Friday, July 29, 2011

Estate Planning for Expectant Moms

It's July 29th, a normal Friday for most. Not for me, today is my daughter's 1st birthday. As my second child, I thought I would be more prepared than I was upon my son's arrival. But, my daughter had other plans. She arrived 3 1/2 weeks early, and has been a source of delight in our live ever since. Today, as we celebrate her first year, I am away from the office. I want to use this post to offer a few suggestions for expectant mothers in terms of estate planning...don't put it off, your little one may arrive before you think:
  1. Create or update your paper work now; life is calmer than it will be for the next year;
  2. Make sure you have a power of attorney for health care that allows your agent to act if you are pregnant;
  3. Make sure your power of attorney is on file with your physician, OBGYN, and hospital -- the doctor and hospital are usually two separate entities. Have these documents at your medical team's fingertips. Hopefully they will not be needed, but in case, make life easier by being organized and prepared;
  4. Complete a will and nominate a guardian for your child -- no one will replace you, but take charge and tell the court who would be the best option if the father is not able to act (i.e. common accident, deceased, or simply not a part of your child's life); and
  5. Review and update your beneficiary forms. If you have a testamentary trust (meaning a trust in a will) name the trust not your child. Keep copies with your estate planning documents.
These are 5 thoughts at the top of my mind -- anyone else have suggestions?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Green Burial Option In California

Based on this post, it appears that a green burial site will be coming to an area south of San Francisco. According to the post, parcels of land associated with Pursimia Creek are being transferred to the Coastside Land Trust. More and more, green burial sites are appearing in the US.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wisconsin's Delinquent Tax Payers

Wisconsin's Department of Revenue has released it's current list of delinquent tax payers (those owing $5,000 or more). This information has always been public record, something probably enhanced by the use of the internet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When To Have "The Talk" With Baby Boomers

"The Talk", no not the one involving birds and bees, but the one that comes at the other stage of life. When and how to broach this topic, it's a question that occupies a lot of mental time for countless children of Boomers and beyond.

My father passed away in 2009 following a short illness, he was 67 and still lived at home. The talk was never needed. My mother, now a widow, is 67 herself but functions at the level of an 87 year old. It's a delicate dance, talking with her about programs and services that can allow her to live independently. Harder yet is attempting to plan for "what comes next". Her ability to stay in her home is severely limited compared to what my father faced; she took care of him, she is now on her own.

These thoughts emerged while reading an article on this topic. One phrase jumped out at me, take it in stages. Don't go from driving to no driving at all. Gradually slow down. The article makes it sound easy, however, it does not discuss what to do if your parent is unwilling to accept your assistance or face the reality of their decline. Another topic all itself, and not an easy one for society to address.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The World of Wisconsin Deeds

Working up a deed today, I came across a new situation. A client has come to be after the death of her husband. The deed to their home was in both names....she thought. If so, we can complete the HT-110 to remove his name, placing it in her name only. To do this we need the original deed. I went onto Tapestry and discovered that the deed for the LOT was listed, but it did not reflect the home later built on the lot. One quick email to the Dane County Register of Deeds confirmed that we can use that original deed, nothing would have been created upon building the home. Once again, the HT-110 will help keep a widow's home out of probate.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine....

When you spend your days thinking about illness, death and taxes, life can get serious really fast. Thankfully there is humor in the world. Here is a little "estate planning" humor, provided by my father-in-law:

Subject: A Living Will

A man and his wife were sitting in the living room and he said to her, "just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.

His wife got up, unplugged the TV and threw out his beer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Documentary - The Last Chapter

Recently I came across an article about a documentary that was shown at The Jewish Healthcare Foundation titled "The Last Chapter". It is described as a personal account of the hospice process. A quick Google search did not show any other listings, which is unfortunate as it appears to be in interesting film. Has anyone heard more about this or know if it is available to the general public?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Same-Sex Couples and the Federal Estate Tax

Same-sex couples may be able to say "I do" in a handful of states, New York the most recent, but those vows do not help them in the area of planning for estate taxes. Federal law does not currently recognize same-sex marriage, so use of "marital deduction" in the world of estate taxes does them no good. The result, a need to stay abreast of taxes and take control to structure their assets accordingly. Here is a great article that looks at the issue in depth; Headaches for Same-Sex Couples, Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Charitable Giving

I am always delighted to include charities in my clients documents. And I am equally delighted to donate my own funds to charity as well. This month I am proud to be a sponsor of the John Muir Chapter's, Sierra Club, here in Madison, upcoming event. Locally grown, Nationally known will be held Thursday, July 21st, 6pm- 7:30pm, at Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation (431 Charmany Drive). It will be an evening to celebrate locally grown foods and grass roots activism.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Zumba Class Helps Fight Effects of Parkinsons

