Monday, November 16, 2009

Talking to Loved Ones About What Really Matters

"The Holidays" can mean travel, excitement, gathering together with those you love, stress, conflict, and any or all of these things.

We wish you the happiest of holidays! We also urge you to take the time this holiday season to talk with those you love about what's truly important to you, and what's important for them to know. Make sure you tell them that you love them. Make sure you tell them about your estate plan, about where they can find your important legal and financial documents in an emergency, and who your important advisors are (e.g. estate planning attorney, financial advisor, accountant.) We understand that these conversations with family members can be difficult to start. But they are important. Talk to those you love about the legal, financial and healthcare decisions you have made, and take the time, while you still can, to explain your choices.

A DocuBank membership can help you get started. You can send a quick, pre-written e-mail to your child or other loved ones from the DocuBank website to let them know that you have healthcare directives and a DocuBank card. This is one way to initiate a conversation about your healthcare choices. When you see your loved ones over the holidays, you can continue the discussion by giving copies of your directives to those loved ones whom you have selected as your healthcare power(s) of attorney. To send this "get-started" e-mail, simply log in to your DocuBank membership at and click on the "Family Notification" tab on the left side of the screen.

Talking about your healthcare directives can also be a good lead-in to talking about your other personal and financial choices with those you love. It's important -- for you and for them. Take this step to ensure that everyone knows what you want while you can still answer questions and provide feedback. And then eat a lot, have a wonderful time, and enjoy your holiday!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Avoiding the Scary Side of Healthcare

It’s 8:00 p.m., and the pain in your chest is still there. You finally admit to your loved one that maybe it’s time to got to the hospital. You can see their worry as they grab the car keys and hurry you out the door to the emergency room…

Let’s face it, going to the hospital can be a little frightening. But there are ways to prepare yourself and your loved ones. A little bit of preparation can make the experience better for everyone: you, your family, and the hospital staff.

1. Make sure that your healthcare power of attorney is up-to-date. This document names the person (or persons) you would like to make medical decisions for you if you can’t do so. Review this document periodically to make sure your choice(s) is still valid.

2. Review your Living Will. This document states your desires regarding treatments you would (or would not) want to receive in the hospital if you cannot make these decisions yourself. Your living will is an important resource for your healthcare power of attorney should he or she need to make decisions about your care.

3. Make your decision about organ donation and document it. If you would like to donate your organs at the time of your passing, make that decision now and put it in writing. One organ donor can save up to eight (8) lives, and the need far exceeds the supply.

4. Talk to your loved ones about your healthcare choices: who you’ve named as your healthcare power of attorney, what your medical wishes are, and whether you want to be an organ donor. The more they know in advance, the easier it will be for them if they ever have to step in.

5. Carry your DocuBank wallet card. Our firm provides this card because we know that immediate access to your emergency information and healthcare directives is important. Make sure that your card is next to your driver’s license in your wallet at all times.

6. Update the emergency information you store with DocuBank. This includes your allergies and medical conditions that display on your Emergency Card and can help with your emergency treatment. Also update your doctor’s and emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers.

At the hospital, the E.R. staff ask you many questions. One of them is whether you have a living will or other healthcare directive (they may call it an “advance directive”). You or your loved one presents your DocuBank card. Hospital staff can make immediate note of the allergies and medical conditions on your card. They then use the card to obtain your directives, adding them to your chart immediately. There is no fuss about where your living will is or who should go back home to get it. Your card takes the stress of you and your family when the focus should be on your health, not your healthcare directives. The doctor comes in and you start to relax a little…

Monday, August 31, 2009

In The News: Sun Lakes Splash: Is Your Estate Plan Working for You?

