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.

One Hundred and Happier Than Ever

She’s never been in a nursing home. She lives alone, takes care of herself, and appears to be in perfect health. She’s the envy of many — thriving, highly respected, and seemingly happy as can be.

She’s Ann Husfloen of Wisconsin, and she is 100 years old.

I recently came across a news article about Husfloen’s one-hundredth birthday party (apparently something of a town-wide affair), and her high spirits and great health made an impression on me. After all, most people her age utilize some kind of assisted living service, and most can’t quite claim picture-perfect health.

But there is Ann Husfloen, looking radiant and not a day over 70 in her newspaper profile. She’s living like most twenty-year-olds… by herself and playing cards with the neighbors at night for fun now and then.

Interesting, when she was in her twenties, she got a job as an assistant care provider for ailing elderly women in her area. Maybe that experience helped her approach old age with the grace that now earns her the neighborhood’s admiration. She is “such a lady,” her property manager says.

Of course, things aren’t exactly the same as they were eighty years ago. She doesn’t drive anymore (she gave that up at age 93!), and she does have some help cleaning the house for a couple of hours each day. Otherwise, she isn’t anyone’s idea of what 100 looks like.

Maybe Ms. Husfloen is the face of the future, though. With new advances in medical science and an ever-expanding average lifespan, it’s likely that more Americans will reach age 100 in the decades ahead.
Naturally, most of us will need a little more help along the way. The challenge for now is keeping ourselves healthy, embracing a positive attitude in the face of growing older, and making financial arrangements to provide for what might be a very long life.

That last goal is a big part of what I help people with as a Middlesex County elder law attorney. If you were as touched by Ann’s story as I was, give my office a call and we can talk about practical ways to secure a bright future for you too. I’d love to help.

Blended Families Have Unique Estate Planning Needs

There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all estate planning, and that’s especially true when it comes to blended families in Massachusetts.

When you think about it, even “nuclear families” (a husband and wife who’ve never been married before and maybe have a couple of kids together) have their work cut out for them when creating estate plans. Most families have amassed their fair share of assets — even if it’s just a trove of trinkets with little more than sentimental value. Fairly providing for everybody in the family takes times and consideration.

Add divorce, second marriages, stepparents, and step kids to the mix? Then things really get complicated.

I recently came across a helpful article on this subject in Gannett’s The Spectrum, an online news magazine. It focuses on the single biggest estate-planning dilemma that any member of a blended family faces: balancing the many competing interests in a network of “exes” and “steps” who might not see eye to eye.

“Your challenge,” Spectrum tells blended families, “is to divide your assets among your heirs according to your wishes, while minimizing both estate tax and animosity among family members.” Easier said than done! With the right strategies in place, though, it can be accomplished.

In “nuclear” or “original” marriages, there is a temptation among spouses to simply leave everything to each other. That isn’t an ideal approach for anyone, but it’s especially problematic in the blended context.

Consider, for example, someone who had kids in her first marriage and then remarried and had additional children in the second marriage. Leaving everything to the new spouse might more or less take care of that second family (though not without some potential problems), but what about the children from the first marriage?

Of course, that’s just one example of the “blenders’ burden.” Families are complicated and so are the laws of inheritance. There is a lot to consider, so it’s generally not a good idea to try to square everything away on your own.
If you’re in a blended family, it might be time to update your estate plan to account for the latest changes in your life. If you’d like some experienced counsel and advice along the way, I’d be happy to help. Just give me a call.

New Saliva Test Could Offer Early Alzheimer’s Detection

When it comes to fighting chronic and terminal illnesses, early detection means everything. Once upon a time, that was a real challenge. We simply lacked affordable, accessible, and accurate diagnostic tools.

That’s rapidly changing on a number of disease fronts, though — cancer, diabetes, HIV, etc. But Alzheimer’s and dementia have been harder to catch early, in part because doctors have only recently begun to understand the causes and predispositions.