Earlier this month I read an inspiring story in the Wisconsin State Journal -- titled Moving With A Mission, it spotlights a local zumba class (latin dance) that is designed for those diagnosed with Parkisons disease. As an estate planning and probate attorney, my work hours are dominated by planning for illness, death and taxes. This article offers encouraging news about how latin dance steps have been show to slow the disease's progression! Good news is always welcome.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Your Trust Names M&I Bank

Are you one of the many people in southwestern Wisconsin that has M&I Bank and our Trust Company named in your will or trust? If so, it is time to pull out your documents and determine if that nomination language covers organization's new name. On July 1 the acquisition of M&I by BMO (Bank of Montreal) became final. Making minor changes to your documents now, assuming they are not flexible (i.e. assumed a name change down the road), is far easier than having a headache down the road.

As always, consult with your attorney to ensure you obtain accurate legal information. This blog is not intended to distribute legal advice.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Estate Planning Documents Are Too Personal

My jaw dropped earlier this week when a client handed over a will that was drafted for her, by a different attorney, last year. There, after her name, was her Social Security number. Amazed I asked if she had paid anything for these documents. And sadly she had; her husband was terminal at the time. Why was I so shocked? It is no longer common practice to put Social Security numbers or other personal information in what will one day become a public document. The concern -- identity left. If your estate planning documents (wills, powers of attorney, etc.) contain your Social Secuirty number, it might be appropriate for an update.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wisconsin's Marital Property Law in Practice

I'm married to an electrical engineer, and for those of you who are not, you may not realize how many questions they ask....engineers are very thorough. Especially in the area of finances. Several years ago my husband asked questions related to Wisconsin's marital property law. He understood the part about assets being considered 50/50 regardless of how they were titled, but he could not get his mind around liabilities being 50/50. How can one party be bound to a liability they may never know about. The fuzziness apparently festered in his mind over the years, but was cleared up this past weekend.

Last week I applied for a new credit card for my legal practice. Several days later I received an approval letter. The next day my husband received a letter notifying him that I had applied for credit, on my own, giving him notice to this new source of liability. And with that letter, Wisconsin's marital property law became a bit more clear in his engineering mind.

As always, please consult your own attorney for legal advice -- this blog is for reflection, not legal representation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Charities Loose Exempt Status

Last month, 275,000 charities in the United States lost their "exempt" status. What does this mean for you? Future donations will not be deductible on your taxes. So, if writing that check is motivated by a deduction, check the this list first to make sure it will still count. Most of the charities lost status for failure to form 990-N.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Domestic Partner Benefits Upheld By Wisconsin Circuit Court

On June 20, 2011, a circuit court in Wisconsin (Dane County) upheld Wisconsin's Domestic Partnership law, which was signed by former Governor Jim Doyle in June of 2009. The court's holding stated that the law did not violate the marriage amendment because it does not elevate a domestic partnership to the status of a marriage. For more on the decision, click here. Note, this was a circuit court decision, and is likely not considered binding. More likely than not, this case will filter into the higher courts of Wisconsin. Stay tuned.

Vacationing Without the Children

As a mother of young children, I read a lot of parenting material. As an estate planning attorney, I read countless articles on wills and other important documents. Recently I came across a blog post that fell into both categories; proper legal planning when mom and dad are going on a solo vacation. Written by Attorney Rania Combs of Texas as a guest post on Attorney Daneille G. Van Ess' blog, it is a concise list of steps you may want to add to your vacation to-do list.

  • update your will or create one so that a guardian for minor children is listed. Without one, the courts would decide;
  • create a health care authorization for your children -- if you are away, who has permission to get the medical attention if needed;
  • create a list of important names, numbers, and accounts -- doctor, health insurance company, hospital your family uses, how to reach you on vacation;
  • and make sure people can access said documents.
I have yet to travel sans children, but when I do, this information will be useful.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

In honor of July 4th, I am taking the day off and spending it with my family. If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, you can participate in a reading of the Declaration of Independence through the Hill Farms Neighborhood Association. I'll be there!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Learning More About Life Insurance

Here is a great little article put together by on life insurance. It contains 10 "did you know sections". The first caught my attention; life insurance companies are not obligated to track down named beneficiaries nor are they required to track Social Security data about deaths. What does this mean -- you may die, the policy will go unpaid, and stay with the company, not your heirs. This highlights how important it is for your survivors to know about all of your financial holdings. Keep a folder with a payment stub or account sheet for each asset: life insurance, retirement accounts, annuities, etc. If you want to learn more about life insurance, this is a useful article to read.