Friday, March 30, 2012

Burglar Targets Homes of Recently Deceased

Once again I came across a news story about a burglar who targeted the homes of recently deceased individuals.  Targets were likely found through obituary listings as well as notices for estate sales.  When sharing the news of a loved ones passing, attempt to keep specifics on the home vague.  I also recommend having someone stay in or monitor the home.  When my father passed away, I asked a neighbor to stop in at my mother's home when were were at the services.  People thought it was odd, but then you come across stories like this and it is not odd.  Just a sad commentary on current times.

Image credit: - free image

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Life and Death on the Prairie

Photography is a hobby of mine, and estate planning and probate is my profession.  As a result, I took double the enjoyment in reading Life and Death on the Prairie by Stephen Longmire.  Combination photographic essay and historical exploration, the book offers insight into life, and death, based on the cemeteries in Iowa.

Stories, photos, America's is a lovely book to read. I also found it very emotional.  One photo documents that death of a child, 5 days before turning one.  Two years later twin daughters, a few months old, died days apart.  All told from the engravings on a stone.  A very powerful reminder of how times have changed for modern parents.  Illnesses are not as severe as generations past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lovely Tribute: UW-Madison Students and Cadavers

Over the weekend I read a touching story about an annual ceremony held by UW -Madison medical students.  Names of those who donated their body to science were read, music played, and roses distributed to surviving family members.  As described, the ceremony is touching for both the families that survive the deceased as well as for the students who will benefit from the donation.  The article appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal this past Sunday.

Click here to learn more about donating a body for scientific study.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charitable Giving and the Tech Sector

This article in Forbes does a great job of underscoring the point that one does not need to be Bill Gates in order to be philanthropic.  I especially enjoyed the part on Elance and how the web site itself is philanthropic in nature.

How are you philanthropic?  What do you look for when giving to a charity?

Monday, March 26, 2012

HIPAA and Estate Planning

HIPAA, short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.  Many people have a vague sense of what this law does, some even think it is called hippo.  In the context of estate planning, it is an important law to be aware of.

First, HIPAA is a federal law.  That means that it controls over state law.  It is under state law that powers of attorney are created.  If your power of attorney for health care does not waive HIPAA or you do not have a HIPAA waiver, your agent may hit a road block when trying to access your health care information.  That seems bizarre, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

In my experience, hospitals and medical offices do not follow HIPAA to the letter of the law.  But pharmacies, long-term care facilities, and health insurance companies do.  Maybe it has something to do with the profit motive.  Regardless, you do not want to count on organizations ignoring the law.

HIPAA -- do you know if your documents waive this federal protection?  Please remember that a blog is not legal advice.  You should consult an attorney for the latest information, specific to your state and situation.

Image Credit: - free image

Friday, March 23, 2012

What I've Been Reading: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Based on the recommendation of a client, I recently read an awe inspiring memoir.  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was written by Jean-Dominique Bauby.  In his early 40s' Bauby, then editor of the French Elle Magazine, suffered a massive stroke.  Following, his only means of communication was to blink his left eye.  While his mind raced on, his body did not respond.  The words in his memoir are poetic, but the method in which it was written is amazing.

Through a series of blinks, and an alphabet arranged by the frequency of a letters use, he dictated the memoir over the course of the summer of 1996 with the assistance of a therapist, Claude.  He blinked when he got to the letter he needed.  She transcribed.

Letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence, Bauby created his memoir.  Suffering from "locked-in syndrome", he takes the reader on an amazing flight of his thoughts, emotions and memories.  The passage describing father's day at the beach with his children and his inability to ruffle his son's hair was one of the most vivid and gripping paragraphs I've ever read.

At just over 200 pages, the chapters are short yet pull the reader in.  No matter the time on the clock, you want to keep reading.  Easily read in one sitting, this is an amazing piece of literature.  It has also been turned into a movie (french), which I will be viewing at some point in the future.

Locked-in syndrome, while quite rare, raises concerns for many clients when they are creating powers of attorney for health care.  If my mind is still there, I want to be kept alive -- that is there general opinion.  After reading Bauby's memoir, it is evident that life after a massive illness can be amazing, but also terribly painful.  It was advances in medical technology that saved his life following the stroke.  Sadly, he died just two days after the book was published in France.