Here's my most recent article in the Sun Lakes Splash, entitled "Is Your Estate Plan Working for You?" If you'd like to check it out, you can find it here, and by going to page 38.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Importance of Personalized Advanced Directives

"Legal documents that express our wishes are not enough to prepare us for our final days. We must talk honestly with our loved ones, our clergy and our doctors and nurses about the choices we would make if confronted with a chronic or terminal illness." -- Rosalynn Carter

Advanced Directives, also known as Medical Directives or Healthcare Directives, are an important piece of the estate planning puzzle. There are different types of Advanced Directives, including the following: Healthcare (Medical) Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Mental Healthcare Power of Attorney. Each of these Advanced Directives allow you to give instructions about your healthcare--what you want done or not done--if you can't speak for yourself. Each state has its own laws regarding Advanced Directives and the formalities that need to be followed for your wishes to become effective.

Many people may be tempted to just fill out a form without taking the time to thoroughly think about the decisions they are making and discussing those decisions with their families. Unfortunately, this can lead to family discourse, which could also lead to your wishes not being followed.

Any form you decide to use should be personalized to reflect your individual values, priorities and wishes. If you don't agree with the language in a standard form, change it. Make sure that any directive you sign truly reflects your specific wishes.

So, before you prepare your Advanced Directives, it is important to spend some time considering the following:

1. Who should speak for me?
2. What makes my life worth living?
3. What are my personal and spiritual beliefs?
4. What is the hope for recovery?
5. What are the pros and cons of treatment for different chances of recovery?

You may also wish to take the time to explore your choices about death and dying, such as:
1. How would I like to spend my last days?
2. What are my feeling regarding organ donation and autopsy?
3. Burial arrangements
4. Funeral or memorial services

Because each of us are individuals, every one of us would have different answers to these questions. A colleague recently shared a wonderful tool for helping clients prepare personalized directives, called "Your Life, Your Choices." You can find the workbook here.

While having any kind of Advanced Directive may be helpful, you will have much greater peace of mind if you express your wishes to your family and friends in advance. While talking to your family and friends about your healthcare wishes will probably be uncomfortable, your clear guidance will be a meaningful gift if they are ever forced to make life and death decisions for you in the future. For ideas about how to start the conversation, click here.

To learn more about Advanced Directives in Arizona and Missouri, follow the links below.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Is Your Family Prepared for an Unexpected Tragedy?

Last night, I was checking CNN and read this article about Tom Murphy, a Sprint executive who was returning to Kansas City from a vacation with his family when a boulder fell from a cliff onto his car. Tragically, the boulder hit this man and knocked him unconscious. His wife struggled for over a mile to stop the car from the passenger seat. Upon arrival at the hospital, Mr. Murphy was pronounced dead. Sgt. Rich Armstrong of the Colorado State Patrol, said that while falling boulders are common, fatalities are rare. He has also been quoted as saying that just another half a second and Mr. Murphy wouldn't have been injured.

My heart stopped when I read this story. I don't know Tom Murphy or his family, but I cannot keep my heart from going out to them. What an awful thing for the Murphys' three sons to have to witness. I also can't keep from thinking about what would have happened if Mrs. Murphy had also been seriously injured.

If Mrs. Murphy had been injured to the point where she wasn't able to make decisions about her own medical treatment, the hospital would begin to search for someone with the authority to make decisions for her.

Mr. Murphy had already died, so, unfortunately, the hospital couldn't speak with him. And the Murphy's three children, who were in the accident with them, would not be able to make decisions for their mother because they are all minors.

The hospital would ask the kids if they have any grandparents or relatives they can call. If the hospital is able to get in touch with Mrs. Murphy's next of kin, let's say her sister, the next step would be trying to find out if she had a valid Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will in place.

What if the sister didn't know whether Mrs. Murphy had executed these important documents? What if the sister thinks Mrs. Murphy has these documents, but the sister doesn't know where to find them or how to access them? All the while, Mrs. Murphy is being treated in the hospital, but it is becoming increasingly clear that she will never recover from her injuries.

If the hospital only had a copy of these documents, they could determine what Mrs. Murphy's wishes were and proceed accordingly. If Mrs. Murphy had been carrying an emergency information card in her wallet or car from a service such as DocuBank, the hospital could have contacted DocuBank to request copies of Mrs. Murphy's healthcare directives be sent immediately to the hospital.

Instead, let's say that Mrs. Murphy did not have the actual directives in the car, nor did she have a DocuBank card in her wallet. Mrs. Murphy's sister is frantically searching the Murphy's Kansas City home for the directives, while facing the tragic and untimely loss of her brother-in-law and sister. She is also extremely concerned about her nephews, and desperately needs to get to Colorado to care for and comfort them.

The sister can't find any directives, so she heads to Colorado.

Mrs. Murphy and her sister are very close. About three months ago, they had a very deep conversation regarding their lives, and what they would want to have happen if they were in a terrible accident and were not likely to live. Mrs. Murphy stated emphatically that she did not want “stay hooked up to machines” and that she didn’t want to “be a vegetable.”

But, what do these things really mean? What is a “vegetable?” Does it mean a time when you can’t take care of yourself? A time when your brain’s not working but your body is being kept alive by machines? A time when you sit in a chair and don’t do anything all day? Or, when you’re just a body with some life in it?

Unfortunately, Mrs. Murphy never put her wishes and directions to her loved ones in a legal writing, which she then shared with her family and close friends.

The sister breaks down when she sees Mrs. Murphy in the hospital. She recalls the conversation she and Mrs. Murphy had three months ago, but now feels that Mrs. Murphy would have changed her mind since her husband is now gone. The sister feels that Mrs. Murphy would have wanted to continue fighting no matter what in order to be with her kids.

What the sister doesn’t know is that Mr. and Mrs. Murphy had already talked about all these things. They had even talked to an attorney before they went on vacation about preparing their estate plan, including healthcare directives, but decided not to move forward because of the cost—after all, they had lost a lot of money in the stock market this past year and things had been tough financially even though Mr. Murphy had a good job. Instead, they made some notes in a notebook at their house and tucked it away in a drawer, all the while believing that if something would happen to one of them, the other would know what to do.


If you have not taken the time to execute healthcare directives, don’t wait. There is no time like the present. You never know what life is going to throw at you today, tomorrow, or next week.

Take the time to prepare personalized directives and instructions to your healthcare agents, so your wishes will be known and followed, rather than just filling out some form. You may even wish to write a letter to your loved ones, or make an audio or video tape, to share your thoughts and feelings about what is most important to you.

Whatever you do, please make sure your family is prepared.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In The News: Sun Lakes Splash

I recently had my first article published in the Sun Lakes Splash, a monthly newspaper distributed to residents of Sun Lakes, Arizona. If you'd like to check it out, you can find it here, and by going to page 31.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Rethink Your Legacy" (from Money Magazine)

I recently read a pretty good article in Money Magazine titled "Rethink Your Legacy." I share a number of the same ideas included in the article, and thought it may be of some interest to all of you! To read the article, click HERE.

Monday, June 15, 2009

15 Questions You Must Ask Your Estate Planning Professional

If you've ever hired anyone to prepare a will or a trust, or if you've been thinking about doing so, there are a few questions you simply must ask. Why? Because planning an estate is important--it's important to you and your family. You should know if the professional you work with is experienced and knowledgeable. You should know if the professional you work with cares about the future success of your plan. And, you should know upfront what the entire cost of the plan will be over your lifetime and beyond, not just the fee that is charged to draft the documents.

Here are fifteen questions you must ask when selecting and working with an estate planning professional:
  1. Please tell me about your interest, background and experience in the planning field. What percentage of your practice is in estate planning?
  2. How do you define estate planning?
  3. What is your counseling philosophy?
  4. What is your process for working with me to assure that my plan works?
  5. How will you counsel me to design my plan?
  6. How do we assure that my assets are controlled by my instructions contained in my planning documents? Who is responsible for this coordination, you or me?
  7. How do we assure that my plan stays current with changes in the law?
  8. What is the level of involvement of my family in the planning process?
  9. How do you charge for your services? Specifically, how much will my estate be charged after I'm gone? What if I'm disabled?
  10. (If living trust attorney) What is your record with regard to probate? (What percentage of your trust-based plans wind up having assets probated? Do you charge differently for these assets?
  11. Do you handle the filing of death tax returns if they're necessary? If you do, how do you charge for that service?
  12. What happens if something happens to you?
  13. How do I prepare for our consultation?
  14. What type of service should I expect from you?
  15. Do you expect any commitments from me?
While none of these questions alone should make or break your decision on whether to hire a particular estate planning professional, the answers provided will give you a greater understanding of who the professional is and the process the professional employs while working with client.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Do I Need Life Insurance? - Q's to ask yourself!

Life insurance can play a very important role in the estate planning process. When we are planning an estate, we work with our clients and their other professional advisors, including their life insurance professionals and financial planners, to determine whether or not the client is fully covered, and whether the client could benefit from leveraging their life insurance to leave a legacy for their loved ones or to pay estate taxes.  The following questions may be helpful to you in deciding whether to purchase life insurance or in determining whether the policy you have is adequate for your loved ones' needs. 

Our firm does not sell insurance products - that is not our field of expertise.  If you think you and your family could benefit from life insurance, please contact a qualified life insurance professional in your area. 

How do I determine if I need life insurance?

To determine if you are a candidate for life insurance, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Do I have family members who rely on my income? (Consider what would happen to them if you were to suddenly die.)
  • If I do die suddenly, how much of my income will my family need to replace and for how long?
  • How much debt do I have that needs to be paid off in the event of my premature death?
  • How much money should I set aside for my children's college education?
  • What are my expected estate tax obligations and expenses at my death and my spouse's death?
  • Do I have a business partner who would rather not be in business with my spouse if I died?
  • Do I have expected retirement income that may better serve my spouse if I purchase life insurance rather than choosing one of the company's survivorship options?
  • Do I want to create an estate for my family or equalize my estate for estate tax purposes?
If any of these questions are applicable to you or your family, you should seek out a qualified life insurance professional and begin educating yourself about the need for life insurance planning.  It is also important to discuss the addition of life insurance with your estate planning professional who will be able to help you determine the best way for you to own the policy under your estate plan.

While not everyone needs life insurance, it is surprising how many people do not have enough information about life insurance to make an informed decision as to how it may be useful for them.

"Determining the Need for Life Insurance" is an excerpt from the book 21st Century Wealth, which is available online from

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

9 ways to cause a dispute after you die - probate and trust administration nightmares

The following link will take you to a post written by another member of the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, David Otis Edwards of the Edwards Group, LLC.  I found the post to be quite funny and thought you all might enjoy it, too!  

David Otis Edwards, Edwards Group, LLC: 9 ways to cause a dispute after you die - probate and trust administration nightmares

Have You Done Proper Estate Planning? Part 4 of 4

The Importance of the Team Approach

Creating an estate plan is not difficult, but it does require the involvement of all your professional advisors:  your attorney, your accountant, and your financial and insurance advisors.  If all the professionals are included in the planning, you are much more likely to have a plan that works.  If not, you may receive conflicting advice that leads to confusion and inaction.  

We suggest that you allow your estate planning professionals to involve your other advisors in your planning, and keep them apprised of steps you are taking.  That way everyone is fully informed and has a chance to offer their particular expertise to the process.  

A Proper Estate Plan Meets Your Goals
and Keeps You in Control 
of the Process and the Results!

A Word of Caution
Proper estate planning revolves around your relationship with a qualified estate planning attorney.  Unfortunately, there are many businesses and salespeople masquerading as estate planning professionals.  They are inundating the public with sales schemes that involve selling wills, living trusts, and other estate planning documents without the involvement of attorneys in the design and drafting of the documents.  They are the opposite of what I and my colleagues in the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys stand for. 

Proper estate planning requires professional thoroughness by attorneys and other advisors and respect for the overall well-being of the client and the client's family.  We aspire to the highest ethical professional behavior that will lend dignity to the client, the planning professionals and the planning process.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Have You Done Proper Estate Planning? Part 3 of 4

The Three Step StrategyTM

It's Not About Documents - It's About Results!
The Key to proper estate planning is clear, comprehensive, customized instructions for your own care and that of your loved ones.  These instructions can be included in a will, a trust, and in several other related documents.  We find that most of our clients are best served with a combination of these tools, backed up by the Three Step StrategyTM.

Step 1: DEVELOP Your Plan with Counseling-Oriented Planning Partners (as opposed to a word processing, document-oriented attorney)

We fear that much of what passes for estate planning is little more than word processing!  We don't believe you should pay a licensed professional to do word processing.  Their value is in their counsel and advice, based on knowledge, wisdom and experience.  If word processing is all you want, you may as well do it yourself!  But if you want an estate plan that works, seek good counseling from an attorney who is willing to work closely with other professionals such as your financial advisor and accountant.

Step 2: COMMIT Yourself and Your Family to a Formal Continuing Maintenance and Education Program

An estate plan faces a myriad of changes.  First, there is constant change in your personal, family, and financial situation.  Secondly, there is constant change in both tax law and non-tax law that impacts your estate plan.  Third, there is constant change in your attorney's experience and expertise.  Your professional advisors are continually improving through ongoing education and collected experience.

Since everything constantly changes, you cannot expect a plan to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish if it is never updated.  The costs of failing to update are typically far greater than the costs of keeping your plan current.  

Step 3: SECURE Appropriate Assistance for You and Your Family to Transfer Your Wisdom Along with Your Wealth.

It's one thing to pass your wealth to the next generation.  It's a different thing to pass it along in an orderly and protected manner.  And it's yet another thing to pass along your wisdom.  A good estate plan will accomplish all three things.  

By working with a team of professionals, your heirs will be able to receive their inheritance in a form that is protected from creditors and predators.  In addition, you can structure your estate plan to provide in-depth instructions or commentary on those things that you believe are important for those heirs to know and do.  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Have You Done Proper Estate Planning? Part 2 of 4

The Importance of Title
Everything in estate planning comes down to title.  Personal protections depend on title.  Tax savings depend on title.  In other words, you and your family only receive the benefits of your planning if your planning controls your wealth.  Control comes from title.

There are basically three types of title:  Individual Name, Joint Name and Contract.  Joint name property includes tenancy in common, joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, and in some states, tenancy by the entirety.  There are also a few states, including Arizona, that have a different type of "joint" title - community property.  Contracts include beneficiary designations (such as on insurance and retirement plans) and trusts.

Assets owned in individual name are the only assets that are controlled by a will.  Jointly owned accounts and beneficiary designations are controlled by operation of law.  Only assets owned by a trust are controlled by the instructions of that trust.

