WILLS AND WORDS: FAMILY DINNER EDITION (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE OPINION: Family Dinner is a powerful vehicle that strengthens families and enhances a discussion of any subject matter.

THE HYPOTHESIS: Family Dinner can not only enhance a discussion of estate planning (money and death), but it can also serve to strengthen the entire estate planning process.

THE RESEARCHER:  An Oak Park parent and attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the benefits of family dinner and the value of possessing an estate plan. 

THE METHOD:  Four essays of analysis (once a month).


Essay #2

A CLANCY ELECTION - THE FIRST GENERATION




ESTATE PLAN PREP

Clients ask me what they should do to prepare for creating their estate plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).  I always responded with a list of questions for them to answer.  I sought my clients’ desires for their finances, healthcare and guardianship designations for minor children to be incorporated into documents to be used at a time of incapacity and at my clients’ death. My responses were perfectly satisfactory, then.  Not now. 

REALIZATION


Now, I have come to realize that what my clients really desire is what we all want.  A seamless settling of our estate. That is for our family/friends/organizations to receive financial, and perhaps even emotional, benefits from our life savings with as little hassle as possible.

THE PLAN IS NECESSARY

Certainly, drafting the estate plan documents is necessary for a seamless settling of an estate.  Without these documents there could be estate chaos. (see Wills and Words Challenge: 7 Arguments To Create An Estate Plan)  But I now realize that may not be enough. 

POOR RESULTS


Despite an estate planning attorney’s best effort, there is the possibility that an estate plan would not produce seamless results.  The cause for poor results?  Unresolved family dynamic issues. 

SIBLING SCORES

The grief from a parent’s passing can trigger siblings’ memories of bygone odds that were never evened.  As a result, the settlement of an estate can, unfortunately, become a battleground for the settlement of old scores by siblings.  Particularly if there is a lack of trust.  Conversely, when a strong sibling bond exists, it can be relied upon as a source of much needed comfort in a time of sorrow.  Harmonious sibling relationships result in harmonious settling of a parent’s estate.

SIBLING HARMONY


How do we promote sibling harmony for our children?  Communication and connection.  A family that can enjoy each other’s company and communicate effectively will establish the trust and create the family harmony that leads to a seamless settling of their parents’ estates.  (Advice we can apply to settling our own parents’ estates as well.)  A great way for our kids to learn how to treat their siblings is by watching us interact with our own brothers and sisters.  An excellent time to interact with family is at extended family dinners.  Research says that one of the best ways to create strong family bonds is through regular family dinners.   

EXTENDED FAMILY DINNERS


Extended family dinners provide the opportunity for us to connect and communicate with our siblings and model good sibling behavior for our kids.  Extended family dinners also give our kids the opportunity to spend time with their grandparents.  Close emotional relationships between grandparents and grandchildren lower rates of depression for kids and adults and may help grandparents live longer.  Family dinners provide extended families a relaxed environment to connect and talk about serious subjects (health and money) as well as talk about fun topics like family history. 

FAMILY HISTORY


According to research, A child’s knowledge of his or her family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.  Kids who know their family history are more resilient, self-confident and have a greater belief that they are in control of their own lives.  The easiest and most entertaining way to learn about your family history is through family stories. 

THE CONNECTION OF FAMILY STORIES


The retelling family stories provides an opportunity for all generations to connect.  The more connected our children are to each other, the smoother the settling of our estate.  The more connected we are to our own siblings, the smoother settling of our parents’ estate. 

CLANCY CHILDHOOD STORY


Luckily for me and our kids, my husband Mike’s family loves participating in family dinners.  It is at these dinners that the retelling of Clancy childhood stories often occurs.  One such story is about how Mike’s mom, D. Clancy, ran for U.S. Congress in 1976.  It was a time of all hands-on deck for Mike’s family.  After a great deal of hard work, D. won the Democratic primary.  Unfortunately, she lost to the Republican in the general election.  But still, winning the primary was quite a feat for a woman in 1976 -- something that I am sure played no small part in our daughter Maureen’s interest in women’s issues.  The re-telling of that story and many others strengthens the Clancy family bond and will help to ensure a smoother settling of Mike's and my estate as well as the estate of my in-laws. 

