Fotolia_56285496_XS               In recent conversations, I’ve found myself with an interesting new characteristic: it’s like a sensor that tells me when people desperately need an estate plan.  “She’s basically my stepmother,” a friend recently said.  “I mean, they’re basically married.”
I thought to myself—basically married?! Do they have an estate plan that reflects their wishes for each other?  Because to me it sounds like you’re “basically” going to end up in court, “basically” fighting your almost-stepmother and trying to guess what your father’s wishes were.

These are exactly the kinds of strains that families don’t have to suffer if they have a thorough plan.

I get mixed responses whenever I talk about what I do at Swan Law.  Those who haven’t been through the loss of a loved one think it’s a tough sell to talk about death and to convince others that it’s a necessary conversation.  Those who have been through it, however, know both how valuable and invaluable an estate plan can be, and they often give a little shake of the head and say, “It’s so important.”

The valuable part is where probate is significantly reduced, attorney’s fees are lower, and, if you have a trust, the turnaround for estate distribution is quick and easy.  The invaluable comes in with healthcare directives, which take the guesswork out of otherwise stressful decisions that put families at odds.  Having the peace of mind that you are following your loved one’s wishes helps keep family harmony.

We know just how important it is for families to have the peace of mind that comes with a plan.  There are, of course, people who think they don’t need a will, or who think that a will is something they can deal with later, when they have time.  Sometimes, life doesn’t give us time.  It was Francois Truffaut who said that “Life has a much greater imagination than we do,” and the unexpected can—and does—happen.  But you are not at the mercy of these kinds of accidents; you can take action and protect yourself and your family.

Families today come in all shapes and sizes.  There are many people who live basically-married, who might have a friend they consider closer than family.  Leave a legacy that you can be proud of; keep the harmony in your family with a well-designed plan.

 

We know that talking about death might feel uncomfortable, and many of our clients have felt the same way.  After they meet with us, however, they found that we make it easy, and they’re much more at ease.  If you’ve been putting off this conversation, don’t wait.  Call us today at 970-879-1572.

palliative-care-5_custom-343f8fc1afc85e651399d18a48da11ae459ae9c2-s900-c85In more than twenty years since the Death with Dignity law came into effect in Oregon, there have been less than 1,000 people who tookthe medication, and there has not been a single reported case of abuse.

While this remains a controversial topic, Colorado passed the Aid-in-Dying law this year, and at Swan Law, where we help our clients with advanced care planning, we think it’s important to be informed.

Perhaps you have read the story of Brittany Maynard, who was twenty-nine years old when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.  Young and otherwise healthy, she was suffering debilitating headaches and after a partial craniotomy, she worried about losing her entire quality of life.  She feared the personality changes and the pain that would accompany her end-of-life experience.

Ms. Maynard moved from California to Oregon in 2014, where she could have the choice to end her life with dignity and to say goodbye to her loved ones on her own terms.  She had only been married a year; she did not want to die.  Knowing, however, what was ahead for her quality of life, for the pain she might suffer, she wanted to at least have the choice.

In the last several years, other states have joined Oregon to give people with terminal illnesses this choice.  Proposition 106 passed in Colorado last year, and people in Colorado now have the choice as well.   They must meet several requirements for the medication, typically Secobarbital, which allows the patient to fall asleep peacefully.

Colorado residents must be at least 18 years of age and diagnosed with a terminal illness by two physicians, with a prognosis of less than six months to live.  Neither age nor disability constitutes a basis for qualification.

They must request the medication two separate times with a fifteen day period between them, and a third request is made in front of two witnesses.

Two physicians must agree that a patient is eligible, and if one can’t make the determination, a mental health professional must make the evaluation.  The patient must also be educated on other end-of-life options.  They must self-administer the drug; no one else may participate in helping the patient take the drug.

Colorado has a long history of supporting patients’ rights to make health care decisions.  Beginning in 1985, more than thirty years ago, Colorado has continued to pass legislation that opens the conversation to discuss your end-of-life options.  The Aid in Dying Law is one more choice the law affords you, and it’s another opportunity to discuss your care with the people you love, so they know how you want to be taken care of in the future.

