Friday, September 30, 2011

Funerals Give Chance to be Charitable

Here is an interesting article of Times of India. The English is not perfect, but the message is clear. Traditional sending of flowers to comfort a grieving family is giving way to a new trend towards raising funds for a charity.

But Mangalore Chirstians are discovering that the best way to pay tribute to the departed is by alleviating the suffering of others.

Donations in lieu of flowers is also common here in the U.S. If you would prefer charitable donations over flowers, please put that in writing and let your loved ones know. As the article points out, the only people who will not like this idea most likely are flower shop owners.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: The Last Lecture

A small book, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow is a wonderful example of an ethical will, and is an inspiring read. Just over 200 pages, it is filled with savvy, insight, and motivation to live your childhood dreams and enable those of others. If you are a parent or play a significant role in a child's life, it is a must read. Having married an engineer, I took special gratitude in reading Randy's thoughts and comments. Engineers have a unique way of looking at the world -- blunt, but too the point. If you do pick up this book, I recommend having a box of tissues close at hand.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Argument Against Co-Agents for Health Care

One challenge of being an attorney is to convince clients that their well thought out plans are wrong. Case in point -- when clients want all three children to have an equal say in health care decisions.

I've reviewed Wisconsin's statutes and did not find an explicit prohibition on co-agents. However, after posting to an estate planner list serve I can tell that I am not the only attorney to advise against this practice. What happens if they don't agree? What happens if one is not available? And the scenarios continue.

When it comes to naming an agent for your power of attorney for health care I always advise that clients select:
  • someone who is comfortable speaking with medical personnel;
  • someone who can handle seeing you in a very compromised state; and
  • someone who has the time to be at your bedside.
I should add to that list -- pick a someone, not someones. You can have an order of succession, but one is most likely best.

As always, a blog post is intended to spark discussion, not dispense legal advice. I highly recommend you speak with an attorney in your state about your situation before taking action.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Will on File With The Court

Have you named a personal representative in your will, but a small part of you wonders if they'll actually follow your wishes? Are you afraid that your will be lost or destroyed if kept at home? In either case, you may want to consider putting your will on file with the Probate Court in the County where you reside. Here in Dane County, Wisconsin, one can file his/her will with the court for a nominal fee. It is then stored in a vault. The testator's death certificate must be furnished to have the will entered into probate; the original is never released. Word of caution, if you do file your will with the court, leave a clear indication to your loved ones about where it is filed. Without it, you've died intestate -- and that is usually not ideal.

As always, this blog is designed to educate and facilitate discussion. It should not take the place of legal counsel. Please consult with an attorney in your state of residence for accurate and up-to-date laws and requirements.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When a Wisconsin Estate is Valued at $50,000 or Less

In the State of Wisconsin, if a person dies with a probate estate of $50,000 or less, probate can be avoided by using a Transfer by Affidavit form. The key to using this technique is to accurately determine that the decedent's probate estate was $50,000 or less. To do this you need to classify assets as either probate (meaning there was no label indicating what should happen to an asset upon death) or non-probate (meaning there IS a label, or beneficiary form, disposing of the asset upon death). Next, you need to determine the fair market value of the probate assets on the date of death. Common types of non-probate methods include, but are not limited to:
  • transfer on death deed;
  • trust;
  • Pay on Death card (POD);
  • Transfer on Death card (TOD); and
  • joint ownership with the right of survivorship.
My first step in handling a probate file is to make this determination. It can mean the difference between a relatively easy transaction or heading down the lengthy path of probate.

This post is not intended to provide legal advice, but rather educate readers on estate planning concepts. It should not replace consulting an attorney, licensed in your state.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quote on Death and Birthdays

As we say good-bye to Summer and hello to Fall, I am attempting to be more whimsical than usual, I offer you this quote today:

"The day which we fear as our last is but the birth of eternity." - Seneca (Roman Philosopher, mid-1st Century AD).