CNN has a promising new report, though. Researchers recently announced a cutting-edge saliva detection test that could tell patients if they’re vulnerable to Alzheimer’s with a simple swab and a few minutes of patience.

“Though research is still in its infancy,” CNN says, “the saliva test represents the exciting future of diagnostic tools in development for the detection of the neurodegenerative disease.”

Can scientists really find Alzheimer’s in saliva of all things?

Yes, more or less. Technically, they’re looking for metabolites, which are molecules created by chemical changes in the brain. Some specific metabolites have been linked to neurological changes specific to memory loss or dementia, and those are the metabolites the new test looks for.

Conclusive? No. Final? No. Promising? Extremely.

This Alzheimer’s detection test is just the latest brushstroke in a new picture of the future, when serious diseases might be diagnosed in mere minutes using nothing more than a cotton swab or (in some cases) an iPhone.

If we’ve learned this much in only a few years, just imagine how much more we might know by this next time next year!

Driverless Cars Are Likely to Liberate the Elderly

In the UK alone, some 1.5 million senior citizens are largely confined to their own homes due to incapacity or lack of transportation, reports The Telegraph. That’s an astounding number, and the statistics are undoubtedly even more wowing here in the U.S.

But problems only persist until technology can solve them, and it looks like the days of “default house arrest” may soon be over for elderly people all around the world. Just thank the driverless car.

Self-driving automobiles have been all the rage in technology circles for a few years now. Indeed, they’re already on their way. Major manufacturers have whole fleets in development, and experts are working to refine their reliability and safety features. They may be just a few years away from the mainstream.

In a new report by the International Longevity Centre UK, researchers conclude, “whilst a few years ago the idea of driverless cars would be firmly in the realms of science fiction, the rapid advancement of technology means that driverless cars are now a real possibility – and they are likely to be on the roads in years, rather than decades.”

That could utterly revolutionize life for seniors, empowering them to access everything from the local supermarket to the emergency room whenever they need it. In a sense, gone would be the days when someone has to stop driving because they’ve gotten “too old.”

The really interesting thing about this article is that, when we first started hearing about driverless cars, I dare say no one imagined elderly people inside them. It just goes to show how endlessly applicable modern technology and the imagination can be in the realm of senior care and modern aging.

It’s a fast-emerging future, speeding toward us so steadily that it’s practically driving itself.

Wine & Dine at Age 89? Why Not?

The assisted living industry is out to make a new name for itself, or at least certain parts of it are. As seniors live longer lives, they’re increasingly interested in finding better places to enjoy their time. For many, the conventional nursing home just doesn’t cut it, and the market is becoming ever more aware of that fact.

I recently came across an English-language article in a Finnish newspaper, and it reveals some of the fascinating new developments in Finland’s senior care.

A slew of new retirement homes are opening there, each designed to cater to popular pastimes or specific hobbies. One home emphasizes gardening, for instance, and its residents spend much of their day outdoors. Others, meanwhile, focus on providing fancy four-course dinners and excellent glasses of wine every night.

There are even “old-age homes,” as they call them, that specialize in environmentalism, cultural media, and sports! Those options have apparently proven quite popular there, though the more diverse selections are largely confined to Helsinki and other big cities.

Cost is a major concern, too. Even by-the-book senior care is expensive, so more specialized services like these come with a considerable upcharge. That makes them an option only for the wealthy or those who’ve planned prudently and well in advance.

Stateside, we’ve started to see specialization and innovation in our own senior care industry as well, though perhaps not yet quite so creative as the Finns. As the pendulum continues to swing in that direction, we’ll probably see much more specialization in the years to come. Of course, cost will be an all-important factor for America’s seniors, too.

If you’re peering down the road into your own future and think that a different kind of “old-age home” might be right for you, the time to start planning is now. One of my primary focuses is helping people employ sensible strategies for saving and utilizing all the available resources out there to secure their futures in advance. Give me a call to talk about what we can do together.