Aid in dying remains a highly personal decision.  If you have not made your end-of-life directives clear for your family, Swan Law offers complete health care documents as part of our estate plans.  Call Jamie at 970-879-1572 to schedule today.

 

Portrait of a very happy young man in a rain of money

Suddenly coming into a great deal of money probably sounds more like a dream-come-true than a nightmare, but there can be a lot of downfalls to a windfall.  A recent article in the ABA Journal magazine covered extensively the challenges that come with sudden wealth.  Whether from lottery winnings, an inheritance, or a lawsuit, people occasionally find themselves with a substantial amount of money, and if they’ve never handled large sums, the money can quickly disappear.  Here are some anecdotes from the article and their solutions:

 

  • People have difficulty realizing that they might become a target for solicitation, even from family members. A woman who had recovered $1.5 million in a lawsuit suddenly saw her extended family treating her with uncharacteristic kindness.  Because it was her nature to reciprocate, she tried to improve their lives with her new wealth.  Her money was gone in fourteen months.

Solution: Secrecy is an ally when dealing with substantial wealth.  Parents often worry about their children relying on family wealth and losing a sense of work ethic.  You are not obligated to tell people when you have come into a large sum of money.  One exception to this is if some state lotteries require their winners to go in front of the press; otherwise, this is personal.

 

  • A young man’s parents, who had bailed him out in many situations over the years, were the first to solicit money from him when he recouped $6.6 million after a lawsuit. He bought them anything he could afford, including a house and new cars, and after two years, all the money was spent.

Solution: Surrounding yourself with qualified advisors is a way to avoid pleas and solicitations.  You can rely on them to give you solid advice that takes emotion out of the equation.  It’s also easier to tell people, “I don’t handle the money directly.  You’ll have to talk to my financial advisor/attorney/manager.”

 

  • One client attempted to protect his wealth with an irrevocable trust, one that an inexperienced attorney created from his existing, revocable living trust. He had significant tax repercussions as well as being handcuffed to his existing assets.  The unfortunate situation also left him susceptible in the event of a divorce.

Solution: There are plenty of attorneys who think they can handle this kind of asset protection, but some can be a hindrance more than a help.  Working with an attorney who does not have much recent experience in this area can lead to mistakes that are significantly more costly to unravel than to do right the first time.  There are ways to protect your wealth from future creditors, from divorces or your beneficiaries’ divorces, and more.  Attorneys who are well-versed in the area of wealth management can create protection for your wealth and for your future generations.

 

  • People who have been struggling or deprived often don’t consider the long-term costs of purchases. Taxes, insurance, and maintenance are important considerations that can lead to downfall if not considered in proportion to overall wealth.

Solution: People who realize the significance of sudden wealth are likely to grow their newfound wealth and provide for future generations.  They can also turn the money into changes that make life easier and better for their children or for other people in the future.  By taking the money seriously, and entrusting it to a few, solid advisors, they protect it for their families.

 

Because every family is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for protecting your loved ones and your financial assets.  If you are concerned about how to handle your money or give it to your loved ones, talk to an attorney you can trust to help you make the best decisions for your family and your future.  After all, a great deal of money shouldn’t be a burden; it should be a wonderful asset that you can use to help make your dreams come true!

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

A couple of weeks ago, a reader on our website asked:

“How do I choose who should do my estate plan of the many attorneys in my town?  Seems like some attorneys are ‘experts’ in 20 or more different areas… How can I be sure to work with someone who really knows the details of estate planning?”

Here’s our answer:

Dear Reader,
    You’re right. We live in a small town where many attorneys advertise they are knowledgeable of a wide variety of areas. There are, however, a few of us who focus on estate planning. This is a complex area, and not a place for a jack-of-all-trades attorney.  Just as in the medical profession, you wouldn’t ask your general practitioner to perform your knee surgery!

