, that evening I will be giving a seminar on Wills and Other Important documents at the Stoughton library. Contact the hospital to find out more information:

As women take on the roles of aunt, wife, mother and grandmother, they may forget about their own needs. The Friends of St. Joseph's Hospital hope to reach those women with an informational seminar on estate planning.

Three local women, all experts in their field, will present the Women's Estate Planning Seminar from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. Thursday, April 28, in McDonald Hall at St. Joseph's Hospital, 2661 Highway I. The presentation is free and includes a light dinner.

Estate Planning of Women is a seminar presented for women by Heather Hunt, attorney with Wiley Law, S.C.; Betsy Barnes, CPA with Wipfli, LLP; and Stacy Pickerign, director of Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel. The women will discuss financial and estate planning, tax implications, your estate plan and end of life issues.

To attend, call St. Joseph's Hospital's Development Office at 715-717-7397 before April 20.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gifting and 529 Plans

I came across a nice little article, Stern Advice: Should you buy a 529 for your unborn grandchild? that discusses the pros and cons of 529 Plans (College Savings Plans). With two small children, I am well versed in the world of 529s, but I know that is not the case for everyone.

A 529 Plan is like an IRA, however, the funds are dedicated for educational purposes. Each plan has an owner (I'm the owner for both of my children's accounts, my husband is the successor), and a child is the beneficiary. We make annual deposits and receive a deduction on our State income tax (we use EdVest, Wisconsin's plan). The funds will grow, hopefully, and our children can take the money out to pay for college, grad school, etc.

529s offer an alternative to an "educational trust". Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, anyone can open an account, list someone else, or themself, as the plan beneficiary, and begin depositing money. The article I read briefly discusses a loop hole in the gifting law:

You're allowed to give $13,000 a year to another person without triggering a gift tax. (And that applies to each spouse, effectively doubling the limit for a couple giving money away.) Federal rules allow you to do five years of 529 funding at once without triggering a gift tax. But changing the beneficiary of a plan is the same as giving a gift. So if the plan exceeds $65,000 when you change the beneficiary, you could end up either owing gift taxes on some of the amount transferred, or reducing the amount you could leave in a tax-free estate down the road.

As always, a blog post is not legal advice. Please contact an attorney to discuss your situation in detail.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Woolen Caskets Across "The Pond"

Inspired by a 1667 law past by Parliament, a marketing intern in England hit on a new use for wool....woolen caskets.

The coffin's exterior is 100% British wool with six jute handles attached; the interior is lined with cotton. Each coffin also has an embroidered woolen nameplate. To keep it all natural, no dyes are used, so the coffins only come in two colors: white or brown. "There's a beauty about them; they're soft and comfortable-looking," Hainsworth says. But how biodegradable is wool? According to Hainsworth, one local farmer collects wool waste from the mill to fertilize his rhubarb fields. "It does rot down fairly well," Hainsworth says.

The TIME article does not mention distribution plans for the US, but I'm sure we'll fall suit soon.

Have You Pulled Out Your Will Lately? No, Maybe You Should

This afternoon I was chatting with a return client on the phone, an elderly man. A few years ago I drafted a power of attorney for finance for him and his wife. No, on the urging of his son, they want to meet with me about updating their will and exploring the possibility of a Transfer on Death Deed. I asked when he'd completed his prior will. He opened the envelope and exclaimed, "Oh my Goodness, it's signed but NOT dated!!!". Sadly, this is not the only time client of mine have discovered unsigned documents completed by other attorneys. In fact it is the second time in two months. Thankfully for me, I was not involved with the previous documents.....if so, I'd be reviewing my malpractice insurance materials. Lesson for you -- don't assume your documents are signed correctly, double check. And maybe triple check.

As always, it is never wise to read a blog for legal should consult an attorney. This post is meant for education and reflection.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Madison Public Library Foundation Offers Free Seminar on Wills

While researching the language for a bequest in a client's will, I came across a post indicating that the Madison Public Library Foundation is offering a free seminar on estate planning. It appears to be free and open to the public. I have no idea if an attorney is presenting the information, but it might be worth your time to check it out.

A workshop on wills, taxes, and the 2011 changes that affect you and your family.

Wednesday, May 4

2:00 pm

Hawthorne Branch

2707 E. Washington Avenue

Thursday, May 12

10:30 am

Goodman South Madison Branch

2222 S. Park Street

For more information or to RSVP contact the Foundation office.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Green Burials in Taiwan

I came across this blurb on Radio Taiwan, reporting that the Government of Taiwan is encouraging the Taiwanese people to consider green burials.

