Monday, April 30, 2012

Burial Trusts in Wisconsin

Catching up on my work related reading last week, I noticed that as of February 1, 2012, regulations related to Wisconsin Burial Trusts had changed.  Under the new law an individual can put $3,000 into a burial trust and still qualify for MA.  In addition, friends and family can add $1,500 to the trust.  The article I read (by Roy Froemming) points out that this actually limits contributions of friends and family.  Larger amounts can be set aside via burial insurance, which is a different vehicle.  Oddly, the new law is based on regulation of the funeral industry, and is not drive by State of federal MA laws.  Strange, but that is often the case with the law.

As a reminder, a blog is not legal advice.  Laws are in constant flux.  It is best to consult with an attorney in your state prior to taking action.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Welcome to the future: Death and Digital Assets

If you are reading this blog post, you most likely know your way around the web.  However, do your loved ones know it as well as you do?  If you own digital assets, don't leave it to chance that your loved ones will recognize those assets.

Case in point -- recently my husband had a conversation with a sales person at  Somehow or another the sales person shared a story where a women called in to report her husband's death.  She was informed that he owned half a dozen three letter domain names.  Apparently this meant nothing to her, and she asked if they could be turned off.  By chance, she had reached an honorable employee who told her that three letter domain names were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars!

Don't count on this happening in your situation; I'm certain some assets slip through the cracks of life.  Make a record of digital assets that others may not recognize:

  • domain names
  • You Tube videos
  • blogs
  • web sites
Those are just a few that come to my mind.  We are living in a digital age, yet not everyone appreciates the value in intangible digital assets.  Welcome to the future dear readers!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wine and Estate Planning

Wine usually comes to mind when clients are signing wills and other estate planning documents.  Usual in the context of I'd like a glass of wine (or beer) now that this is done.  However, some people have wine in mind for another reason.  They collect it.  And as with any collection, keeping it safe and sound is a good idea.

Wine, unlike stocks or bonds, can drop in value quickly -- literally.  A dropped value cannot be replaced.  But it can be insured.  If you collect wine you may want to take a closer look at this article for tips on preserving your wine collection.  Then again, some people might say if I'm dead, what do I care.


Image credit: - free image

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

$9 Million to The Sages College

Here is another example of charitable giving that makes the news; a single women, with no heirs, leaves $9 million to a college she attended for 2 years in the 1930s and did not even graduate.  The most interesting point I found in this article was the fact the college was surprised because the women only gave modest gifts during her lifetime.  That fact makes me think of two things:

  • people who make modest gifts are not necessarily broke -- don't judge a donor by the size of gifts; and
  • modest gifts may exemplify a frugal lifestyle, one that allowed her to amass or maintain $9 Million estate.
All too often charities seem to target "big spenders".  I find this odd. Unless you have seen the person's tax returns, you don't really know what they are worth.  There is the saying that people who look like they have money don't; they spent it all looking like they have money.  

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Geriatric ERs

Last week the New York Times ran an article on a new trend in hospital care, the geriatric ER.  Designed for patients 65 and older who are not in an acute situation, the idea is to provide stellar care and reduce the chance of a re-admission.  Non-skid floors, Ipads to request a nurse, simulated sunshine, and rubber loops on the curtains are some of the new perks.  Patients apparently call relatives to rave about the new digs.

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I have spent a far amount of time in ERs with my parents.  My mother is alive thanks to a pacemaker, my father passed away in 2009 following a long illness.  From my personal experience I would much rather see hospitals placing an emphasis on serving the whole patient rather than creating the Four Seasons in the ER.  All too often we'd see a specialist for one organ who would prescribe a medication or treatment that threw another organ out of whack.  There was a lot of talk of the latest and greatest pill or procedure but not so much on the daily implications of the disease.  Little to no consideration was made of the impact this disease was having on mental health, family dynamics, or financial resources.

My reaction to this story -- forget the technology and focus on the person, they are not just a patient reviewing your facility.  They are a person; part of a family.  Medical workers deal with illness daily, most family members do not.

But that is just my personal opinion.  What's yours?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What I've Been Reading: The Medical Bill Survival Guide

Under 100 pages, The Medical Bill Survival Guide: easy, effective strategies for people experiencing financial hardship by Nicholas Newsad is a concise and easy read.  Divided into seven sections, it addresses:

  • things to know if you have insurance;
  • things to know if you don't have insurance;
  • getting oranized;
  • how to talk to billers;
  • and other issues.
Highlights I found were a clear overview of what it is and how to read an EOB (explanation of benefits) as well as hints on speaking with billers.  Things that seem to be missing are the roles of powers of attorney (finance and or health care).  Often the patient is not the one calling an insurance company; without proper paperwork HIPAA will prevent anyone else from discussing billing issues.  Also, given the historic changes to health care laws in 2011, I wonder what new federal laws would be important.  An updated version would be idea; this book was published in 2010.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

What I've Been Reading: The Color of Rain

Growing up I watched reruns of The Brady Bunch.  You remember, that all American blended family.  Carole had 3 daughters.  Mike had 3 sons.  I always wondered, why were they single?  I assumed it was a widow/widower situation.  