In our free report, we offer tips for choosing the right attorney. We suggest choosing someone local, who knows the laws of your state and when the laws change, and someone who is experienced but still young enough they are likely to be there for your loved ones when you cannot.  We also suggest hiring a lawyer who understands that your legacy is about so much more than money! You’ll want to capture and protect your intellectual assets, your values, your accomplishments and stories.

While gathering information, you might ask the attorney how many estate plans they’ve done recently and when they last participated in continuing education on the topic. Their outreach and education can also be telling. The content of their social media outlets and website will show how concerned they are about a certain area of practice. Visit News & Insights on our website and our Facebook page to see the kinds of community education we typically provide.

If you think Swan Law may be a good fit for you, give us a call or make an appointment, and we’ll begin the process of planning for your future.  If you’re ready to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from making a plan for the unexpected, we’ll send you our premeeting packet, so you can get to know all the ways Swan Law can help you love your family and protect your assets.

talk_with_your_doctor_about_copdWe’ve talked before about the statistics that show the overwhelming benefits for creating advance directives.  Doctors, patients, and families are all more comfortable with knowing the wishes of a loved one, so they can honor those wishes appropriately.

While talking with your doctor about your wishes is one step in the process, there are reasons that attorneys also have such an important role.  Advance directives are medical choices, but they often have implications beyond the immediate, implications that a WealthCounsel attorney can specifically help you consider.

Family Dynamics

In a crisis or emergency, family members feel comforted when they can gain a small amount of control.  Attorneys help their clients capture roles for family members and loved ones, and they consider factors that medical professionals might not.  Estate planning attorneys also consider the overall family dynamic, such as where family members live and what their lives entail, and how that might impact a person’s advance directives.  For example, one daughter might be a nurse, but she lives in California and has seven kids, whereas another daughter lives on the Front Range without any children.  While the first daughter may be a medical professional, a person with so many other responsibilities may be unavailable in the moment of emergency.  Attorneys help you consider these outside factors that are unrelated to your specific medical needs, but might very well make the difference in an emergency.

Financial Implications

Attorneys consider the interactions between your finances and your medical care.  It’s not that an attorney would tell you to opt for a lower cost of care that would put you in jeopardy, but part of our job is to allow doctors to focus on your best possible treatment while we consider the financial implications and help you plan and prepare for the outcomes and what they mean for your plans and for your family.  This depends on your age, the level of care you anticipate needing in your lifetime, and what are your beliefs for prolonging life.  All of these considerations interact with your finances in different ways, and an attorney can help you navigate these tricky situations so your family always has peace of mind.

Beyond the Literal

Clients often express as part of their directives a desire to “die at home.”  Attorneys understand that this isn’t always possible, but a Legacy Plan allows a person to capture the meaning of “at home” beyond the literal space between the walls.  What pictures, songs, home videos, wall art makes a place “home” to one person or another?  Your Legacy Plan has room for these kinds of wishes where other medical directives do not.

Social workers also have a substantial role in understanding these wishes as part of your overall health and wellbeing, separate from your medical care.  At Swan Law, we often work with other professionals to give you options and guidance that make sense for crafting a plan that gives you peace of mind.

Young People

If you were injured in a car accident in Utah and unable to speak for yourself, your primary care physician likely wouldn’t be contacted right away.  For many young people, changing health care plans from year to year has become the standard, and with it, a newly assigned primary care doctor.  Having plans that stand alone from a specific doctor’s office are beneficial for people who travel often, for young people who are not primarily concerned with long-term care, and for those who do not frequent the doctor’s office.  Still, emergencies can happen, and that’s why we include DocuBank as part of all of our estate plans.

Conclusion

Medical professionals can help you make informed decisions about your health, but when it comes to setting up a plan that will work for you and your loved ones in an emergency, consulting an attorney is an important step in this process, especially if you have specific medical directives and wishes.

If you want to know more about this important topic, give us a call at 970-879-1572 or send an email to assistant@swanlawoffice.com.