Whether your interest is memoirs, medical ethics, French life, and matters of the heart -- you will find this an enjoyable and moving book to read.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finding Wisconsin Probates On-Line

Open government and the digital age allow people to gain quite a bit of knowledge about probates, and even future probates.  Through the courts on-line record system, known as CCAP in Wisconsin, anyone can look up to see if a probate has been filed, or even if a will is on file at the courthouse (people can file it there for safekeeping prior to death).

Successful searches happen when you have the complete, correct, and full spelling of the person's last name.  I usually just put in the first initial of the first name.  You can limit searches by county; I use the county of residence.  And you can confirm if you have the right file by verifying the date of birth.

Open probates even have a list of all the papers filed in the matter; access by clicking the descending order button in the top right.  Click on printable version if you need a paper copy.

Please remember that blogs are not legal advice, but a forum for discussion.  Please consult a lawyer for advice specific to your situation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Estate Planning in the Real World

Recently USA Today ran an interesting story, and it does a great job of casting light on the reality of estate planning in modern America.  Gone are the days of wills "being read" in a lawyers office, with an audience on the edge of their seats.  It has been replaced by trusts, medical costs eating up a person's net worth in their final years, and of course, the complexity of blended families.

The article ends with a "what to do" section.  My advice, take control of the situation now.  But your wishes on paper, in a legally binding format.  Doing a will gives those you left behind a bit of guidance about what you really wanted.  And if you are facing an illness but are tight-lipped about finances, you may want to reconsider and tell your loved ones just how much that top rate care costs.  Especially if you have "waiters" (used in the article to refer to people waiting for an inheritance that may never arrive) in the family.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I've Been Reading: A Lethal Inheritance by Victoria Costello

Do not let the tile throw you, this is not a drama filled thriller.  Rather, it is a moving account of the author's exploration into her family tree, as well as societal norms, in the area of mental illness.  A Lethal Inheritance: A Mother Uncovers The Science Behind Three Generations of Mental Illness by Victorica Costello is a gripping piece of creative non-fiction.

Organized into three parts, and just over 200 pages long, the author has an excellent mix of personal accounts combined with sociological and scientific data.  The mother of two teenage boys, she is forced to examine the reality of mental illness in her family tree, and herself, when her oldest son is diagnosed as schizophrenic.

From her grandfather to her parents to herself and finally to both of her sons, she pries behind the denial and learns the truth.  With it discovers the increased risk her sons carried in their genetic make-up to developing mental health problems.

The final section of her book includes 10 steps parents can take to minimize the risk of a child developing mental health, which includes: focusing on prenatal health; treating your own mental health problems,  and the importance of family dinners.

Whether your interest is in family trees, mental interests or memoirs -- you will find something to enjoy in this book.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Money Smart Week, April 2012, Madison, Wisconsin

We are about one month from the start of Money Smart Week, and I am delighted to be speaking at the kick off event on April 21st, the Smart Women Money Conference.  Only $20 if paid in advance, the morning event is a great way to pick up financial information.  Sessions include estate planning, mindful spending, and getting your paperwork under control.  Hope to see you there!

Image credit -- Money Smart Week.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Green Burials on the Radio

It's almost March 17th, a day for celebrating all things green.  Here on IDT my tribute to my Irish roots is to share a link to a radio program on green burials!  It takes you to The Larry Meiller Show, March 1st, 2012, on Wisconsin Public Radio.  The segment offers information on what is a green burial and a discussion of the impact of traditional burials on the planet and laws relating to handling the dead.

The guest is Kevin Corrado, facilitator of the Natural Path Sanctuary at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability in Verona, Wisconsin.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Digital Assets -- Don't Overlook Them When Planning

Wills, powers of attorneys, trusts -- they all exist in a paper form.  Yet, our world is moving in leaps and bounds into the digital arena.  Over this past weekend my husband and I were talking about not purchasing any media in hard form.  Instead, we'll buy movies, music, possibly even books, in digital format.  No more worries about scratched CDs or where to store all that "stuff".  Most households are following this trend, and it raises a challenge for estate planning.  Keeping track of your digital assets.

Image credit: - free image

The simple approach I tell my clients is to create an inventory of where you hold assets.  Don't worry about the value or even the passwords.  If something happens AND you have powers of attorney or a will in place, your loved ones will be able to access the assets.  The KEY is knowing where to go.  It will save countless hours and resources.