WILLS AND WORDS: FAMILY DINNER EDITION (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE OPINION: Family Dinner is a powerful vehicle that strengthens families and enhances a discussion of any subject matter.

THE HYPOTHESIS: Family Dinner can not only enhance a discussion of estate planning (money and death), but it can also serve to strengthen the entire estate planning process.

THE RESEARCHER:  An Oak Park parent and attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the benefits of family dinner and the value of possessing an estate plan. 

THE METHOD:  Four essays of analysis (once a month).

 

Essay #1
The Power of a Spaghetti Dinner

ADVICE

As a parent of four children, there is only one piece of advice I have for new parents.  Family Dinner.  There is a long list of benefits of family dinner as told by many researchers including a Harvard-based family dinner blog.  Kids do better in school, they have higher self-esteem, a better sense of resilience, lower risk of behaviors such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, obesity, and the list goes on.  A regular mealtime has been found to be a more powerful predictor of high standardized testing than time in school or doing homework. 

MAGICAL CONNECTION

Why is family dinner so magical?  It is the most reliable way for a family to connect.  Family dinner provides a calm and comfortable environment for families to engage in conversation and focus on each other. This daily connection builds momentum to create stronger connections away from the table.  Positive family connection helps to avoid family conflict and leads to a happier life. 

SUCCESSFUL ESTATE PLANNING

Family conflict is the biggest threat to successful estate planning.  A strong bond between siblings cemented in their youth will help decades later to avoid family drama when settling their parent’s estate.  Plus, family dinner provides parents the opportunity to gradually and continuously talk with their children about important subject matters like money and even death. 

ALLOWANCE AND IRAS

A conversation about an allowance can over the years segue into topics like college tuition, charitable giving and inherited IRAs.  Basic discussions during childhood of difficult subjects (like the death of a family pet) in the comfortable and safe environment of family dinner will serve as building blocks to support more adult conversations (such as a family member’s death and estate planning) as the family grows older.  

HAPPIEST TIMES

Frankly, some of my best family discussions and happiest times occurred at the family dinner table both as a child, and as a parent.  I believe family dinner helped forge a strong sibling bond with my brother that led to a harmonious settlement of my mother’s estate. 

FAMILY DINNER HISTORY


Certainly, not every family dinner was harmonious.  I was a notorious milk spiller as a child and this trait was inherited by one of my children.  There is one family dinner that goes down in Harney (my maiden name) family dinner history.  The Spaghetti Dinner. 

THE SPAGHETTI DINNER

When I was growing up my family ate dinner at precisely 5:30 pm.  No exceptions and no excuses.  One night, to stretch a dollar, my hard-working homemaker mother made meatless spaghetti for our dinner entree.  Nowadays Spaghetti Mariana is a popular dish.  Not for my Irish father.  He was a meat and potatoes man.  A meatless meal was an insult to his manhood. 

WHAT IS THIS 

That night when my father sat down to dinner and realized that the spaghetti sauce did not contain meat, he pushed his plate across the table and said to my mother, "What is this sh**?"   My mother was not a feminist, but she was no shrinking violet either, particularly when it came to insults to a meal she had spent the time making with three little kids under foot. 

THE REACTION

In response, my mother picked up the shoved plate of meatless spaghetti and dumped it on my father's head.  There was a moment of silence and then my brother (who loved drama) began to laugh wildly while we all watched long pieces of spaghetti drip red sauce from all around my father's prematurely bald head. 

APOLOGY


My parents later apologized to each other and to us kids.  We were all back at the dinner table the next night.  Luckily, this dinner drama was the exception, and most of my childhood family dinners were much more harmonious. 

