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How do you freeze your credit?

Are you a senior worried about identity theft? Or are you worried about a loved one with dementia becoming a victim of identity theft? Here are some tips on freezing someone’s credit. This is important if you’re trying to protect someone from elder abuse.

What does it mean to freeze credit?

A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

To place or lift a credit freeze, you must contact each credit bureau separately.

Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file until you lift the freeze. You can do that online, by phone, or by mail using the special PIN the companies give you when you do the credit freeze.  Once you place the credit freeze, it secures your credit file until you lift the freeze. You can unfreeze credit temporarily when you want to apply for new credit.

Does it cost anything to freeze credit?

No. Placing or lifting a credit freeze is free. Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file until you lift the freeze. You can unfreeze credit temporarily when you want to apply for new credit. Also, freezing your credit does not affect your credit score.

Should you freeze your credit?

If you’re not actively shopping for a credit card or loan, freezing your credit is wise. If you think someone compromised your data, consider a credit freeze. It’s especially important if someone stole your Social Security number. Identity theft among seniors is on the rise. So be vigilant about this issue.

Call us at (813) 902-3189 to schedule your consultation! We are happy to help you or your family.

Schedule your free 15 minute consultation.

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

In  Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.

As our senior population continues to expand, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have made headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.

The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the scariest aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict

Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.

Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.

Planning for incapacity

The potential turmoil and expense, or even risk of abuse, from a court-ordered guardianship can be easily avoided through proactive estate planning. Upon your incapacity, an effective plan would give the individual, or individuals, of your choice immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake about how these crucial decisions should be made during your incapacity.

There are a variety of planning tools available to grant this decision-making authority, but a will is not one of them. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and even then, it simply governs how your assets should be divided. Your incapacity plan should include a variety of planning tools, including some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of your financial and legal interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
  • Family/friends meeting: Even more important than all of the documents we’ve listed here, the very best protection for you and the people you love is to ensure everyone is on the same page. As part of our planning process, we’ll walk the people impacted by your plan through a meeting that explains to them the plans you’ve made, why you’ve made them, and what to do when something happens to you.

It could be a good idea (though it’s not mandatory) to name different people for each of the roles in your planning documents. In this way, not only will you spread out the responsibility among multiple individuals, but you’ll ensure you have more than just one person invested in your care and supervision. In that case, it’s even more critical that everyone you’ve named understands the choices you’ve made, and why you have made them.

Don’t wait to put your plan in place

It’s vital to understand that these planning documents must be created well before you become incapacitated. You must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent in order for these planning strategies to be valid, as even slight levels of dementia or confusion could get them thrown out of court. It’s also important that you frequently review and update your estate documents due to changes in assets or relationships.

Retain control even if you lose control

To avoid the total loss of autonomy, family conflict, and potential for abuse that comes with a court-ordered adult guardianship, meet with us. While you can’t prevent your potential incapacity, you can use estate planning to ensure that you at least have some control over your how your life and assets will be managed if it ever does occur.

If you haven’t planned for your incapacity, schedule a Planning Session right away, so we can advise you about the proper planning vehicles to put in place. And if you already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Call our office today at (813) 902-3189 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 
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How can you use estate planning to take care of your pet?

If you have a pet, he or she probably feels like part of your family.  So it makes sense to take care of your pet if you become incapacitated or pass away. Because if you don’t make any plans, your beloved companion could end up in an animal shelter or worse.

The law looks at pets as personal property. So you can’t just name your pet as a beneficiary of your will or trust without some careful planning.

Be careful with your Will.

Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, you might consider leaving your pet and money for its care in your will to a trusted person who would be your pet’s new caregiver. But your pet’s new caregiver would not be legally required use the funds properly. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

You’d like to think that you could trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will to do so. But it’s impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make adopting your pet impossible.

Also, a will has to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months. That can leave your pet in limbo for a while.  And remember that a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Consider a pet trust.

A pet trust in a revocable living trust in order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended.

This way, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate. So it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

Also, a  pet trust allows you to name a trustee. That trustee is legally required to manage the trust’s funds and carry out your wishes. And to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure your pet’s care, you might want to name someone other than the person you name as caregiver as trustee.

Do right by your pet.

With Myrna’s guidance and support, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it. Contact us today to get started.

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Part 2: The real cost of not planning

This article is part of a series discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us to learn how to do the right […]

When a Will Isn’t Enough to Avoid Conflict: Remember Your Personal Property

“When the parents are gone, there’s all kinds of unforeseen stuff they leave us with, stuff they never intended.” – Ira Glass, in This American Life, Episode 763: “Left Behind”

If you grew up with siblings, you probably remember some sibling rivalry. That rivalry can continue well into adulthood, especially after the parents are gone. In many families, parents are like the glue that keeps the family together. Once their gone, old issues can resurface, especially when it comes to dividing the parents’ personal property.  That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how you want your personal, sentimental property distributed to the people that you love. If you don’t, that can make an already tough situation so much worse.