Here is a list of some of the places you may have digital assets:

  • Email accounts;
  • Web sites, blogs, domain names;
  • Photos, videos, and other documents;
  • Social networking accounts
  • Auto-debit / deposit accounts with banks or retirement accounts.
One of the easiest things you can do I write down which bills are set up for auto pay.  Rarely is a bill sent in the mail these days.  If it goes to your email account, and you are in the ICU, it may go unnoticed for a long time.

Estate planning issues are never fun to face.  But take charge, take a few moments, and you'll be giving your loved ones a true gift should the unthinkable happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's Happening With the Federal Estate Tax

The federal estate tax is currently $5 million per person, with a tax rate of 35%.  That means if you die with less than $5 million, there is no federal estate tax due.  If you die, and are not married, most likely the amount above $5 million will be taxed at 35%.  However, the law as written will expire at the end of the calendar year.  Unless Congress and the President take action, as of January 1, 2013 estates above $1 million will be taxed, and the rate will be 55%.  This WSJ article states that President Obama has proposed changing the law so that the exemption would be up to $3.5 million, with a tax rate of 45%.  As the race for the White House heats up, this will likely emerge as an important issue.  Resolution will probably not occur until after the general election in November.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

IRS Searching for Unreported Gifts

Here is another example of the IRS gathering information to facilitate a review of land transfers between family members for little or no money.  If someone in your life has slapped the name of other family members on the deed to the family home, cabin, land, etc., and did not report it, they may have made a gift without paying the gift tax.  It may take them some time, but more likely than not, the transfer and tax avoidance will come to the attention of the IRS.  As I always say in seminars, it is less expensive to hire an attorney for advice beforehand than to hire one to clean up a mess.  And please keep in mind, a blog post is not legal advice.  Please seek counsel from an attorney in your state.

Image credit: - free image

Monday, March 12, 2012

Laughter Is Good Medicine....

They say laughter is one of the best things for your health.  So, I wanted to start the week of on IDT with a joke a client shared with me last week.

Just before he died, he said to his beautiful Norwegian wife..."When I
 die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me. I
 want to take my money to the afterlife with me."

 And so  he got his wife to promise him, with all of her heart, that when
 he died, she would put all of the money into the casket with him.
 Well, he died. He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting
 there - dressed in black, (whatelse), and her best friend was  sitting
 next to her.

 When they finished the ceremony, and just before the undertaker got
 ready to close the casket, the wife said, "Wait just a moment!"
 She had a small metal box with her; she came over with the box and put
 it in the casket.

 Then the undertaker locked the casket down
 and they rolled it away. So her friend said, "Girl, I know you were not
 fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband."

 The loyal wife replied, "Listen, I'm a Norwegian Lutheran & I cannot go
 back on my word. I promised him that I was going to put that money in
 the casket with him.."

 You mean to tell me you put that money in the casket with him??"
 "I sure did," said the wife. "I got it all together, put it into my
 account, I wrote him a check.... If he can cash it, then he can spend
Enjoy your week, and I hope this put a smile on your face!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Estate of Andy Rooney

Growing up Sunday evenings meant a family dinner and the TV tuned to 60 Minutes.  I am probably one of a small number of 30 somethings that grew up watching Andy Rooney weekly on the TV.  Last November he passed away, at the age of 92.  According to this blog he left behind an estate worth $9 million, to be split equally between his four children.  Unlike many famous Americans, Andy Rooney was frugal at heart -- according to the article he didn't start taking cabs until he was 90!  And he "wasn't into fancy estate planning" either.

Thanks Andy for one last, inspiring story!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pets and Improved Health

Earlier this week NPR ran a story on the link between pets and increased health.  From dogs to cats to birds to horses, study after study show evidence that exposure to animals helps in the healing process and in some cases  promotes prevention.  I've read other articles that demonstrate dog owners are healthier because they go for a walk, every day, because of the dog.

Reading this I couldn't help but think -- I wish my 14 year old cat knew about this.  He routinely wakes me in the middle of the night for attention.  A good nights sleep is vital to good health....but he does put a smile on my face.

How about you -- does your animal companion improve your health?

Image taken by author, 2012 -- Reilly waiting for attention

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Obituaries and Family Tension

When a child looses a part, emotions run high.  And old wounds tend to surface.  Sadly, grown children can act like toddlers.  This obituary, from Tampa, Florida, is an example of one child venting via his mother's obituary.  When doing seminars I always tell folks to take control and nominate people who will handle the job correctly. Here in Wisconsin a person can complete an Authorization for Final Disposition -- a form appointing who should be in charge of a funeral.  If you know your children will not act kindly, then take charge, and put someone else in charge of your final arrangements.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Cabin: Two brothers, a dream, and five acres in Maine

I'm an attorney, and not surprisingly I am also a bookworm.  Last week I finished reading a surprising little memoir.  Cabin: Two brothers, a dream, and five acres in Maine by Lou Ureneck, is a touching memoir of a man on a mission to be a cabin in the woods of Maine.  Along the way he touches on the challenges of blended families, the loss of a parent, sibling relationships, and of course, fascination with cabins.