The show spared us the details of what came before the bunch, and after reading The Color of Rain: how two families found faith, hope & love in the midst of tragedy by Michael and Gina Spehn, I am thankful the details were left out.

At times I wanted to put this book down.  Not because it was poorly written and a lack of interest, but because it was so damn sad.  From the prologue I was hooked.  It may be one of the most vivid and gripping three paragraphs I've read in decades.  A memoir, with alternating chapters written by Gina, who looses her husband to cancer when he is 36 years old, and chapters written by Michael, who also looses his wife, suddenly to brain cancer.

Raw emotion, vivid attention to detail.  Pithy chapters.  You will keep turning the pages, often with tears welling up in your eyes.  A bit too heavy on the religious beliefs in parts, it is a moving memoir of people moving through tragedy, children in tow, and into a new, hopeful beginning.  After reading it you will appreciate all the little things in life, even those that might usually annoy you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Horrific Reaction to Indian Will: Father Kills Children

My line of work is not cheery, at least most days it is not.  Illness, death, and taxes dominates my work hours.  Part of that is spent reviewing developments in the area of estate planning and probate.  I was saddened to read this brief story out of India.  Upset over the fact that his father left property to his children instead of him, a man killed his young children (aged 4 and 3).

Clients always ask "can I do that" when they opt to make a non-traditional bequest.  Yes I tell them, this is your opportunity to take charge and do what you think is best.  Sadly, as this story points out, not everyone will agree with that decision.

After reading this, I need to find a more uplifting story!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Upcoming Seminars For Money Week

This weekend Money Week will kick off, and I am thrilled to be speaking a the Women's Conference the morning of Saturday, April 21st.  Later in the week I will be giving a free two hour seminar through the UW Extension.  Check out my web site for details!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tax Day 2012 Is April 17th

Traditionally April 15th is the deadline for filing federal tax forms.  However, this year it fell on a Sunday, and Monday the 16th was a holiday in the District of Columbia.  And that means official tax day for 2011 returns is Tuesday, April 17th, 2012.   Happy Tax Day Everyone!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Health Care Decision Day, April 16, 2012

Governor Scott Walker has declared April 16, 2012 as Health Care Decision day in Wisconsin.  According to the Governor's Office, only 20 percent of Wisconsinites have the proper paperwork in place.  Lack of information is sited as the primary reason.  To help with the missing information, please note:

  • a power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint someone to make your health care decisions if you are not able to.  Whether to have surgery or sign admission papers to a long-term care facility are examples of functions of a health care agent;
  • a living will is your statement to your medical team about your wishes if you are in an end of life states -- essentially whether you want machines to keep you alive if you are terminally ill with no hope of recovery within 12 months or you have a permanent loss of consciousness; and
  • a power of attorney for finance allows you to appoint someone to handle your financial affairs if you are too sick.  Paying your mortgage, signing tax returns, or talking with your retirement plan are typical examples of jobs a power of attorney for finance completes.
Learn more about Health Care Decision Day on the State of Bar of Wisconsin's web site.  Forms are available for free, and attorneys charge a wide range of prices to assist with this process.  It may be more affordable than you would guess.

Remember, a blog is not legal advice.....rather a discussion for issues related to illness, death and taxes.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cat Given Another Chance At Life; Illinois Will Ignored

The headline Dead Woman's Cat Gets Stay of Execution caught my attention last week as I read the local paper.  Apparently an Illinois women wrote a will in 1988 that contained the clause "any cats owned at the time of her death be euthanized in a painless and peaceful manner."  The bank executing her will hesitated at such a clause, and through its lawyers, petition the court to ignore the request.  A Cook County probate court set aside the clauses, stating it would violate public policy.  And that is how Boots, an 11 year-old cat, got another chance at life.  Apparently these types of requests are not unheard of, as the article sites several other clauses that were also struck down by a court as being against public policy.

Image Credit:  Taken by author, Melinda Gustafson Gervasi -- featured is Reilly, her 13 year old cat.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Doctors Advised to Reduce Unnecessary Tests

Last week nine medical societies issued new guidelines for physicians; before ordering tests, asks if it is really needed.  This is a change from the current belief of write the prescription, order the test, do something.  The list contains 45 items that should not be automatic orders.  Not prescribing antibiotics for mild to moderate sinus distress is one.  Another is not ordering brain scans for patients who have fainted but had not seizure.  More controversial may be the recommendation to stop treating tumors in cancer patients who have not responded to other therapies.