I will keep this in mind as I celebrate my birthday over the weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Charitable Donations Increase Thanks to On-Line Technology

According to this report, thanks to the ability to donate on-line, charitable donations are on the increase even though economic times are hard. One reason, younger people who may have not donated in the past are using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to donate.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am raising funds for the American Heart Walk on October 8th. One criticism I have received is that the on-line donation forms do NOT accept a pledge below $25. The donor asked "what happened to the idea that every penny counts?" I agree, and have encouraged AHA to adjust it's on-line donation form.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

American Heart Association Heart Walk - Madison, Wisconsin

For more years than I can remember, I will be lacing up my shoes to participate in the American Hearth Associations annual Heart Walk. Why? Advances in cardiovascular disease, medication, and research are the reason my mother is celebrating her 20th hearth attack survivor anniversary this year. It was my freshmen year of college, in the early Fall, when she went to the Emergency Room to find out she was having a heart attack. Her struggles have lasted two decades, and thanks to a pacemaker and state of the art drugs, her despite her cardiovascular disease progression, she has lived to enjoy walks with her grandchildren. Every dollar helps. If you'd like to sponsor my fundraising efforts, you can do so by making an on-line pledge.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cell Phones and Emergencies

Did you know that if you are in an accident and the EMTs arrive, there is a good chance they'll search the contacts in your cell phone for an "emergency" contact listing. Sometimes it is referred to simply as ICE. You can enter ICE or Emergency in your phone along with the associated number. That way, your family/friends can be easily contacted. I've just done mine, will you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing An Obituary

Two years ago yesterday, September 18, 2009, my father took his last breath. He had spent 7 days in palliative care at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin. The first night he was there I stayed with him, at his side. His move to palliative care meant finality. It meant that we'd have to write an obituary. Curled up under a blanket in a chair at his bedside I typed on my notebook computer. It was the hardest thing I've every written. If you are faced with this emotional task, keep the following in mind:
  • include information on life as well as death;
  • provide dates and locations, but be mindful of identity theft (sadly, criminals use this type of information);
  • mention a charity in-lieu of flowers if you are inclined; and
  • be creative and think outside the box.
For more tips on writing an obituary, there are several web sites. If you need a sample, here is the text I wrote for my dad:

Carl E. Gustafson

Born November 20, 1941

Died September 18, 2009

Carl E. Gustafson ended his earthly journey on September 18, 2009. His final days were spent in the palliative care unit at University Hospital and Clinics, where daily he was surrounded by family and friends. His family would like to extend their gratitude to the medical staff at UWHC, especially to the doctors and nurses in the palliative care unit, and to Doctor Adnan Said, who worked with him the past 5 years.

Born at Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, Illinois, his family moved to Wisconsin when he was ten years old and settled on the west side of Madison. Carl attended Middleton High School, and then completed the steamfitter program at Madison Area Technical College. He worked as steamfitter for several years and was a member of the Steamfitters Local Union No. 601. Following a back injury he changed career paths, turning his love of cars into a business. He spent the next 30 years as the owner of a used car lot and auto body repair business; first in Middleton, and most recently in Fitchburg. Many may remember his business card, which proclaimed “buy a car from Gus, and get no fuss”.

In 1970 he married the love of his life, and best friend, Sharon (Lamb) Gustafson. Over the course of their marriage they shared many joint ventures: doubling the size of their first home with their own hands, building a family cabin in Westfield, Wisconsin, and for many years working side by side at the family business.

Over his 67 years Carl made countless friends and was gifted with a memory for faces and names. His family often joked that there was no where they could go without him running into someone he knew. Even on a family trip to Disney World, Carl bumped into friends while waiting in line.

He is survived by: his loving wife, Sharon (Lamb) Gustafson; his son Robert (Rhonda) Gustafson of The Village of Dane, and their three sons David (Ashley), Michael, and Eric; his daughter, Melinda (Charles) Gustafson Gervasi, of Madison, and their son Ian; his twin sisters, Patricia (Rodger) Edgren of Marshall, and Judith (Michael) Jennings of Mt. Horeb; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded into death by his father, Carl A. Gustafson and his mother Agnes (Fitzgerald) Gustafson.

Even though his earthly time has come to an end, his spirit and image will live on in the lives of his wife, son, daughter, and grandsons. A visitation will be held on Thursday, October 1st, from 10:30am – 12:30pm at the Brooklyn United Methodist Church (201 Church St., Brooklyn, WI) and will be followed by a memorial service and private burial.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Leaving An Inheritance For Children Not A Priority For Boomers

Time's on-line magazine recently ran an interesting article on Baby Boomers. Citing a study by US Trust, it states that less than half of Baby Boomers indicate that it is a priority for them to leave an inheritance to their children; only 49% stated it was a priority. I would be interested to see what the statistics are for The Greatest Generation, a.k.a., the parents of the Baby Boomers. From my personal experience with clients, they are both thrifty had have a strong desire to leave an inheritance to the following generation(s).

Why? Speculation is that the Baby Boomers, commonly labeled selfish, believe they've done enough for their children by paying for their education and in some cases helping with the down payment on a first home. The article also states that Boomers feel their children are not well equipped to handle a lump-sum inheritance.

As the mother of young children, ages 3 and 1, I noticed a connection between the first reason and the second. Unless parents give their children opportunities to pay for things, and the opportunity to make mistakes, the children will never develop good financial sense. Having your education paid for or receiving a gift to buy your first home seem wonderful, but it leaves a generation of children who haven't developed those skills. Having financed my own education (all 9 years of it) and working with my husband to save for a 20% down payment on our first home, I'm thankful that as a child I learned how to be financial savvy. Now as a mother I am challenged with the determination to pay for my children's education (529 plans were established for both within weeks of receiving their SSN), but give them the chance to learn about finances before they leave home.

As for those Baby Boomers, they are enjoying their money now. Vacations, fine wine, and other luxuries that they probably skipped while raising children and building those nest eggs. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anniversary of The Last Lecture

September 18th marks the anniversary of "The Last Lecture". What started as a legacy statement by a terminally ill professor turned into a video, book, and amazing legacy. I have not yet read the book, but have requested a copy. Watch for a review in the future. As we approach the anniversary of this famous ethical will, I pose to you -- what is your legacy?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remember a Charity Week 2011 - The United Kingdom

Have you heard of Remember a Charity Week? I hadn't until I came across its web site on a solicitation from an American non-profit. Apparently, in the UK, September 11 - 18th is "remember a charity week". According to the web site, 74 percent of the UK population support charities. However, only 7 percent name a charity in a will. The web site is hoping to change those numbers. What a great movement! I hope to see it celebrated in the US in 2012!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall Seminars - Estate Planning

Hints of orange, yellow, and red can be seen on the trees around Madison. And, with the arrival of fall comes an up-tick in my estate planning seminars. Starting this week, I will be speaking at a variety of venues this fall. Check out my schedule on Gustafson Law Office's web site, and sign up if you want to learn more about wills and other important documents.

If your business or professional organization is in need of a speaker, please let me know and I can put together an informative and entertaining presentation!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Extreme Living Will

Apparently an 81-year old grandmother in England does not trust that having a living will on file with her doctor is sufficient. To make sure her medical team knows her wishes, she has had "do not resuscitate" tattooed on her chest and "PTO" tattooed on her shoulder.

I usually recommend that clients put their living will on file with their doctor, specialist, hospital, and give a few copies to their health care agent. I doubt I'll go so far as to mention the tattoo option.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Workshop On Ethical Wills

Earlier this year I blogged about a book on ethical wills, So Grows the Tree. The author, Jo Kline Cebuhar, is releasing a second book to facilitate workshops on developing ethical wills. The workshop kicks off Ethical Wills Awareness Month, and will be held November 5th, 2011, from 8:30 - 11:45am, in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alkaline Hydrolsis or "flameless cremation"

A funeral home in St. Petersburg, Florida will be the first in the country to offer a new, greener, alternative to dying. Alkaline hydrolsis has been described as "flameless cremation", and involves placing the body in a pressurized drum with water, adding a chemical, and heating the drum. The end product is disposed of through the city water system.

It may not be for you, but learning about your options and putting your wishes in legal form is not only taking control of your life, but easy the burden on those you leave behind.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Henry Vilas Zoo Donation

Recently the local news reported that a local man, Ray Jones, donated a 1920s organ that had been in his family for years to the Henry Vilas Zoo. Here is another example of how average citizens can give back to his/her community. Thanks to his donation, children will be able to enjoy organ music while riding the carousel and playing in the children's zoo. And some of those children are my own, currently ages 3 and 1. From a professional and personal standpoint, I thank Mr. Jones for his donation.

What might you be able to do?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seminar - End of Life Planning

If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin area, there is an upcoming class on End of Life Issues being offered at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Open to members and non-members (nominal fee), it will be held on Thursdays, September 15th - October 13th. You can read more about the course on FUS' web site.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Celebrating Labor Day, 2011

In honor of Labor Day, I have taken the day off from legal practice. I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on issues related to illness, death and taxes. Until then, enjoy the long weekend.