"Ashes, if scattered beneath a tree or flowers, can help nurture the soil," said Huang. "And burials at sea are able to help undersea species. It's generous to do so as it shows your love of the earth and your willingness to save limited resources for the next generation."

Green burials are beginning to become more popular in the United States. Here in Wisconsin there is a non-profit devoted to supporting the green burial movement -- the Trust for Natural Legacies. They define green burials as:

Green burial, or natural burial, avoids non-biodegradable materials like metal caskets and concrete, and toxic embalming substances. This allows for natural decomposition, which respects the ecological cycles of life and death. Cemetery nature preserves (or conservation cemeteries) can also protect thousands of acres of important natural areas.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Odd Wills

All too often clients will say, "I'd like to leave my house so-and so -- can I do that?". My answer? "Of course, you can pretty much do whatever you want". Now of course, there are some limitations, but individual wishes can, and should, play a role in drafting a will or trust. Extreme examples are highlighted in this San Francisco Gate article -- 10 Strange Will and Testaments.

Regardless of how much money or assets a person has, they need a last will and testament to ensure that their belongings are left to the parties they intend after death. But at times, those last words often include some unexpected details. Here are ten strange will and testaments of celebrities, inventors and heiresses who made some unusual last requests.
As always, please remember that this blog is meant for discussion purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gift Tax Returns

Yes, tax day looms, and it is just not a deadline for income tax forms. Also do, but often overlooked, are gift tax returns. The giftor, not the recipient, is responsible for filing the form.

If you gave more than $13,000 in cash, property or gifts to anyone other than your spouse in 2010, you must report the gift on this tax return. But misunderstandings abound and many Form 709s that should be filed are missed.
This article, by Deborah Jacobs, does a nice job summarizing when and who needs to file a gift tax return. Addressed are special considerations for married couples and people gifting to a 529 Plan.

As always, blog posts do not constitute legal or tax advice. You should consult an attorney and or tax accountant if this situation fits your life.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unclaimed Funds in Wisconsin

Local news reports are announcing that the State of Wisconsin is seeking to return unclaimed properties to rightful owners. Assets include items left in safe deposit boxes and unclaimed stocks and bonds. It is probably a good idea for you to check the list for your name, or that of a loved one who has died. It is on the State Treasurer's web site.

Friday, April 1, 2011

5 Wishes

The church I attend, The First Unitarian Society, is offering a course on 5 Wishes -- a form of a living will, also known as an advanced directive. While this is not something I use for my clients, it may be of interest to my readers. Details are as follows:

Five Wishes: Prepare Your Advance Directive Now

Tuesday, April 19 Time: 1 – 3:30 p.m.
Fee: $10 pledged/$15 non-pledged
Location: Courtyard ABC
Facilitators: Carol Ferguson and Lisa Shervin

Five Wishes has become America's most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. It was developed by Aging with Dignity, a national non-profit organization with a mission to affirm and safeguard the human dignity of individuals as they age. Mother Teresa of Calcutta served as the inspirational foundation for its formation. Five Wishes helps you express how you want to be treated if you are seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. It deals with all of a person's needs: medical, personal, emotional and spiritual. During this two hour class, participants will be provided with the Five Wishes booklet and each section in it will be discussed. If participants wish to complete their booklet at this time, members of the FUS End of Life Task Force will be available to witness signatures. This is a legal document in the state of Wisconsin. Also covered in this class will be information on current trends in hospice care in Wisconsin.

Carol Ferguson is a lay minister at FUS, a nurse, and a Hospice volunteer. She is also a member of the FUS End-of-Life Task Force. Lisa Shervin is Director of Access at Hospice Care.

Five Wishes: Prepare Your Advance Directive Now, Pledged, $10

Organizing Your Will and Other Documents

My type A personality is a great asset when it comes to my profession. What comes naturally to me, organization, does not come all that naturally to many of my clients. Here is one idea that may help the organizationally challenged get things under control -- a 3-ring binder.

I have a 3-ring binder with subject dividers. Instead of saying "Math", "Science", and "History", mine say:
  • Power of Attorney for Finance;
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care;
  • Will;
  • Beneficiary Forms;
  • Instructions; and
  • Important People to Contact
I then insert the appropriate documents behind each divider. Instant organization which will make any updates you do far easier. And, should a sudden illness or death occur, my power of attorney or personal representative can pick up the binder and have everything they need at his/her finger tips.

Organization -- it goes a long way!