CNBC Is Shocked You Don’t Have an Estate Plan

Some headlines get right to the point.

“No estate plan? Wow, BIG Mistake.”

That was the original headline in this CNBC article about the shocking lack of estate planning among average Americans. It’s a frank title, but not an altogether unjustified one. Such widespread indifference toward estate planning is a little surprising — and certainly unwise.

“We’re all guilty of not doing what… doesn’t seem urgent,” the article says, “but there’s no excuse for not having a current estate plan—which will matter a great deal if you suddenly become terminally ill or incapacitated or die.”

Just how bad will it be? CNBS answers that rhetorical question with, well, candor:

“You’ll lose control over who gets your property and how it might be used; who cares for your minor children and how; and your own care, should you become incapacitated. The courts will also likely need to step in, at a potentially heavy cost—both financial and emotional—to those left to pick up the pieces.”

Simply put, it’s important (verging on downright necessary). Not having one is unwise, and the temporary hassle of creating a plan is vastly outweighed by the benefits and peace of mind you’ll have when all is said and done. Besides, an experienced Middlesex County estate planning attorney can largely eliminate that hassle for you.
That’s CNBC’s other big piece of advice: “Every family and financial situation is unique, so you should choose an estate-planning attorney who is not only knowledgeable in the laws of your state that govern probate, wills and trusts but also one in which you feel comfortable sharing your most personal details.”

For many years now, I’ve been helping clients of all ages prepare for their futures. My office is here to serve clients from anywhere in Massachusetts, including Arlington, Winchester, Lexington, Medford, Woburn, Burlington, Somerville, and all of Middlesex County.

If you’re ready to remedy CNBC’s jaw drop and create an estate plan of your own, I hope you’ll contact me for an initial consultation. I very much look forward to meeting you in person.

Assisted Living Facility Offers “Virtual Dementia Tour”

A senior living community in Texas is giving visitors and family members a chance to experience dementia first hand. They call it the “virtual dementia tour.”

By way of newfangled “virtual reality goggles,” the Silverado Memory Care Community in Plano, TX is able to offer a simulated disorientation for its visitors. The experience is similar to the loss of motor function observed in numerous dementia patients.

Donning special glasses, gloves, headphones, and shoe insoles, tour takers are assigned four simple, everyday tasks:

  • Make the bed
  • Find a black jacket and zip it up
  • Feed the dog
  • Take medication (a placebo pill)

Sound easy? For those with dementia or other diseases or disorders, it isn’t. The tour takers had a tough time, too.

“I felt disoriented,” one visitor told The Dallas Morning News. “If I had been by myself, I think I would’ve sat down and waited until someone told me what to do next.”

Indeed, one guest after another failed to grab the jacket, forgot to feed the dog, or fumbled in finding the pillbox. Some of them couldn’t even walk without holding onto the wall.

The whole experience is part of a national effort to educate the public about the challenges posed by aging. The nonprofit creatives behind the project, Second Wind Dreams, are taking their initiative to various sites around the country. The idea is to remind people that aging isn’t just a matter of cognitive impairment. Dementia is very much a physical condition, too.

It’s encouraging to see the kind of revelations that come out of these simulated experiences. I think one of the most difficult aspects of the senior experience is the frustration the elderly sometimes feel when trying to aptly describe their day-to-day challenges. By all accounts, the “virtual dementia tour” helps to overcome that barrier and lend real understanding to these patients’ loved ones.

Naturally, understanding yields both compassion and progress. Let’s hope the “virtual dementia tour” generates plenty of both once it makes it’s way around America.

10 Ways Technology Will Change Your Old-Age Experience

The future never quits changing.

I’ve written a lot in recent months about technology’s exciting entry into the fields of elder law and senior care. Each week seems to bring about a brand-new and truly intriguing story.