This American Life, a popular podcast, recently featured a family with such a story. Eleven adult siblings needed to divide their dead parents’ stuff. But they didn’t all get along. Although their parents (who were both attorneys) had wills, they didn’t list in their will which child would get which items. They left all that to the kids, saying simply, everyone should get an equal amount. So the siblings invented a remarkably elaborate cheat-proof system to divide up the remains of their childhood. In the end, it was a system that played off the siblings’ natural suspicions towards each other and did nothing to bring them closer together after losing their parents.

Here’s a quote from the narrator:

“What they have left to them is just these things, right? And this mandate– to get along well enough one last time to split it up amongst themselves. And they don’t want to screw it up. They want to honor their parents’ last request. But they know it’s going to be tough for them, given how they are sometimes with each other.”

This is an example of incomplete planning that can lead to conflict after you’re gone. If the parents in this story had left a personal property memorandum that referred back to their Wills, that could have reduced the strain on their children, especially the estate’s executor. It would have also saved a lot of time and conflict….and their relationships with each other.

You can listen to this story (16 minute run time) here.

Or you can read the transcript here. 

 

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Check out another blog post about embracing the emotional side of estate planning. Here

Will Your Estate Have a Password Problem?

Living in the digital age, having online access to investments is a great convenience. But the downside is that they can create a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor trying to find the deceased’s assets.

What is the first thing you are told about any password? Don’t write it down. This can create unintended consequences for an executor who needs access to each account in order to marshal the assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs or trustees based on the language contained in the will.

When the founder and CEO of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, nobody else had the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker. That cut off access to investors’ $190 million in cryptocurrency.  Those investors may never see their funds again. This is a an eye-opening example of how the security system designed to keep hackers out of an account can work against the owners of funds.

Here are some strategies to safely share passwords to your computer, email and online accounts.

Option #1 Give your passwords to a trusted family member.

This is probably the easiest, but least secure way. They will need passwords to access your computer or smartphone. They will also need a password to access your email — which is where electronic financial statements are traditionally sent. This creates a potential security issue and also doesn’t provide the trusted person with access to each individual financial platform, which would require each of those passwords to be written down or somehow saved and communicated to the trusted person. Many computer operating systems now save passwords to frequently visited websites, so it is possible that if a trusted person had access to your computer, they may also be able to gain access to your financial accounts.

Option #2 Write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney can access your safe deposit box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms. This option is somewhat safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. But this means you have to be diligent about updating the password list.

Option #3 Use a digital wallet.

A digital wallet is the most secure and by far the most recommended way to safely and securely store passwords. Like a real wallet, a digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud. With this, the only hurdle is the password with which you access the digital wallet.

This would require that you keep a record of the master password somewhere, or perhaps you can agree with your spouse or trusted friend on a pattern of passwords. That could be anything that the two of you can easily remember, along with perhaps a few other characters. It will need to be something that can be remembered and not written down. Writing down and saving passwords should be avoided if at all possible.

Call (813) 902-3189 to schedule your Planning Session.

Estate Planning Mistakes Seniors (Including You or Your Parents) Can’t Afford to Make

Once you or your parents reach senior status, you really can’t afford to put it off any longer. Unfortunately, without proper planning, seniors can lose everything, even if they have family to look after them. Having a will isn’t enough.

More and more, the media is highlighting stories of seniors being taken advantage of, and even being targeted by unscrupulous professional guardians.

While planning for your incapacity and death can be scary, it’s even scarier to think of all the horrible things that can happen to your family if don’t have the right planning in place.

Here are a some of the most common mistakes that seniors make:

Mistake #1: Not creating advance medical directives

In your senior years, health care matters become much more relevant and urgent. At this age, you can no longer afford to put off important decisions related to your medical needs. How do you want your medical care handled if you become incapacitated and can’t communicate your wishes? And at the end of life, how do you want your medical care handled? You can address both of these situations with a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will.

With the Designation of Health Care Surrogate, you appoint a health care decision maker that can step in for you when you can’t make your own health care decisions. With the Living Will, you provide guidelines for what medical care you want or don’t want at the end of your life. You can even include other instructions, such as who can visit you.

Mistake #2: Relying only on a will

Many people mistakenly believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are definitely one key aspect of estate planning, they come with some serious limitations:

● Wills require your family to go through probate, which is open to the public, can be time consuming and expensive.
● Wills don’t offer you any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions.
● Wills don’t cover jointly owned assets or those with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies.
● Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
● Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.

Mistake #3: Not keeping your plan current

Far too often people prepare a will or trust when they’re young, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan is worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.

