Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jeff Conway: The Importance of Updating Documents

The last illness and death of Actor Jeff Conway illustrates the need to update estate planning documents if and when relationships change. In this story, his ex-girlfriend (emphasis on ex) asserts she has Power of Attorney from 2007 documents; and refused to remove life support even though that was what his family requested.

He has since passed on, but this underscores the need to review documents and make changes if people are named who are no longer in your life.

Vandalism at Cemetery in Milton, Wisconsin

Sadly, $60,000 (estimated) in damage was caused to headstones in a cemetery located in Milton, Wisconsin. The news is running names on damaged stones, and is seeking to contact family. Also, if you have information regarding this damage, you can contact crime stoppers.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Smart Downsizing Tips

I recently came across this article, and thought it offered some logical and sound advice on smart downsizing. One element I especially liked was the discussion of the interplay between gifting and the capital gains tax (paid by the person who ultimately sells an item). So, whether you are looking to downsize, or like me, are the generation that may be the recipient of discarded items, this is a good article to review.

Friday, May 20, 2011

57% of Americans Don't Have An Estate Plan

According to this article, a March 2011 survey shows that 57% of Americans do not have a will. This number is not that surprising to me. People tend to think they don't need one (common among men according to the survey) or think they cannot afford one (common among women says the survey).

In my practice the following are common factors in urging a client to do an estate plan:
  1. arrival of first child;
  2. upcoming vacation to distant location;
  3. sudden death of family or friend that resulted in difficulties for survivors.
I've also seen that once the process is started, at least with my clients, it is easier and less expenses than the client feared.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Isle of Man - Dying Matters Awareness Week

Recently I came across this article on Dying Matters Awareness Week on the Isle of Man. Apparently reluctance to make end-of-life decisions in not purely an American trait. I was particularly struck by one quote:
Kirstie Turner added, “One quote that that always remains with me and which I say time and again is from Dame Cicely Saunders – ‘How people die remains in the memory of those who live on’.
If you live in Wisconsin, you can put your wishes for death on paper by completing:
  1. Power of Attorney for Health Care;
  2. Declaration to Physicians; and
  3. Authorization for Final Disposition.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Donation of Brain Raises Hope

Late last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the family Derek Boogaard decided to donate his brain to a brain bank established at Boston University for study related to athletes and brain trauma. While the news of a sudden, unexpected death of a young person is deeply sad, the donation by his family offers hope that scientist can learn more about head trauma and sports.

I want to emphasize, this does not mean Boogaard died of complications of a concussion. It's just a selfless act by the Boogaards, who believe in these researchers who are trying to raise awareness when it comes to brain trauma.

"Derek loved sports and obviously in particular hockey, so we believe Derek would have liked to assist with research on a matter that had affected him later on in his career," Ryan Boogaard said

Right now, the cause of death of Boogaard is unknown and won't be known for at least a few weeks once test results and toxicology reports are back at the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

Boogaard's funeral will be in Regina, Saskatchewan, although the date is not yet known.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

End-of-Life Planning and Technology

My husband, an electrical engineer, is always curious about the intersection of estate planning and technology. Given his field of work, he is often amazed at the lack of technology in my practice. Wills have to be on paper! But alas, here is a development that combines the traditional elements of estate planning, a living will, with technology.

"Some physicians resist advance care planning out of concern that addressing these issues will rob patients of much-needed hope, Mr. Hozella said. "There is also concern that advance directive documents are poor representations of patients' values and goals, and hence are often not useful for dealing with complex medical decisions that may arise during end-of-life care.

"We've found that a computer-based decision aid can help patients learn about and work through key issues in end-of-life planning, generate an advance directive document that accurately reflects their wishes for end-of-life care, and do so in a way that does not diminish their sense of hope," he said. "This decision aid was designed to address the advance care planning needs of patients, regardless of their medical condition.

"The present study shows that patients with COPD are among those who will benefit from the use of this CDA," he added. "These findings should encourage clinicians, patients and patients' families to use our computer-based decision aid to engage in effective advance care planning."

While this article indicates an increased awareness, I wonder if it will really make a difference? For whatever reason, people, healthy or ill, young or old, do not like to actually sit down and put these thoughts on paper....or in this case, digital media.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Free Shredding Services

I wanted to share the news that UW Credit Union (3500 University Ave., in Madison) will be offering free shredding services later this week:
  • May 19th, 2-6pm;
  • May 20th, 10-2; and
  • May 21st, 9-1.
If you are a member of the credit union, or interested in becoming one, this is a great way to securely dispose of sensitive materials. The documents will be shredded and then recycled.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bequest Benefits Madison Library Foundation

Recent news articles announced that the Madison Library Foundation received a bequest of $3.5 million from a former Wisconsin State Journal news reporter. While the news of such a gift is wonderful (I am a frequent user of the library as well as my husband and young children), however, the attorney in me wonders -- does such a large gift make others not give? News stories seem to focus on large, grand donations. But what about the small ones the occur far more frequently? One of the favorite aspects of my job is including non-profits in a client's will, usually as a contingent beneficiary. Remember, one need not be a Rockefeller or Kennedy to make a non-profit's day. In today's economy any gift is appreciated.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Onion and Estate Planning

Rarely do I come across amusing tid-bits in my line of work, but I did the other day. From Onion TV, a piece on how President Obama has befriended an elderly, wealthy, widow in hopes that she'll "take care of the Nation in her will".

Thanks Onion TV for the chuckle!

Beneficiary Forms - The Final Word

Yet again, here is another case that reiterates, what is on a beneficiary form controls. The facts: women names husband on retirement account, couple later divorces, she never removes his name, then she dies. Her mother and son filed suit, seeking to recover under the plan. The court said no, the beneficiary stands, her ex-husband inherits. Stories like this are the reason I routinely instruct my clients to review beneficiary forms (life insurance, retirement, etc.) to make sure they are up-to-date.

Green Burials -- Not Yet Regulated

According to Tom Barlow, in The Byline, green cemeteries are not regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. As a result, definitions and practices may vary. However, a non-profit, Green Burial Council, has developed a rating system:
  1. Hybrid, which allow burials without anything to protect the casket, and accepts uncremated bodies.
  2. Natural Burial Grounds, which prohibit bodies embalmed with toxic chemicals, any features such as vault lids that would retard decomposition, any caskets not made of a natural material, and the grounds must be designed to maintain a natural appearance.
  3. Conservation Burial Grounds, which “must protect in perpetuity an area of land specifically and exclusively designated for conservation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Organization - An Essential Element of Estate Planning

I always tell clients and seminar attendees that no matter the estate plan, organization is key. Whether it is a basic will or a sophisticated trust, having your papers organized so that others can make sense out of them is invaluable. And, I am not alone in emphasizing this fact. Today I read about a new book, The Estate Documents Organizer, by Julie Jones. It sounds like a great book, worth checking out from your local library of finding on Amazon.com.