Now, The Huffington Post has a list of ten new ways that everyday technology could revolutionize the old-age experience during the next decade. I think you’ll find that a number of them seem remarkably plausible, not to mention incredibly exciting:

  • Talking street signs — A lifesaver when eyesight begins to fade!
  • Self-driving cars — They’re already on the way, and they could extend how long seniors are able to safely transport themselves.
  • Virtual doctor’s visits — As the Post says, Skype could revive the old-school “house call.”
  • iMonitoring — Your smartphone and other devices will allow doctors and nurses to remotely monitor your blood pressure, vital signs, and more.
  • E-medicine— Just as banking, buying, and communication have all gone digital, experts predict that medical records and physician referrals will soon unfold on the web.
  • The Robo-Nurse — Robots are already under development as in-home medical assistants. Those who saw Disney’s smash-hit Big Hero 6 last year may soon have a Baymax all their own!
  • LED integration — Here’s more good news for those with weak eyes… tiny LED lights are being built into smartphones, duffel bags, restaurant menus, and much more.
  • Safety sensors — The fear of falling will be less ominous thanks to new technology that can instantly detect a tumble and alert family members or 911.
  • The “Smart House”— Imagine that your bedroom lights turn on as soon as your feet hit the floor. That’s the kind of fantasy that may become reality in new, high-tech homes. The Post even imagines a day when your refrigerator will tell your television that you left the freezer door ajar.
  • Apps aplenty — As I’ve discussed at some length before, smartphone apps specifically designed for senior citizens are in rapid development. That wasn’t true a couple of years ago, but it’s all the rage now. I think the Post is absolutely right to predict that we could see scores of life-changing apps over the next ten years.

Read the entire HuffPo piece here.

The future couldn’t be much more exciting, and one thing is clear: we have a lot to look forward to! Here in my office, I help people of all ages plan proactively for the many days that wait ahead. If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you secure a comfortable future for yourself, please give my office a call today!

Lessons Learned From A Multi-Millionaire Janitor

We don’t often hear about the passing of unassuming, elderly janitors… but when they leave secret multi-million dollar fortunes behind, that tends to get newspapers’ attention.Man mopping factory floor

Ronald Read lived in Vermont his whole life. He worked as a soldier, then a gas station attendant, and then a J.C. Penny janitor. He was well liked but lived a simple life, reportedly working right up until his death last June at the age of 92.

Upon his death, his friends and family were shocked to learn that he’d acquired nearly $8 million in stock holdings and assets over his life — and he left almost all of it to charity.

In reflecting on Read’s incredible story, The Washington Post says there are both lessons to learn and mistakes to avoid. Let’s look at a few items from each of their lists.

What Read Did Right, According to The Washington Post

  • Patience. Read held a lot in stocks, but he rarely traded. He owned most of them for many decades.
  • Dividends. “Read was not an active trader,” the Post says, but “he was an active buyer. There is a very big difference.” Read preferred stocks that paid regular dividends. He then used those dividend checks to buy more shares of the same companies.
  • Diversity. Read owned many different kinds of stocks, but he avoided technology and anything trendy.
  • Philanthropy. By designating charitable beneficiaries for his assets, Read was able to significantly reduce his estate’s tax burden. (In fact, in his case, the whole fortune passed tax free).
  • Revocable trusts work well. Read had one, and it made life much easier for his beneficiaries.

What Read Did Wrong (By Post Standards)

In praising his financial prudence, the Post is quick to question whether Read really made the most of his life. Friends and family say he did not enjoy his retirement. They wonder whether he might have been happier had he loosened the purse strings and “lived a little,” so to speak. Maybe.

Of course, most of us are driven to do that which we enjoy most. Who’s to say that Read didn’t lead exactly the life he found most fulfilling?

Whatever we might make of his frugal ways, the Post is absolutely right about one thing — we can all learn a lot of lessons here. Financial responsibility pays off. So does planning. Life is short. And above all else, never judge a book by its cover.