We recommend you review your plan at least every three years to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. And if you have a trust in place, you need to make sure that you’re using it properly. Many people who have trusts aren’t using them effectively, leaving their property vulnerable to probate or mismanagement.

Mistake #4: Not pre-planning funeral arrangements

Although most people don’t want to think about their own funerals, pre-planning these services is a key facet of estate planning, especially for seniors. By taking care of your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you not only eliminate the burden and expense for your family, you’re able to make your memorial ceremony more meaningful, as well.

In addition to basic wishes, such as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated, you can choose what kind of memorial service you want—simple, elaborate, or maybe none at all. Are there songs you want played? Prayers or poems recited? Do you have a specific burial plot or a spot where you want your ashes scattered?

Pre-planning these things can help relieve significant stress and sadness for your family, while also ensuring your memory is honored exactly how you want. It’s important that you take care of your estate planning immediately and avoid these common mistakes.

We can walk you step-by-step through the process, ensuring that you have everything in place to protect yourself, your assets, and your family. Call us at (813) 902-3189.

5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Since estate planning involves thinking about death, many people put it off until their senior years, or simply ignore it all together until it becomes too late. This kind of unwillingness to face reality can create a major hardship, expense, and mess for the loved ones and assets you leave behind.

While not having any estate plan is the biggest blunder you can make, even those who do create a plan can run into trouble if they don’t understand exactly how estate plans work.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make with estate planning:

1. Not creating a will

While wills aren’t the ultimate estate planning tool, they are one of the bare minimum requirements. A will lets you designate who will receive your property upon your death, and it also allows you to name specific guardians for your minor children. Without a will, your property will be distributed based on your state’s intestate laws (which probably don’t align with your wishes), and a judge who doesn’t know you or your family, will choose a guardian for your children under 18. On top of that….your kids will get whatever you own outright, with no guidance, direction, or intention, as long as they’re over 18.

2. Not updating beneficiary designations

A lot of times people forget to change their beneficiary designations to match their estate planning desires. Check with your life insurance company and retirement-account holders to find out who would receive those assets in the event of your death.

If you have a trust, you’ll likely want the trust to the beneficiary. This does not happen automatically upon creating a trust. You actually have to make the change. See the section below for more on funding your trust.

You also never want to name a minor as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement accounts, or even as the secondary beneficiary. If they were to inherit these assets, the assets become subject to the control of the court until he or she turns 18.

3. Not funding your trust

Many people assume that simply listing assets in a trust is enough to ensure they’ll be distributed properly. But this isn’t true. Some assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—must be “funded” to the trust in order for them to be actually transferred without having to go through court. Funding involves changing the name on the title of the property or account to list the trust as the owner. Whenever you acquire new assets after your trust is created, you must make sure those assets are also titled into your trust.

Unfortunately, many people have trusts, but their assets aren’t actually in the trust. Crazy, right?!? But we see it all the time. You need to make sure your assets are inventoried, titled properly, and the inventory is maintained throughout your lifetime, so your assets aren’t lost and don’t get stuck in court upon your incapacity or death.

4. Not reviewing documents

Estate plans are not a “one-and-done” deal. As time passes, your life circumstances change, the laws change, and your assets change. Given this, you must update your plan to reflect these changes—that is, if you want it to actually work for your loved ones, keeping them out of court and out of conflict.

We recommend reviewing your plan annually to make sure its terms are up to date. And be sure to immediately update your estate plan following major life events like divorce, births, deaths, and inheritances. We’ve got built-in processes to make sure this happens—ask us about them.

Moreover, an annual life review can be a beautiful ritual that puts you at ease knowing you’ve got everything handled and updated each year.

5. Not leaving an inventory of assets

Even if you’ve properly “funded” your assets into your trust, your estate plan won’t be worth much if heirs can’t find your assets. Indeed, there’s more than $58 billion dollars worth of lost assets in the U.S. coffers right now. Can you believe that? It happens because someone dies or becomes incapacitated but their assets cannot be found.

That’s why we create a detailed inventory of assets, indicating exactly where to find each asset, such as your cemetery plot deed, bank and credit statements, mortgages, securities documents, and safe deposit box/keys. Not to mention your digital assets like social media accounts and cryptocurrency, along with their passwords and security keys. We cover all of this in our plans.

Beyond these common errors, there are many additional pitfalls that can impact your estate planning. At our firm, we guide you through the process, helping you to not only avoid mistakes but also implement strategies to ensure your true family’s legacy will continue to grow long after you’re gone.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

 

What do you need to know about estate planning and divorce?

If you are considering a divorce, it’s critical to understand the impact of your divorce on what would happen in the event of your incapacity or death, either during the divorce or after.

Until the Final Judgment is signed by the judge, without modifications to your estate planning, the soon to be ex-spouse may still have decision making authority even though there is a divorce pending.