The Pitfalls of Jointly-Owned Property
  • Your joint tenancy property can pass to unintended heirs.
  • Joint tenancy does not avoid probate, it only delays it.
  • There may be unintended gift and estate taxes if joint tenancy is used between non-spouses or with children.
  • The joint tenancy property may be subject to your joint tenant's creditors.
  • Joint tenancy makes no provisions for estate tax planning.
  • Joint tenancy doesn't allow you to give your property to whom you want, when you want, and the way you want.
The Pitfalls of Planning with a Beneficiary Designation
  • Designating your beneficiaries on a standard business form "beneficiary designation" often means losing control of a major part of your estate.  It does not enable you to leave instructions or provide guidance to your loved ones.
  • Oftentimes the wrong beneficiary is name in the beneficiary designation.
  • A beneficiary designation won't protect your spouse and children from creditors or unscrupulous people.
  • Equal distributions from a beneficiary designation can  cause unequal results that won't meet your family's special needs.
  • Beneficiary designations make no provision for federal tax planning.
The Pitfalls of a Will
  • Wills guarantee probate - which can generate executor and attorney fees and cause much time delay before your loved ones can receive their inheritance.
  • Wills are fully public.  They are open to inspection by anyone who wants to know about your will and affairs.  
  • Wills offer no planning or direction for you or your family in the event of your disability.
  • Wills are easily challenged by unhappy relatives.
  • Wills most often don't control their makers' life insurance proceeds, retirement benefits, or jointly-owned property.  
  • Wills are often bare-bones form documents written in hard-to-understand language.  They don't capture the hopes, fears, dreams, values and ambitions of their makers.
The Pitfalls of a Trust
  • Although most living trusts appear to be better than wills, they are about the same as wills if not fully funded, because they do not avoid probate.
  • Most living trusts are sterile legal forms that do not contain instructions for loved ones.  They only accomplish limited objectives.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Business Q & A in the Ocotillo Tribune

Come check out the link below to view our answers for the Business Q & A feature in the Ocotillo Tribune that was published on May 1, 2009.  Enjoy!

Have You Done Proper Estate Planning? Part 1 of 4

What is "Proper" Estate Planning?

Proper estate planning allows you to plan for yourself and your loved ones without giving up control of your affairs.  Your estate plan should allow for the possibility of your own disability.  It should give "what you have to whom you want, when you want, and the way you want, all while assuring your wisdom is transferred along with your wealth."  Your estate plan should include fully disclosed and controlled costs for you, and for those you love.  

Two Problems with Traditional Estate Planning
The First Problem is that Most Estate Plans are Upside Down!
We see the planning process as a pyramid.  The pyramid's foundation is the thorough understanding of your needs, goals, dreams and aspirations.  Most people want to be sure that they (and their spouse if married) are taken care of now, and throughout their retirement years.

Next, we need to have a thorough understanding of family members and family dynamics - those people that you care about and who will someday receive the benefits of your success.  For some people, family includes children and grandchildren.  For others, it may be nieces and nephews, friends, or community.  And, let's not forget about our pets, or "furbabies" as some would call them.

You are the expert on family matters.  We depend on you to teach us about your family.  We'll teach you about the law.

After the foundation of the pyramid is laid, it is appropriate to discuss wealth.  We find that most of our clients first want to protect and preserve the wealth that they have accumulated over the years, and then are also interested in enhancing that wealth.

The final building block of the pyramid is made up of strategies and tools to save taxes.  Like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, this is the easiest piece to fit in -- if all of the proper groundwork has been laid.

When we say that most estate plans are upside down, we mean that most are built on tax planning instead of family planning.  Personal family concerns and goals are relegated to a lower priority instead of being the very foundation of the plan.  

We believe that by planning according to the pyramid, we can better focus on client goals and create solutions that will ultimately make the planning easier and more effective.  

The Second Problem is that Most "Traditional" Estate Plans Just Don't Work!
We know an estate plan works when every expectation that the client had in mind when they began planning is completely met.  Of course, it's really the family members who will see the results.

Why don't most plans work?  We believe it's because many clients and professional advisors see estate planning as being transactional.  They say, "I did my estate plan."  In reality, estate planning is a process, not a transaction.  Because everything constantly changes, your plan must be changing, too.

Temporary Website

A temporary website is up and running while we work on creating and publishing our permanent site.  On the temporary site, you will find information about "who we are," "what we do,"and  "what sets us apart," as well as resources and contact information.  I hope you find the information helpful in your search for an estate planning professional.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call.  And, don't forget to check back regularly for updates and new information.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I recently decided to start a blog related to my law practice.  My website is under construction, so until it is up and running, this blog will be the place to learn more about the services provided by my firm.  Of course, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to call or e-mail.  I do not charge for phone calls, and there is no obligation created merely by contacting me for more information.