Many years ago, when I was attending the funeral of my grandmother’s sister, my grandmother told me a story: she had been riding in the car on her way to her father’s burial when she looked out the window and saw other people on the sidewalk, going about their lives.  The images were completely incongruous to her: “What are they doing?” she wondered.  “Don’t they know my father just died?”

A death in the family creates a pause for reflection, and as happened to me last month, I was thinking a lot in the days following the funeral about my loved one and what the changes meant to my life.  But I also wanted to continue on with a sense of normalcy, only I couldn’t: his face was popping up everywhere.

These weren’t hallucinations or some kind of illusion.  No, his face was quite literally everywhere.  On Facebook, friends and friends of friends were changing their profile pictures to include him in their images.  It was always startling, to open my Newsfeed out of sheer habit, and to see my lost loved one.

Here in the eternal world of the Internet, I got to thinking about what it means to lose someone in the digital age.  There are a few important things to know when it comes to death and Facebook:
Facebook has tools you can set up before you pass awayYou can designate a Legacy contact, who will be able to post to your Facebook profile in the event of your death.  You also have the options to delete your entire account or to leave your profile as a memorial, and what types of posts will remain on your memorial page.  Facebook allows many more customized options than in previous years, so if you’ve recently done your estate planning and you’re thinking about this topic, it’s a good time to check this off your list.Announcing a death is always delicateEven more so when it comes to social media.  Here are a couple of useful articles on the subject:

Announcing a Death on Facebook

      from Une Belle Vie

The Etiquette of Facebook and Death

    from Nooga

While there is no specific etiquette related to Facebook and death, it’s important to consider the deceased’s own social media presence.  As the former article points out, if the deceased wasn’t on Facebook, then announcing their death there is probably not only inappropriate but ineffective as well.

Compassion sounds like a basic, but when we’re grieving, it’s difficult to remember that people grieve in all different ways, and should be left to do that.  While I appreciated seeing the face of my loved one in expressions of love and kindness, I also felt somewhat startled by the images, as they conflicted with my knowledge of the loss.  Ask yourself: am I posting this to inform, or to gain sympathy from others?  It’s important to balance these two.

Leave Your Important Information in Your Legacy Plan

Most importantly, if you don’t want your family to seek a court order just to close your social media accounts, you’ll want to keep all your passwords and information in a place where your loved ones can easily find them in an emergency.  Keep records of your accounts and passwords, and most importantly keep them in a place where you know they’ll easily be accessible if someone knows where to find them.

Add it to the certainties of life: death, taxes, and Facebook.  Because even if your loved ones don’t have an active social media account, in the event of a death, everyone’s picture makes its way to the Internet.  Exercise caution, and take precautions regarding your digital life.

Swan Law can help you design a plan that will speak to your exact wishes and make life easier for your loved ones.  For appointments, call 970-879-1572 or email assistant@swanlawoffice.com

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Parents with young children
If there are little ones in their lives, they’ll be thrilled to receive the gift of knowing that their children will always be in the arms of people who know and love them, no matter what. With a Kid Safety System as part of their Legacy Plan, parents can rest easy, knowing they’ve ticked this important box off the list.

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Grandmas and Grandpas who have everything
If they haven’t already taken care of their planning, children can make it easy for their parents to create a legacy that honors their love for their children and grandchildren. If they already have a plan, it’s a great time to review. See our article 6 Reasons to Review Your Estate Plan.

sandwich-generation

Sandwich Generation families
People in this category often have financial responsibilities in both directions. If someone close to you is supporting their parents and their children, we can help them design a plan with all their loved ones’ best interests in mind.

moving-out

Empty Nesters
When the children have flown the nest, it’s the perfect time to sit down and plan for their secure futures. Swan Law will also include your adult children’s Power of Attorney documents as part of the plan, because we know they’re still your babies, even if they’re no longer at home.

wifegift

Your Wife
We know this is what she really wants for Christmas because she told us so. It lasts longer than any material gift, and shows that you love her and want what’s best for your whole family, no matter what. Besides, she’s been bugging you about getting your planning done, and there’s no time like the “present.”

