Married with No Estate Plan But Too Busy to Make One?

Signing DocumentsFact: 64% of Americans do not have a will.

Fact: 1/3 of America’s married couples are without life insurance.

Fact: Even among those couples that do have life insurance, 43% still say they would be in financial trouble if one of the spouses passed away.

This month, NerdWallet and USA Today are teaming up with tips for married couples who need to get some sort of plan together but can’t seem to find the time to actually do it. (Sound familiar?) Let’s look at a few of those tips below:

  • Figure out how much life insurance you actually need. In most families, at least one spouse should carry coverage. If your employer offers a policy, that’s a start, but don’t assume it’s all the protection you will need. It almost never is. Research is the hard part, but a professional can help with guidance. The actual application can be done in an afternoon.
  • Make a “financial safety box.” Put all your important documents, records, and other such information in a single location. Then make sure that everyone in your family knows where it is. In the event of an emergency or a sudden death someday, a frantic scramble to find essential information is a hassle that no one wants to deal with, and it can cause big problems. USA Today suggests making a “one-page, quick-start guide” that lists your bank accounts, insurance policies, and other important information. Put that page on top of the stack and update it often.
  • Have a conversation. Do you know what your spouse wants for his or her burial? And where should his or her personal assets go? Assumptions about the answers to these questions are one of the leading problems in estate planning. Don’t assume. Communicate about it instead. (Isn’t that the answer to just about every relationship challenge?)
  • Let Noreen handle it. Okay, they don’t put it quite that way in their article, but that is one of NerdWallet’s essential recommendations — let an experienced professional do the heavy lifting. As a Middlesex County estate planning lawyer, I’ve helped many couples put together wills, trusts, and other essential documents to protect their families for the future. I can do the same for you. I want you to be involved, but I also want to respect your time. I know that life is busy, and that’s why I’m here to shoulder the stress.

If you and your spouse know you need a plan in place but just can’t find the time, I understand. Give me a call and we’ll have a quick chat about how my office can make a difference. Let’s talk.

November Is National Family Caregivers Month

æ??ã??握ã??Every November, the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) gives a formal, month-long salute to elder care’s unsung heroes: the unpaid, volunteer, in-home family caregiver. They call it National Family Caregivers Month.

More than 90 million Americans currently provide some sort of unpaid care to a loved one dealing with disability, disease, chronic illness, or simply the challenges of old age. CAN is a non-profit organization that helps to link those caregivers with helpful online and community resources.

Each National Family Caregivers Month is assigned a theme. 2015’s is RESPITE. It sounds almost like an Aretha Franklin song, and much like “respect,” “respite” is an R-word that America’s volunteer caregivers could use a lot more of.

CAN reminds us that, for these hardworking heroes, respite isn’t just a request. It’s truly a need. None of us can help others if we don’t also take time for ourselves. In recognition of that fact, the organization has taken this year’s theme and made it an acronym for the various ways that caregivers can help themselves to some peace of mind this holiday season:

Rest and relaxation — An hour on the couch to watch some TV, an afternoon on the beach, or a day at the spa can work wonders for rejuvenation.

Energize — All of us reenergize in different ways. Ask yourself where you find your “happy place” in life and make a point of spending some time there to recharge.

Sleep — In a way, caregivers are really sleeping for two. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep each night. I’m not saying you should aim for 16, but don’t cut yourself short with four or five either. As CAN notes, insomnia and other sleep disorders are notoriously common among caregivers. If you’re dealing with those, talk to a doctor. Solutions are available.

Programs — This year, CAN has partnered with the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to offer local programs throughout the country that help to accomplish National Family Caregivers Month’s goals.

Imagination — The brain needs a break too. Read a book. Doodle. Daydream. Let your imagination run free.

Take Five — Little breaks matter as much as big ones. Resolve to allowing yourself five-minute or ten-minute “breathers” throughout your busy days.

Exhale — Take a deep breath! Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and add energy to your daily life.

As a Middlesex County elder law attorney, I work with family caregivers all year long. I know how much they need some respite (and how rarely they get it).

That’s why I’m so happy to see an acknowledgment like National Family Caregivers Month come along. November really is the right time for it. Few people need to hear “thank you” more than those who’re making sacrifices in their own lives for the good of others.

Thank you.

One Woman Learns She’ll Live Longer and Responds Hilariously

I wanted to share an article I found that adopts rather a humorous perspective on old age, written by a woman who mirthfully admits she’s knocking on that door herself.

Columnist Betty Coutant reflects on a recent revelation in which she learned that, even at the age of 60, she should prepare herself to live another 80 years.

That would be a red-letter headline for some people, the best news of the century. Coutant is more hesitant.

“I’m not even sure I want to live with that long,” she says. “Check with me again when I get closer to 90, though.”Portrait of a senior adult woman

Musing on the creaks, aches, and pains that already greet her each morning, she wonders if her “hinges” are really up for the challenges of a medical miracle. (She brags that, much like Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, she has “moves like Jagger,” but hers mirror Mick the 72-year-old.)

And is there even enough to occupy her interest for so long?

“What will they have me doing at 120-ish?” she asks. “Do we need more angry white women? Methinks not, and me imagines you thinks not as well.”

Tongue-in-cheek as Coutant’s musings are, they highlight a fast-emerging reality: most of us are going to live longer than we once anticipated. For some us, that could mean a lot longer. All the way to 140, you ask? Well, that remains to be seen, but the point is that we don’t really know.

The future is as uncertain as it is exciting. The best thing we can do (and really the only thing we can do now) is plan wisely. That’s something I can help with.

I love to find little articles like these, penned by someone who approaches aging and the unknown with a sense of humor. After all, if we have a lot of life left, we might as well fill it with laughter!

Can Banks Help You Care for Aging Parents?

E22Did you know that the fastest-growing group in the United States is seniors aged 85 and older? Or that in the next two to three decades, America will have more than 75 million people who are 60 or older?

Those statistics appear in an intriguing new article in Barron’s, which makes a claim you might have a hard time believing — if you’re struggling to care for your aging parents, the big banks might be able to help you.

As it turns out, banks have been polling their wealthy clients for quite some time about the issues that mean the most to them. College savings, tax returns, and investments used to top the list. Not anymore.

These days, banks say their clientele are more anxious about long-term care for their parents than any other financial challenge.

That’s why Bank of America set up its Eldercare Planning Services program in 2012. And they aren’t the only ones. Barron’s reports that Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Northern Trust are among the many major banks now offering some form of elder care service.

Mind you, the banks aren’t actually paying for your bills. In fact, their services primarily target only their wealthiest accountholders. But they can help make the transactions themselves a little easier.

The Barron’s article even describes one episode in which U.S. Trust helped its customer arrange for dialysis appointments at various cities throughout Europe so that they could take one last global vacation together.

Any time you’re talking about banks, though, it’s best to proceed with caution. Many of the services available through your bank’s elder care office can be even more easily achieved outside the big-bank system. As a matter of fact, I help many of my clients with those some kinds of arrangements all the time.

Still, if you’re looking at substantial long-term costs in your future, you will need a bank account, and it might be a good idea to choose a bank that offers some sort of elder-oriented service.

Ultimately, the best advice is to get good advice before you sign on the dotted line for financial services of any kind. And when it comes to advice on elder law, I’m always happy to help. Feel free to give me a call.

Cancer Medication May Improve Parkinson’s, Dementia

Home careParkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia all share certain key traits. Now, it seems, we might add leukemia to that list too.

NPR reports that nilotinib, a medication long used to treat leukemia, may confer significant health benefits for seniors diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia as well.

Lewy body is one of the most common kinds of dementia, second only to Alzheimer’s, and in fact, the two are often confused in their early stages. It isn’t uncommon for doctors to misdiagnose Lewy body, given that the symptoms may mirror that of other neural disorders like Parkinson’s.

But in patients treated with nilotinib, those symptoms show remarkable improvement.

“After 25 years in Parkinson’s disease research, this is the most excited I’ve ever been,” Fernando Pagan told NPR. Pagan directs the Movement Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center.

For Parkinson’s patients, this is a rare breath of fresh air. Good news has been much more common on the dementia front.

Indeed, every week seems to bring a significant new advancement in our understanding of — and treatment for — dementia, a condition that not long ago was considered entirely untreatable.

Of course, we still haven’t managed to turn the tide on dementia altogether, and those who are diagnosed with the crippling disorder continue to face real medical and financial hardship. But good news is always welcome, and there seems to be plenty of it lately.

How End-of-Life Discussions Can Save Your Life

Couple meeting with doctorAmy Berman is a nurse and a nationally recognized expert in senior care. She’s also a cancer patient with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. In a recent Washington Post editorial, she explains that advance planning and end-of-life discussions have saved her life, even as she faces a terminal prognosis.

For Berman, that began with a decision to focus on palliative care. In other words, she and her doctors are more interested in making the rest of her life as enjoyable and painless as possible, as opposed to employing extreme treatment options that may or may not make any difference but that would almost certainly leave her feeling less than her best.

As Berman puts it, it’s about her quality of life, not quantity of days.

Palliative care isn’t always the right focus. It’s a personal choice and a highly diagnosis-dependent one. But Berman says you need to have an honest conversation with open-minded doctors (and get second opinions) to make sure you’re embarking on the best course.

But advance planning doesn’t stop in the doctor’s office. There’s a lot you can do on the legal side of things, too.

“High-quality advance-care planning discussions help people like me understand their options and make their wishes known,” Berman writes. “They can identify a surrogate to make decisions when they are unable to, and they can document their preferences in their medical records. These discussions — which should be ongoing, not just one-time — can revisit decisions in the face of new challenges…”

Wills, trusts, healthcare directives, and power of attorney are documents that all Americans should have in place, not just those living with end-stage cancer or other terminal diagnoses.

If you’d like help preparing for your own future, my Middlesex County estate planning attorney services can help. It’s never too early to talk about how you’ll handle those final chapters in life — in fact, it’s even better to have that conversation when “the end” is still a long way away! Give me a call today.

Old Age Is Never an Identical Experience

Joyful senior stretching his legs in a parkThe New Yorker calls them “the oldest old” — people aged 85 and above. It isn’t exactly a flattering term, but it makes the columnist’s point: most people younger than that age have a hard time grasping what it could possibly be like to be that old.

Popular media relies on two stereotypes: the cantankerous geriatric and the flighty eccentric. New Yorker columnist Ceridwen Dovey recently realized just how powerful those stereotypes are. In trying to create a new novel with an octogenarian protagonist, the author kept slipping into those archetypal modes, quite by accident.

Upon further investigation, though, Dovey discovered that there’s really nothing uniform about old age. It’s a different experience for everyone who goes through it.

Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, do any of us ever experience anything in life in exactly the same way? Why should aging be any different?

It isn’t.

In realizing that, we should also note that old age can be a better experience for some people than others. Much of that has to do with how carefully we’ve planned for our latter years. Happiness is often earned by preparation.

One of my passions in life is helping people create a reliable, well-protected future for themselves — right on into old age. That’s what my Middlesex County elder law practice is all about. I’d like to help you make the best of yours. Call me or contact me online to set up an easy, confidential consultation. I’d love to chat.

When Family Matters Are Messy, an Attorney Can Help

Rich elderly man with gold-digger companion or wifeFamily issues can be so tricky. The Chicago Tribune recently ran a story about an elderly father with a much younger girlfriend. He’s handed over a large portion of his assets to his new love, much to the chagrin of his now-grown children.

They say the girlfriend is out for their dad’s money. She says she’s his caregiver and they’re very much in love. The father agrees with her, and it’s his money. But is he of sound mind? So far, a doctor hasn’t said anything to the contrary, but the adult children believe that just such a declaration isn’t too far off in the future.

Meanwhile, an impartial observer looks at the whole situation and simply shrugs. Who’s to say who’s in the right here?

As a Massachusetts estate planning attorney, part of my job is to walk my clients through thorny family issues like the one contemplated in the Tribune. The issue of who’s “right” matters in some cases more than others. Often, there is a practical path to be found, one that leads to a better outcome than emotionally entangled relatives might be able to reach on their own.

Advance planning and honest communication are both key to the whole process. With respect to the latter, part of my job as the estate planning attorney is to make sure that you, the client, have a clear understanding of whose interests I represent (i.e. yours).

Maybe what’s best for you isn’t what’s best for your children or your significant other. The nice thing about a private meeting in our office is that we can consider those kinds of questions coolly, calmly, intelligently, and confidentially. I can answer all your questions and help you reach a decision that is ultimately yours to make — and yours alone.

If that sounds like a conversation you’re ready to have, give me a call. I’d love to help.

More People with Mental Illness Are Reaching Old Age

Sadly, it has long been the case that people with severe mental illness — especially schizophrenia and similar conditions — tend to die at much younger ages than those who are not suffering from mental illness. But now that’s starting to change.

The University of Iowa’s Center on Aging reports that more and more people who suffer from severe mental illness are living into old age. That’s largely due to advances in treatment therapy, improved social programs, earlier diagnoses, and an improved focus on tending to these patients’ underlying ailments.

That’s certainly good news. Society’s inability to meet the mentally ill’s needs has been an ongoing source of sadness and tragedy. A documented improvement in their average lifespan, not to mention their quality of life, is very welcome news indeed.

Society will now need to plan to address the needs of a growing elderly population with increased mental illness, though — needs that might differ significantly from those of their younger years.

“It’s a very difficult social problem, and we’ll have to start thinking carefully about how best to meet that need,” Dr. Susan Schultz recently told The Des Moines Register. Dr. Schultz is a geriatric psychiatrist and the director of UoI’s Center on Aging. “It’s a big question that will become more important over time.”

Family members will need to do some thinking and planning too, as will the mental health patients themselves. Long-term care costs are already expensive as it is. Coupled with additional psychological and/or psychiatric care, those costs could become overwhelming. Proactive planning can help.

If you or a loved one suffers from mental illness, now might be a good time to begin thinking about your options for paying for long-term care. Figuring out those solutions isn’t always easy, but they are absolutely attainable — and I’m here to help. I invite you to give my office a call so we can talk more about your options.


Proactive vs. Reactive Estate Planning

As Walt Disney once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” If only everyone applied that philosophy to estate planning.

I recently came across an editorial out of Pittsburgh, weighing the benefits of proactive estate planning vs. reactive estate planning.

Proactive estate planning is what it sounds like — making plans before you need them. The proactive crowd is keen on foresight. They know they’ll need estate plans someday, so they get all their ducks in a row now, while everything is going well. No one’s sick, no one’s in the hospital, no one’s in the last chapters of their lives — but should disability, illness, injury, or unexpected death rear its ugly head tomorrow, they’ll be prepared.

The reactive camp isn’t so big on preparation. Oh, sure, they end up with estate plans eventually — but only when they’re running a race with deadlines and hoping they stay a little ahead of “too late.” Reactive types don’t give estate planning a second thought until someone’s health has taken a turn for the worst, or maybe when someone dies without warning. To quote the article, these are people “in crisis.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorialists sum it up like this: “While there are almost always options available at the eleventh hour (often limited because of timing), obviously advance planning will save time, money and stress.”

Advance planning also leads to better decision-making. Crisis situations limit options and tie hands. Rash choices are made. But when you come into my office and sit down for a conversation during “a time of peace,” if you will, cooler heads can prevail. We can take a long look into the far-off future and account for every contingency so that you aren’t terribly blindsided someday.

No one has ever regretted being proactive in their estate planning. The reactive folks, though? They know a thing or two about hindsight.