Friday, May 24, 2013

Observing Memorial Day 2013

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, Poppies, 2013

Poppies -- the flower associated with Memorial Day because of its connection with the poem In Flanders Field, which honors those killed in war.  Memorial Day, a day to pause and remember, and day to celebrate freedom, day off from work.  Over the long weekend I will be spending time with family and friends, visiting the Veteran's Museum in downtown Madison, and calling my Grandfather to say hello and thank you for his service in WWII (winning a Purple Heart for a battle on Iwo Jima).  May you have a lovely Memorial Day weekend, and I'll be May 28th with more thoughts on illness, death and taxes for the middle class.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lessons From a WWII Veteran -- Use Caution When Selecting a Power of Attorney

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

Recent news stories out of Ohio underscore the importance of selecting a power of attorney for finance.  In the story a WWII veteran transferred power of attorney for finances to his daughter, and then the daughter transferred his house to her and her husband's names.  A few years later a family rift developed, and the daughter sought to evict the father from his home.  Thanks to his granddaughter and an on-line fundraising campaign, he was able to buy back the home he'd lived in for over 50 years.  It is hard to believe that members of the Greatest Generation could be treated in such a manner, but the reality of life can often be harsh.

From my vantage point behind a lawyer's desk, I would keep the following in mind when it comes to nominating someone to act as your power of attorney for finance:

  • use a form that says the power is transferred upon your incapacity (legal standards will vary from state to state) as opposed to transferring that power immediately.  Sometimes this is not the ideal situation for an elderly person who is slowly declining and wants to off load some of the more mundane tasks in life;
  • recognize that the people you are considering may have financial pressures you are unaware of -- gambling debt, job loss, maxed out credit cards, a spendthrift spouse all tend to be things folks keep quite and do not share.  Really think about who it is you are appointing;
  • include a back-up in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act; 
  • consider friends or professionals (a CPA for example) in your life, a power of attorney need not be your blood relative;
  • select someone who enjoys tasks related to balancing the checkbook, paying the taxes, etc; and
  • look for a person who is diplomatic -- someone who will not set of a fire storm of emotion during an already emotional time.
This is not a complete list, but some of the important concepts that are at the front of my mind today.  Remember, a blog post is not legal advice.  Please consult a lawyer in your state for advice specific to your situation. Visiting an attorney is not fun, but putting these thoughts on paper is taking control of the situation.  And who better to do that than yourself.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another Capital City 5K!

Okay, so it is not quite Memorial Day, but this Type A attorney is busy putting healthy and inspiring events on the family calendar.  When you spend your working hours counseling clients on the ins and outs of illness, death and taxes, you need some uplifting things to look forward to.  And the Capital City 5K is fast becoming an annual favorite of mine.

Held on a Saturday evening, the event raises funds as well as awareness for those with chronic kidney disease or people requiring a transplant.  Unlike the testimonials on the events web site and blog, I have no personal connection to kidney disease; it is heart disease that spreads like wild wife in my family tree.  So why this event?

First, it is a 5k.  A doable run.  I'm an attorney, so I sit, a lot, too much.  I'm the mother of two little kids, so sleep is not plentiful.  While I admire those running a 10k, a half-marathon, triathlons, etc., I am realistic.  Training for a 5k is realistic, it is doable, it is not a burden.  And so it is my event of choice.

Second, it is a great Saturday night "date" night with my husband, who shares my enjoyment in running.  We are not the poster couple for Runners World, but we enjoy being outside and the runners high a 5k provides.

Third, this event is unlike most other 5ks, it ends with a pool party!  Here is how it works: you meet at the Goodman Pool in Madison, the event buses you to the Capital Square, you run (most of the time along the lake) back to the pool.  And once you are done, it is pool time.  Admission is included in the $35 registration fee.

Fourth, I serve many clients who either suffer from chronic kidney conditions, have received a transplant, or know someone who needs one.  Legal papers can only address certain issues, helping to raise awareness is just one more little thing I can do to support the people who trust me to be Type A and make sure "their papers" are in order.

And so there you have it, my reasons for signing myself and my husband up for the Capital City 5k.  Here is a link if you are interested in learning more or singing up!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Dalai Lama Comes to Town: Madison, Mental Health and the Month of May

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

May started out for me be attending an event at the local courthouse.  May 1st marked Law Day, celebrating the legal profession, offered free continuing legal education for attorneys, and of course there was cake.  Inspired after listening to a session entitled Lincoln - A Lawyer for the Ages, I returned to my office.  There I found the monthly newsletter from the Dane County Bar Association.  Included was a piece about May being National Mental Health Month, and the fact that members of the legal profession suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and suicide at levels higher than the average population.  This was a fact I knew. What struck me was mention that both President Lincoln as well as Fighting Bob LaFollette, both members of the profession, suffered from bouts of depression over the course of their lives and careers.  In the week that followed headlines broke stating that the suicide rate among middle aged Americans jumped 40 percent from 1999 to 2010.  A shocking increase.