Image Credit: - free image

The guidelines are just that, recommendations, not a directive.  It will be curious to see if practices change.  From my personal experience, doctors order endless tests with little to no thought of the cost-benefit.  Not to mention the hassle of going to a clinic.  Personally, I like seeing more thought entering the process rather than knee-jerk reactions.  What about you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

May 1st is Law Day in Dane County, Wisconsin

Are you a fan of court dramas on TV or the big screen?  Have you ever wondered what goes on at the local courthouse?   Have you ever actually entered the courthouse? If this interests you, I urge you to attend the upcoming Legal Open House at the Dane County Courthouse as part of Law Day.  Established 55 years ago, it is designed to increase the public's understanding of this vital branch of government.  Tours, mock jury trials, judges and lawyers on hand to answer questions, and more.  Learn more about Law Day by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Legislation Introduced to End Federal Estate Tax

The introduction of legislation in Washington, D.C. does not mean a whole lot, but it is worth noting on IDT for the Middle Class.  While the federal estate tax currently does not kick in until a person dies with a net worth over $5 million (an unlimited amount can be passed to a surviving US spouse), that amount is scheduled to reset to $1 million on January 1, 2013, unless Congress takes action.

Those who oppose any federal estate tax due from the perspective that it creates a burden, and often prevents the next generation from inheriting family farms and businesses.  Remember, the liquid and non-liquid assets are included in the assessment.  So, if the family warm is worth a lot on paper, the tax is owed within 9 months of the decedent's date of death.

I have no idea what will come out of DC.  I do know we'll see more and more proposals.  Only time will tell where the tax will fall.  Keep reading and watching, especially if you own a farm or business.

Image Credit: - free image

Monday, April 9, 2012

End-of-Life Art Work

How do we get people talking about end-of-life issues?  As a society we know that talking about these delicate decisions now will save families and society enormous amounts of energy and resources, both emotional and financial. Yet, it is often hard to kick-start the conversation.

One non-profit has a interesting approach -- art work.  The Mountain Arts Guild is holding a juried art show entitled "Departures: The Art of Leaving this Place.  Submissions require a $20 non-refundable fee and are due by May 14th.

This will be interesting to follow.  I plan to share the information with members of my former photography group.  Who might you know who would be have something to contribute?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Organ Donation

Here is a short article on an effort to increase the number of willing organ donors in Maryland.  How about you -- would you donate?  If yes, please share why?  If not, why?

When preparing documents for clients this question comes up routinely.  There are people on both sides of the issue.  I even had a person who had received a transplant who refused.....simply too many medical procedures already endured.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Frugal Funerals in China

Interested in a frugal and environmentally sound funeral?  Take a look of government policies coming out of China.  Traditional funerals are quite elaborate; monks praying around the clock, banquets, fireworks, and more.  Many families apparently go into debt honoring the dead, and the Chinese government wants to put a stop to it.

Image Credit: - free image

I am frugal, but I certainly would prefer frugality to be a choice rather than a government mandate!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Responsibility for Death?

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Recently I read a very power opinion in the NY Times.  Written by Susan Jacoby, it puts forth the idea that Americans need to become responsible for their death.  Especially the chance of costly bills in the final days of life.  One statistic simply amazed me -- one third of the Medicare budget is spent in the last year of life, and of that, one third is spent in the last month! Another that I found surprising was the claim that close to two-thirds of Americans believe a patient has a right to die when there is no hope for recovery, yet only one third have executed a living will (declaration to medical team about your wishes if you are in an end of life state).

So why don't people take responsibility or as I say in seminars "control"?  Death is not a topic many people want to address.  People mean well, but there are many other things to do that are simply more fun.  Combine this with denial of the fact that we all eventually die, and you have two powerful reasons not to complete these simply, and often free, forms.

If you want to give your loved the ones of as little stress and financial worry when your time comes, complete a living will.  Take charge and put your wishes in writing.  And if you've already done so, update every 5 to 7 years.

Please remember that a blog is not legal advice; please consult with an attorney in your state.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Charitable Bequests....Imagine

According to this article, 8 percent of wills contain charitable bequests.  However, 90 percent of all charitable gifts are made in wills, and total close to $23 billion.  The article asks -- imagine what would happen to charities if the 8 percent doubled to 16 percent?  I know a few non-profits that would be thrilled.

So why don't more wills contain bequests?  The article offers several suggestions.  But I have an alternative, and one that doesn't require an attorney.  Instead of listing a charity in a will, listed one on a beneficiary form for life insurance, retirement accounts, or even a POD at your bank.  You can do this on your own, no attorney needed.  I would suggest making sure you have the complete legal name of the non-profit and the phrase or its legal successor organization.  Including its federal tax ID number wouldn't hurt either.

Imagine -- it could be a different world if people left 10% of their non-probate assets to charitable organizations.

Monday, April 2, 2012

States With an Inheritance Tax

It is April and taxes are on people's minds.  From an estate perspective, there is always the federal estate tax.  Applied when someone dies with an estate over a certain amount, currently $5 million.  There is also a state estate tax.....if you live in one of 22 states.  Do you live in one?  Check out this map on Forbes' web site.  Wisconsin does not currently have a state estate tax.  But stay tuned, changes may be coming in 2013.

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