Unfortunately, most divorce lawyers don’t give much thought to incapacity or death, simply because they do not have training on these issues specifically and it doesn’t seem like a pressing issue when they’re advising you through your divorce. That’s why it’s important for you to seek our advice at the beginning of the divorce process.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. As soon as you file for divorce, automated “orders” go into effect that will limit what you can do with your assets during the divorce. Upon filing a petition for dissolution of marriage, courts issue automatic, boilerplate orders, limiting control over assets, including property, such as the home or money in bank accounts. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your divorce lawyer and your personal estate planning lawyer about these issues before you file for divorce.
  2. If you have already filed for divorce, you may want to revoke any existing powers of attorney and health care directives giving your soon to be ex-spouse control over your assets and your medical decision-making if you were to become incapacitated, as well as execute what we call a “divorce will,” which is a “temporary” will that would cover the disposition of your assets in the event of your death during your divorce. Again, talk to your divorce lawyer about these temporary documents that can be executed while you are in the divorce process, and then be sure he or she is coordinating with us on your behalf to get these documents prepared and signed.
  3. Once your divorce is final, and all assets are decided upon, be sure to update these “temporary” estate planning documents, to take into account your new reality.

There are many ways to get divorced. The traditional litigation/fight oriented divorce could require years of litigation, and is a division of assets based on legal rights, rather than your specific needs and desires.

Collaborative Divorce

Alternatively, there is a movement today towards “conscious uncoupling” in which you and your spouse collaboratively tailor the outcome of your divorce to meet each of your specific needs and desires, as well as the overall impact on your family. With this method, instead of having a judge make all the important decisions in your divorce, you can make decisions that are right for you. This is especially helpful when dealing with alimony and if children are involved.

Alimony Payments

Alimony, also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, is financial support paid to the non-income earning spouse during the divorce proceeding and after the judgment. Alimony can be paid in a number of ways, usually it is monthly, over a predetermined period of time. Durational payments carry the benefit of a steady income for the recipient, but can be modified under certain circumstances, leaving some uncertainty. It also leaves room for continued communication about what’s needed over the non-income earners life, as well as what’s possible over the lifetime of the income earning spouse.

Alimony Buyout

Because monthly payments (and a continuing relationship) aren’t right for every family, alimony can also be paid in a lump sum. This is also referred to as “alimony buyout.” Lump sum alimony either in the form of a cash buyout or a disproportionate property division is not subject to modification or termination, so it creates a finality to the relationship that isn’t there with a continuing monthly payment.

If you do decide on continuing monthly payments versus a lump sum alimony payment, it’s critical to ensure that those payments would be able to continue in the event of incapacity or death of the spouse paying alimony, and you need to follow up and confirm that those payments are considered in the ex-spouse’s estate planning documents.  Life insurance can be used to guarantee that the support continues, should the unthinkable occur. If you need any recommendations for local, trusted insurance and financial advisors, let us know.

If you decide on a lump sum alimony, be sure to update your estate planning to reflect the new assets you now will have titled in your own name. We can discuss trust planning options to ensure those assets stay out of Court, if and when anything happens to you.

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

 

Learning From My iFailures

 

Our lives are on our smartphones.

The data we keep on them has great sentimental value because they’re every parent’s primary way of capturing precious family memories, such as videos of an adorable child singing pop songs in the car. But our smartphones also store other sensitive information that is valuable to hackers, like passwords and financial information.

What happens when we don’t have access to our smartphones for an extended period of time? (Or if something happens to us and someone else can’t access something important on our phones?) We feel powerless. We might even freak out.

Recently, my iPhone broke. I had dropped the phone too many times and it was on its way out anyway. But I wasn’t ready. I thought I had more time. And worst of all, I discovered that I had underestimated the impact of its sudden failure and overestimated the extent of my digital backup for my family photos.

While I have systems in place to protect my work-related information, I had gotten a little lax on preserving items on my personal smartphone. In doing that, I risked losing access to cherished family photos and other sensitive information. I also uncovered another issue, two-factor authentication. Many websites have two-factor authentication, with a text message going to your phone when you try to log in from a different device. If you have to access a website or re-set a password, not having access to your text messages is a big problem!

Fortunately, my phone was repaired and the most that I suffered was some inconvenience. And I vowed to share this experience with you, because what I experienced as serious implications for family disaster planning.

Ask yourself these questions to evaluate your risk of iFailure. 

  1. Does your spouse know the passwords to your phone and computer?
  2. If you have an app that saves your passwords, where is your backup located? Who else has access to the main password?
  3. Do you routinely move your photos to the cloud or other storage methods? If so, who else has access to those locations?
  4. Which of your devices are set up to receive text messages or two-factor authentication when you’re logging in from a new device or changing a password?
  5. Have you changed your telephone number in the past year? If so, have you updated all of your accounts that require two-factor authentication?

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.