As I write today, the Dalai Lama is in Madison.  His fourth trip to our gem of a city.  A close relationship with Dr. Richard Davidson (Center for Investigating Healthy Minds).  The morning paper reported his call for improved mental health as a way to cure the world's troubles.  Where to start?  The options are plentiful, but I'll leave you here today with a few signs of depression.  Recognizing a problem is the first step to fixing it -- whether it is yours or another persons:

  • Fatigue;
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping;
  • Inability to focus;
  • Unexplained physical pains;
  • Inability to make a decision;
  • Crying for no apparent reason; and
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
For a complete list of signs of depression, visit the Mayo Clinics web site.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fall 2013: Seminars on Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts, etc.

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

The snow has hardly retreated here in Wisconsin, but my fall calendar for seminars has filled up nicely.  Starting in August and going into November you will find a variety of seminars on the ins and outs of wills, trusts, probate and other mattes associated with illness, death and taxes!  Most are free and open to the public, some are shorter appearances as part of a retirement planning workshop.

If you belong to a group or organization that would like to hold a seminar for its members, please contact Attorney Melinda Gustafson Gervasi to coordinate.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Which Is Better? Wills vs. Trusts

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Milwaukee, Wis.

Commonly I am asked, which is better, a will or a trust.  My answer usually surprises people.  "The type of documents matters far less, what matters is how organized are your papers."  Probate, a simple word yet one that pushes people to take steps to avoid loved ones have to slog through the process.  Wills do not avoid probate, rather they facilitate probate.  Trusts on the other hand avoid probate (when created and funded properly) because they are a vessel to hold property outside of probate.  At this point most people's eyes will glaze over: probate, non-probate, funding a's too much.

From my vantage point as an attorney, the choice between a will and probate is not key.  Both have pluses and minuses, and you should evaluate those with an attorney licensed in your state.  But what really gives loved ones a headache after you die tends to be things like:

  • knowing a will or trusts exists, but having no idea where it is located;
  • the emergency of finding a new care taker for your pets, especially dogs or other critters that cannot be left alone for more than 6 to 10 hours;
  • figuring out who you owed money to -- we live in the digital age and many bills are on auto debit, which can be near impossible to track;
  • the name of your accountant and or financial planner;
  • contacting all the friends and loved ones that are listed in your email and or phone....both are likely not accessible if you are gone;
  • tracking any digital assets (domain names, etc.); and
  • finding addresses for the people who should know you have passed (i.e. high school friends, college roommates, co-workers, etc.).
Remember this, it's the little things that take up time and energy.  So be cautious about how much you debate a will versus a trust, and instead put your efforts into being as Type A as possible in this one area of your life.  If you do, it will be a loving last gift to your loved ones.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Charitable Giving -- The Numbers and Budget Changes

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

According to this report, Americans gave more to non-profits in 2011 than the prior year:

  • the amount of claimed deductions rose from $3.1 billion to $4.4 billion; and
  • total gifts given increased from $37.9 billion to $51 billion in 2011.
Reading this one cannot help but wonder if the President's budget proposal to cap the amount of the charitable deduction, allowing only 28 cents on the dollar.  Keep in mind that only tax payers who exceed the standard deduction can actually take the deduction.  It will be interesting to monitor the numbers in the years ahead should the budget proposal be adopted.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's May: Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Keeping Cool in the summer sun

May 8th -- just a typical day for most people, but in my family we celebrate my husband's birth.  So, of course my post today plays off of his years growing up in the Sunshine State -- where "everyone has a dermatologists".

May, the month of my husband's birth is also National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a fact that came to my attention when reading a newsletter from our local hospital.  It offers 9 steps to reduce exposure.  For example, avoid being in the sun during peak hours, 10am - 4pm.  Where clothing that covers your skin, including a hat.  Click here for the complete list of ways to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Avoiding the sun from 10-4 makes sense, but how practical is it?  I cannot help but remember my summers growing up in Madison, and all of the t-ball practices and games I had smack dab in the middle of the afternoon!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And now -- Google Heirs

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Mount Vernon

Yes, there is Google+, Gmail, Google Docs, and now the trailblazing company has introduced Google Heirs.  Users now have an account setting that allows users to direct where data should go when the account has been inactive for a set period of time.  What I find shocking is that the article describes this as novel.  No, the idea of directing an asset upon your death is not novel, it is called estate planning and has been around centuries.  It is only novel in the world of tech companies.

Beyond Google, companies like Facebook do not allow users to direct a person to be in charge of an account beyond death.  It simply isn't an option.  A will does not give one the authority to turn off an account for example.

Internet companies, so often on the cutting edge, appear to be behind the times in my book.  Creating a simple label on data that says what happens when you die is not new.  However, to the techie world I will acknowledge this, users are not necessarily owners.  Itunes for example is a licensing agreement.  A license is not ownership, but a right to use during life, and that right dies with you.  Most people do not realize that an actual CD with music in your own is property, a song you access on Itunes is not your property. So why should you be able to leave it upon death.

Thanks for reading, and remember a blog is not a lawyer -- please consult an attorney in your area for advice specific to your situation.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Furlough at the IRS in 2013

Due to the budget compromises in the American Tax Payer Relief Act of 202, cuts are being made at the IRS. And those cuts mean shutting the agency down for several days in 2013, with the possibility of an additional days being added.  This means employees will go without pay, and citizens will go without Taxpayer hotlines, and all other IRS services.  For my office, it means we would not be able to file for EINs in probates or trust cases.  Here are the dates, plan accordingly:

  • May 24th
  • June 14th
  • July 5th
  • July 22nd
  • August 30th
Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- IRS Building in DC.