Use Estate Planning to Ensure Your Legacy Doesn’t Get Erased

When you think about those loved ones who’ve passed away, you probably don’t think very much—or even at all—about the “things” they’ve left you. And when they do leave something behind, what you likely cherish most about the object are the memories and feelings it evokes, not the thing itself.

For the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Katz, the most treasured memento her late father left her wasn’t even something he intended to be special—it was just a random voicemail on her cellphone. And the message wasn’t meant to be anything sentimental.

His message simply said, “Lex, it’s your dad. Call me back.”

Following his death, Alexis loved listening to that message to hear her father’s voice. Of all the assets he left behind, that voicemail was what she cherished most.

Until one day, she went to listen to the message and discovered it had been erased—and her father’s voice was lost to her forever. She still recalls that day as one of her worst ever, yet like most painful events, it taught her an important lesson.

Losing that voicemail ultimately inspired Alexis to build a new feature into her family-centered model of estate planning, known as Family Wealth Legacy Passages. This feature, which is included in every plan we create, allows you to preserve and pass on something that’s inherently more valuable than any tangible asset you might leave your loved ones.

Preserving your intangible assets

We recognize that estate planning isn’t just about preserving and passing on your financial wealth and property when you die. When done right, planning allows you to share your family’s stories, values, and life lessons, so your legacy carries on long after you—and your money—are gone.

Family Wealth Legacy Passages is a process that’s designed to not only ensure these intangible assets never get lost, but also to make the process of documenting them as easy and convenient as possible. In this process, we guide you to create a customized recording in which you share your most insightful memories and life lessons, not just for your children and grandchildren, but for generations to come. My favorite part about this process is that most of our clients tell us that going through it helps them surface things they would have never thought about regarding how they want to parent differently or things they want to share now, during life, not just leave behind a lasting legacy of love.

To help inspire you, we’ve developed a series of helpful questions and prompts, which makes the process not only easy, but enjoyable. And this isn’t something you have to do on your own, which you’d probably never get around to doing, despite your best intentions. Instead, Family Wealth Legacy Passages is something we include as an integral part of our planning services—and it’s included at no extra charge with each plan we create.

In the end, your family’s most precious wealth is not money, but the memories you make, the values you instill, and the lessons you hand down. And left to chance, these assets are likely to be lost forever just like Alexis’s voicemail from her father.

Leave a lasting legacy

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our customized estate planning services will preserve and pass on not just your financial wealth, but your most treasured family values as well. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today, so we can discuss what kind of assets you have, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

 

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents. We help you ensure 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 and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

 

 

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.

In Part 1 this series, we detailed how criminally minded individuals can take advantage of an overloaded court system and seize total control of seniors’ lives and financial assets by gaining court-ordered guardianship. Here we’ll discuss how seniors and their adult children can use proactive estate planning to prevent this from happening.

It’s important to note that any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, so it’s critical that every person over age 18—not just seniors—put these planning vehicles in place to prepare for a potential incapacity.

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. To this end, a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity—nor does it help you avoid the potential for abuse by professional guardians.
Your incapacity plan shouldn’t be just a single document. It 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. With a team of people who love you, watching out for you and what matters most, the risk of abuse from a professional guardian is low.

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.

Not to mention, an unforeseen illness or injury could strike at any time, at any age, so don’t wait—contact us right away to get your incapacity plan taken care of.

It’s crucial that you regularly review and update these planning tools to keep pace with life changes, including changes in your assets or the nature of your relationships. If any of the individuals you’ve named becomes unable or unwilling to serve for whatever reason, you’ll need to revise your plan. We can help with that, too.

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.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, Esq. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps 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 and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse