How to Talk About Finances and the Future During the Holidays

Turkey, tinsel, and… taxes?

Believe it or not, holiday gatherings are widely recommended as ideal times to talk about important, future-focused concerns with your loved ones.

Sound too awkward? You’re not alone. Anxieties run high this time of year as it is, and no one wants to drag spirits down or flare tempers up by flirting with potentially sensitive subject matter.

For those of you who share these concerns, allow me to recommend an article I came across in The Wall Street Journal. “Yes, Virginia,” they write, “it’s possible to talk about family finances over the holidays and not ruin dinner.”

These are, after all, discussions you have to have eventually. Given that inevitability, it really is best to do it with everyone under one roof. And it doesn’t even have to feel like pulling teeth. On the contrary, “the talk” might leave you all feeling like a million bucks.

The Journal provides some great tips on broaching the subject, easing into it, including kids, and keeping the overall tone uplifting and light.

Consider making this holiday one to remember by having an empowering conversation that could benefit your family for decades to come.

Have the happiest of holidays, everyone!

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Wreaths Across America Looking to Honor More Veterans


Hundreds of volunteers gathered at Arlington to place more than five thousand donated Christmas wreaths on headstones in the cemetery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, Wreaths Across America (WAA) places a wreath on the grave of veterans throughout all fifty states. The organization, based in Maine, spends the whole year raising funds and rallying volunteers, culminating in a weeklong commemoration each December.

The effort first began 22 years ago, originally focused solely within Arlington National Cemetery. Now it stretches nationwide. But this year, the folks at WAA are hoping to do what they’ve never done before: place a wreath on every single veteran gravestone in Arlington.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. According to The Washington Times, the whole project would add up to nearly a quarter-million wreaths, coinciding with the 150th Anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery.

Unfortunately, their chances of success are uncertain. Currently, according to the Times, they’re projecting to fall just short of their goal unless last-minute donations spike.

Efforts are underway all around the country to push WAA over their finish lines, both in Arlington and at memorial sites around the nation, including right here in Massachusetts.

Whether the group ultimately covers every grave or even just manages to get close, the sincerity and gratitude in their efforts is incredibly touching.

It’s wonderful to see veterans honored during a time of year when their families may be hurting the most — and when many of these veterans made enormous sacrifices in spending time away from their families during the holidays.

Those interested in supporting Wreaths Across America this year can learn more or make a donation at

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Preparing to Die: Why the Will Is Just the Beginning

“Prepare to die” sounds like something a super-villain says to a caped hero in a Hollywood blockbuster. Certainly, it’s not a phrase any of us want to hear today.

But all of us will pass away someday, and when we do, we’ll leave people we love behind. They’ll have a lot to take care of when that happens. Attending to an estate is a difficult thing to ask of a family when they’re grieving, but it’s something that must be done.

“Preparing for death” in the legal sense, then, isn’t nearly as sinister as it sounds. In fact — contrary to the inflection with which The Joker might say it to Batman, for example — it really is an act of compassion and care for those who’ll inherit a substantial burden after we leave.

The New York Times recently ran an article about the surprising number of tasks that must be dealt with in today’s estate plans. It’s so much more than just a will these days. Trusts, health care directives, burial instructions, powers of attorney, lists of online account passwords… the list goes on and on.

As a Winchester estate planning attorney, I think one of the ways I can be most helpful to my clients is staying up to date on all the changes and trends in end-of-life preparations.

The law in this area changes all the time, and as technology and society evolve, our estate documents must also change to reflect those developments. Otherwise, we risk ineffective or unintended results.

“Preparing to die” is an understandably uncomfortable thing. I’m here to take care of those things for my clients so they can focus on living their lives instead. If you need help or advice with your will or any other estate documents, please feel free to call my office today. We can talk about what you might need to bring your future plans up to date.

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Picking Up Where Mom and Dad Leave Off

Forbes recently asked its readers whether they could pick up where their parents leave off. It’s an odd question, and one that a lot of children won’t have asked themselves yet.

The point Forbes is making is that parents don’t simply leave an estate behind when they die. They leave a whole life behind, too. And someone has to tend to that.

The article described a baby boomer who was vacationing overseas when she found out her elderly mother had suffered serious brain damage after a fall. Fortunately, the mother survived and recovered, but the daughter suddenly realized that she was totally unprepared to handle her mother’s affairs had something gone horribly wrong.

But Forbes isn’t talking about just an estate plan. The mother in this story already had all that — the will, the trusts, the healthcare proxy, and so on.

But what about the deed to her house? The list of bills that would need to be paid? Automatic drafts from her bank account? Keys to her property? Newspaper subscriptions? Credit cards? Community responsibilities? Documents related to a small business that a parent might own?

Your parents will leave whole lives behind when they pass. The little details can add up to a lot, and it can be a challenge to keep track of them all during the final years of a loved one’s life.

Communication is really the key when caring for an aging parent. Remember that no detail is too minor to bother with addressing now. You’ll likely be grateful that you did.

Each of my clients receives an Estate Planning Binder at the conclusion of our planning. This binder has sections that can be completed so that all the personal information someone might need is collected in one location.

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Accepting Extra Care Isn’t Always Easy for Seniors

“It’s a hand, not a shark.” That’s what the matronly Nora says as she extends her arm to the scared little boy Pete in Disney’s classic fantasy film, Pete’s Dragon. He really did need her help, but he was scared to take it. Support can be scary like that.

Seniors who are no longer able to completely care for themselves can have a hard time accepting outside help. I’ve known many aging parents who balk at their children’s offer to hire in-home health care or other forms of assisted living. Hands sometimes look a lot like sharks.

I recently came across an article in Forbes in which one woman explained how her ultra-stubborn mom finally acquiesced and accepted in-home senior care.

The elderly mother didn’t want the help in her own home, but she agreed that for a weeklong vacation away from family, it might not be a bad idea. As it turns out, the mother and the caregiver got along swimmingly. Maybe having someone around more frequently wasn’t such a bad thing after all, she decided.

The truth is that everybody needs a helping hand now and then, but our instincts may lead us to resist. Only you can decide what is best for your family, but I think it’s important to approach these decisions with patience and respect.

It takes a little time sometimes, but kindness and composure can produce the best resolutions.

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Veterans Affairs Looking for Many Thousands of New Hires

The past year has been a tough one for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as for the people it serves. The organization was rocked by scandal after the revelation that many veterans languished in poor health on incredibly lengthy waiting lists.

Now, the V.A. is responding.

The New York Times reports that new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald wants to hire “tens of thousands of new doctors, new nurses, [and] new clinicians.” Many have blamed the waitlist scandal on the agency’s short-staffed employment numbers.

But is McDonald’s proposal practical? He himself admitted that he’s concerned about whether the V.A. can actually recruit and hire that many talented people.

Of course, a larger employee roster will not by itself solve all of the Department’s problems. Accordingly, as the Times reports, McDonald also proposed the following:

  • Flattening the V.A.’s hierarchical structure
  • Eliminating potential incentives for misrepresenting wait-time data
  • Fostering a new departmental culture in order to encourage constructive criticism and dissent
  • Taking additional steps to make it easier for veterans to access care (the details for which are reportedly forthcoming)

It is encouraging to see Veterans Affairs acting aggressively to address some very concerning problems. But as is often the case with the government, what is proposed may not translate to what is achieved. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, however, the Department’s existing policies and procedures are having a very real impact on real people — right now, today. They need our help.

If you or a loved one is concerned about veterans benefits or other V.A.-related legal issues, please feel free to contact my office today.

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Why You Should Keep Your Will Up to Date

Your life isn’t stagnant. Why should your will be? After all, a Last Will and Testament is really a reflection of the life you lead — the things you own, the people love you, and the place you call home. But a life well lived is a life of change.

How long has it been since you last executed or updated your will? Five years? Fifteen? More? How different does your world look today than it did back then?

Some of the top reasons for updating a will in Massachusetts include:

  • Changes in family — Have some of your beneficiaries passed away? Are there new children, grandchildren, or spouses in the picture? Little kids who’ve since grown into full adults? Maybe you’d like to add new nieces, nephews, or in-laws. Or modify your choices for Personal Representative?
  • Changes in assets — Some assets are best addressed with specificity, including many bank accounts, insurance policies, benefit packages, pension plans, and corporate assets. Internet passwords and other modern-day IT considerations are important too. If your estate is significantly bigger, smaller, or otherwise different today, it’s probably time for an updated will.

Even without major changes in your life, it’s a good idea to check in on your estate plan every few years just to make sure there aren’t any gaps. (And remember to always meet with a local lawyer any time you move to a different state!)

Modifying an estate plan is easy with professional guidance. If you’re in Massachusetts and would like to give your Last Will and Testament a second glance, feel free to give me a call.

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Social Security Increase for 2015

Social Security announced this week that 2015 benefits will increase by 1.7%. The increase is ties to the Cost of Living Adjustment, and will begin on December 31, 2014.

All changes to Social Security for 2015

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New Hope for Veterans Discharged Because of PTSD

Previous generations didn’t understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as we do today. Unfortunately, that led to many Vietnam-era veterans receiving an other-than-honorable discharge. And for decades, thousands of those people have been denied essential veterans benefits.

That’s all changing now, though, thanks to new guidelines handed down by the U.S. Department of Defense last month. As The New York Times reports, the new rules mark the first time that military review boards are being instructed to consider the role PTSD may have played in the initial discharge.

Advocates for veterans benefits point out that PTSD has a profound influence on behavior and may have been responsible for instances of misconduct that led to the less-than-honorable discharges.

The Defense Department’s new ruling comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The suit — which will go forward despite the new guidelines — argues that military boards routinely denied benefits to veterans who suffered from PTSD. VVA estimates that 250,000 Vietnam vets were discharged other than honorably, and as many as 80,000 of those had PTSD.

If you were discharged less than honorably from the military and are suffering from a denial of benefits because of it, a Massachusetts veterans benefits attorney can help you understand these latest developments in the law.

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How to Age Gracefully: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but there’s one thing we have in common: we’re all getting older. Time’s rhythm is steady, and try as we might, everyone ages just a little bit more with each passing day. But surely there’s a difference between aging and aging well.

Not long ago, put together a list of ten tips for aging gracefully. Their helpful hints run the gamut from diet and exercise to an active social life, but what struck me most was that all of their advice could really be boiled down to that timeless trio of mind, body, and spirit.

For the mind, they recommend a commitment to good mental health, which might mean counseling or some casual therapy. The article also challenged the elderly to teach themselves something new every day. Curiosity and application keep the mind sharp.

Unsurprisingly, the body got the bulk of their advice — good food, plenty of sleep, and consistent exercise. It’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups with the doctor too, in order to keep an eye on blood pressure, blood sugar, and any suspicious health-related developments.

But I was especially pleased to see some attention paid to the part of us that might get neglected the most: spirit. stressed the importance of making friends and spending quality time with the ones you love. You’re never too old for an active social life, and it can do wonders for your health.

Of course, there’s really no dividing line between the mind, the body, and the spirit. What’s good for one is good for the others, and whole-self health may just be the key to a long and happy life.

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