As a native of Wisconsin, I too understand the role a cabin can play in a families history.  In Ureneck's case, he is at the beginning of a cabin's presence in a family.  Built with the labor of his brother and nephews, it is clear that this place in the woods will be the site of many future family gatherings.  Here in Wisconsin I often have people come into my office who have had a cabin in the family for many generations.  Just as an aging parent, the cabin takes on a challenging role.  How to maintain?  Who will inherit?  After being passed down the family tree, how do 13 different people all get along and enjoy the cabin.

It was my interest in the "cabin" that drew this book to my attention.  Ureneck does an excellent job of articulating the emotions behind acquiring and building a cabin.  It literally becomes a member of the family.  What was left unsaid is what happens to it in the future.  Cabin's don't pass away, the pass down, and it is then that troubles can brew.

Whether you enjoy cabins, adventures  in the woods, memoirs, or stories of people building structures -- this is a great book to read.  Enjoy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Estate Planning Seminars - Madison, Wisconsin

As we head into Spring here in Wisconsin, I will be popping up all over Dane County in a variety of seminar formats.  From Money Week to WWBIC events to UW Extension Seminars.  Get complete details on my web site.  It's a great way to gather free, educational information on matters related to illness, death and taxes for the middle class.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Middle Class and the IRS

As another work week draws to an end, my final post of the week will be a nod to the folks who work for the Internal Revenue Service.  As an attorney, and the daughter of a used car salesman, I know what it is like for people to despise your profession.  And as this Atlantic Monthly article points out, the contempt is usually based in a lack of knowledge.

What People Don't Get About My Job (from Army Solider to Zoo Keeper)

I is for IRS Employee"You are the middle class! I'm helping you!"I have the job to be in between you and the most intimate part of your life: your money.  With a tax code that can stretch around the world three times, can anyone really be 100% certain they are in compliance when they get a letter from me? With the populist anti-tax fervor among the nation, now more than ever my job has become one of ridicule and despise. 
What people don't understand about my job is that chances are you are not the person I'm examining. I examine doctors who expense three Cadillacs, insurance brokers who claim jet skis for business use only, and real estate agents who haven't paid taxes in eight years. The public doesn't realize that tax auditors are the only people between a balanced effective tax rate among all social classes and the bourgeoisie stealing what isn't bolted down. Don't kid yourself; these people are stealing from you. This money helps pay for schools, roads and with any luck can keep mortgage interest deduction alive for a few more years. I read a report on NPR that Italy has 40% of its population evading taxes. Imagine our debt crisis if we had the same problem. (Our tax evasion rate is estimated between 8-18%).
So if you're one of those "Joe the Plumber" people who take time out of work to throw teabags at me on my way into the office in the morning: You are the middle class! I'm helping you!
And thanks to my loyal reader and former law school classmate, you know who you are, who brought this article to my attention.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Recommendation: Smart at Heart by Malissa Wood

My personal interest in women's heart health was established on a fall day in 1991, the day my mother suffered a heart attack at age 47.  Twenty years later she is still walking the earth, but her heart problems continue to follow her.  With that in my history, I quickly consumed the information in Malissa Wood's, MD, book Smart at Heart: a holistic 10-step approach to preventing and healing heart disease for women.

Immediately Wood grabs the readers attention with a statistic that I had heard before, " 2006, over 430,000 women died from cardiovascular disease while about 270,000 died from various cancer -- public awareness is disturbingly low."  From there she outlines 10 areas where women can focus on making improvements:

  • physical health; 
  • emotional health;
  • stress management;
  • exercise;
  • nutrition;
  • relationships;
  • communication
  • environment;
  • mindfullness; and
  • modification.
Easy to read and full of simple, practical changes, the book is a must read for any women or anyone who cares about a women.  As an attorney, wife, business owner, mother of two young children, etc., stress piles up in my life.  While I focus on eating well and exercise, after reading this book I will be putting equal attention to smart management of my stress.