Give the gift of peace of mind

When you did your estate planning, you felt great.  You put it on your shelf, patted yourself on the back, and hardly gave it a second thought.  Whenever the topic came up in conversation, you said, “Oh, we took care of that years ago,” and thought of the dusty documents occupying shelf space.  You should certainly feel good about making your plan!  But as you and your family grow, your plan should grow along with you.

What has happened in your life since you made your estate plan?  If you’ve had any of these changes, it’s time for a review:

  1. You’ve changed marital status.

Getting married changes everything, including your estate plan.  When you combine your assets, you’ll want a plan that reflects your commitment to each other.  This includes your emergency healthcare documents like a Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Perhaps you’ve gone through a divorce or lost a loved one since you created your plan.  You certainly want to redirect your assets to get maximum protection for your heirs.

…and baby means changes!  If you’ve had children or adopted, it’s time for a review.

2.  You’ve changed jobs.

Whenever you have a significant change in income, it can mean a different strategy for your plan, especially if you have a trust.  You’ll want to update your trust documents to reflect your most current account information, and to keep statements with your estate plan.

3. You’ve moved.

It happens so often that with the stress of moving, you forget to update your estate plan, but if your plan was created out-of-state, it needs to be reviewed so it matches your current state’s laws.  Consider it as part of moving along with mail forwarding at the post office.

4. Your children have flown the nest.

Even though they’re not at home, they’re still your babies, and we know you love them.  You want to make sure they are protected even if they’re no longer minors.  Swan Law will include emergency healthcare documents for your adult children as part of your estate plan.

5. You’re ready to leave a legacy.

We know it’s hard to think about what would happen to your kids if something happened to you, so maybe your plan was created just to cover those kinds of catastrophic emergencies.  But lately, a life event might have prompted you to think more deeply about what you’d like to leave behind; sometimes, it’s a surgery or a death of someone close to you that’s made you reevaluate. We can help you make sure your plan is comprehensive and will achieve your desired effects.

6. You’re getting ready to retire.

One of the perks of creating a Legacy Plan is that it helps you get your financial house in order.  If you’ve reconsidered your retirement strategy in recent years, or if you’re on the cusp of retirement, it’s a great time to meet with your attorney and make sure your current plan is still in line with other goals.  You might be considering a move to be closer to growing grandchildren or redistributing financial assets, and we’re on your team to make this transition as smooth as possible.

 

There are many instances that warrant an estate plan review.  Luckily, Swan Law includes reviewing your plan every three years, to address these and other kinds of changes.  Learn more about what we do by calling 970-879-1572 or emailing assistant@swanlawoffice.com.

christmas123         The seniors who attended lunch at the Community Center on Monday were treated not only to a lovingly-prepared lunch of meatball subs, roasted potatoes and fresh toss salad, but they also received some valuable information to take with them as we head into Thanksgiving.

“It’s not about displaying these signs necessarily,” attorney Catherine Swan told the audience of about thirty people, which included administration from Casey’s Pond and the Routt County Council on Aging.  “It’s about paying attention and noticing if their behavior is really different.”

It’s a common phenomenon that spending a lot of time with a person makes it difficult to notice changes, as they are often gradual and the daily difference is not significant.  The holidays, however, offer a time to visit with relatives that we don’t see as often, and if we’re paying attention, we can keep take measures to protect our loved ones and make sure they are getting the help thyey need.

The signs that Catherine described are the following:

  1. Forgetfulness
  2. Confusion
  3. Neglect of physical appearance or basic hygiene
  4. Neglect of medical needs
  5. Trouble performing routine tasks or chores
  6. Personality changes
  7. Sudden money trouble due to inability to handle affairs
  8. Unsteadiness, clumsiness or recent history of falling
  9. No longer responding to sounds or sudden loud noises
  10. Wearing inappropriate clothing based on the weather
  11. Having trouble answering simple questions
  12. Repeating the same information or asking the same questions during short conversations

 

Catherine stressed that we should use our discretion and good judgment to determine when these behaviors are warning signs. Members of the audience were encouraged to share their own stories of caution about their parents and other loved ones whose changes went unnoticed.

Lindsey Simbeye, of Casey’s Pond, chimed in about falling: “The exercise classes provided by the community are very helpful in preventing falls.”  She also demonstrated safer ways to get in and out of your vehicle as winter finally arrives in Steamboat and parking lots and driveways become slick with ice.

Catherine also stressed the importance of monitoring the financial information of elder loved ones, citing recent incidents in Routt County that have led to fraud.  This is a particularly sensitive area, but if not dealt with, it can have serious consequences not only for the senior but also for future generations.  While the Steamboat Springs Police Department is well-versed in investigating and revealing fraud, you can’t always recoup the lost funds, and it could leave seniors in dire situations.

 

If you do notice any of the signs listed above and feel they are significant changes for your loved one, you might feel uncomfortable approaching that person directly about receiving extra support.  Still, the time to act is now: you don’t want to wish later, after a fall or a significant financial loss, that you had acted when you noticed the changes.  Talk with other family members and decide on an appropriate course of action that helps your family members understand you come from a position of love and concern.

Changes such as these can be a sign of future need for assisted living or eventual skilled nursing care, and it’s important to know that there are many people on your side when you have concern for a loved one.  Meet with an estate planning attorney who can help you draft incapacity documents such as a Financial Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney.  There are steps you can take right away to ensure your loved one is safe and protected.

This Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for the time with our loved ones, time that we can use to help keep them safe for years to come.

downloadI have a confession: sometimes, I write something down on my to-do list, after it’s already done, just to check it off.

Wait, you do that too?  Of course you do, because ticking that box has a physical benefit, a little release of endorphins, that makes you feel good about yourself, accomplished, even better than a little bite of chocolate.

It’s not cheating; it’s a wellness practice.  Little rewards keep you motivated to continue working toward your goals.  Lately, I’ve encountered a few concepts that I’ve found helpful to creating a well-designed life.  Call them “hacks,” if you will, but they are small, achievable boxes you can tick off your list, to feel good about what you’re doing for your health, both body and mind.

Practice Monotasking

Not long ago, being a multitasker was a prized skill among workforce.  Now, having the ability to sustain an attention span and to focus on a single task is recovering from a bad rap.  A New York Times article challenges the reader to stay still through a whole reading, arguing that just a few seconds away from a task takes much longer to regain the lost momentum.  I find monotasking almost like a guilty pleasure, an excuse to ignore my phone for a while and accomplish something.  Go ahead, achieve flow, get lost in a specific task, and know that multitaskers are going down in history as people who look at their cell phones while driving.

Curate Your Digital Life

You are in control of when you engage with your digital life.  Don’t be fooled by the false urgency of Facebook notifications, a single new email, or a new follower.  I recently heard a talk from a novelist who spoke about losing the ability to engage with his fictional world because the digital world constantly interfered.  While most of us can’t disconnect so drastically, as we require email for work, we can be selective about when, where, and how we engage with digital life to make it purposeful instead of just glazed-over scrolling through news feeds.  Even just curating the environment in which you choose to use the Internet can have a powerful effect, and don’t forget to power down at least an hour before bedtime, as screen light keeps brains active and awake.

Know Your Chronotype

Take a short survey on www.powerofwhenquiz.com to determine your Chronotype – your genetic predisposition for sleeping and waking.  You’ll better determine how and when to sleep, what times of day you are most productive, and more importantly, the chronotypes of the people you work with can help you better understand when to approach them with specific tasks or inquiries.  Have a little fun and set yourself up for success.

We love the idea that organization in one area of your life radiates outward, creating a whole life that’s intentionally designed.  There are few practices where this is more apparent than in your Legacy Plan.  Investing just a few hours in creating this plan can lead to greater financial wellness, peace of mind, and, of course, protection for your loved ones.  This is a big box you can check off your list, and we know you’ll feel more than just a little endorphin kick.  Define your values and make a plan for your whole life.

 

 

If you need assistance with making a plan, call Jamie at (970)879-1572.