POWER OF FAMILY DINNER

 
This story is testament to the power of family dinner.  Family dinner can endure the occasional dramatic incident because consistent family dinners create family connection and resilience and, ultimately, lead to family harmony.  Family harmony is an estate planners’ best friend.  To pave the way for a harmonious and happy family both in our lifetime and beyond we need look no further than our kitchen table.  

If this essay has led you to the belief that your family is in need of an estate plan, please contact me.

WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK # 7 FINAL ARGUMENT (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).


THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks

WEEK #7 FINAL ARGUMENT

CHOOSE ME, BUT WHY?

 
Making the Case for an Estate Plan

 

SIX ARGUMENTS OF PERSUASION
 

For the last six weeks I have attempted to make the case for an estate plan using six arguments of persuasion.  START WITH A PLAN, NOT A HEART ATTACK...CHOOSE A NAME, DON'T PLAY THE ODDS....CAN ESTATE PLANNING BE SEXY?.....SIGN A FORM, MAKE COLLEGE EASY....DRAFT IT, EQUAL IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR....I WILL BE DEAD, WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?  Perhaps, one of these arguments has persuaded you to do it!  If so, it raises the question; who should you choose to draft your estate plan?  My response choose me.  Choose me because I love estate planning and I am good at it.  Choose me because my estate plans are reasonably priced.  Choose me because I am an estate planning true believer.   
 

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT


I have been practicing law for decades but only recently began practicing estate planning law.  Once I began, it was love at first sight!  I love meeting with clients and discussing their lives.  I find joy learning about new estate planning tools and changes in the law.  It makes me happy deciding how to best advise my clients to accomplish their estate planning goals.  I believe that the passion I have for estate planning enhances the confidence and competence of my work which allows me to better serve my clients.  I am not the only one who believes that happiness in work and competence are related.  It is advice given by businesswoman Ina Garten.
 

INA GARTEN


We all know that Ina Garten writes fabulous cookbooks.  (Ina's 11th cookbook, Cook Like a Pro, is being released today!)  You may not know that Ina is also an accomplished business women (likely worth $50 million).  So, it is no surprise she has some sage advice.  One career lesson Ina gives is, "Do what makes you happy, you can't help but be good at it."   It is advice that I followed when I started working as a sole practitioner and advice that I continue to follow every day.  Choosing me, an attorney who is happy in my work, will yield quality estate plans for you, my clients. 
 

AFFORDABLE ESTATE PLANS


I started a solo legal practice to do what I love and to help support my family financially (not to earn a million dollars).  I want to make obtaining an estate plan as affordable as possible for my clients.  I aspire to be the Bailey Park (from the movie It's A Wonderful Life) of estate planning.  That is, to deliver an estate plan that is worth twice its cost.  My estate plans are comprehensive, yet easy to follow and they organize all your assets, bills, medical information, and documentation into one binder.  Choose me, an attorney whose estate plans are a good value for a valuable investment.  
 

TRUE BELIEVER


I believe that all adults should have an estate plan.  I am an estate planning true believer.  Every time I attend guardianship or probate court it reinforces that belief.  There I observe estates that could have been handled by families rather than the court if estate plans had been put into place.  
 

COURT INTERFERENCE


Instead, the estates have turned into contested court cases with multiple attorneys and a court calendar lasting for several years in some cases.  So much time, energy and money are spent on settling estates in court that could have been avoided with an estate plan.  A few hours and a few thousand dollars spent in creating an estate plan will likely avoid countless hours of frustration, family strife and thousands and thousands of dollars spent in guardianship and probate court.  Choose me, an attorney who will help you and your family avoid wasting your time, energy and money in court.
 

ESTATE PLANNING RV


I have come to the end of my Wills and Words Challenge.  I hope that I have persuaded you to obtain an estate plan and to choose me to draft it.  Someday, I may create an estate planning RV and drive around the state drafting estate plans for people.  My motto is "Putting guardianship and probate court out of business one client at a time."  Come join me!

THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK # 6 (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).


THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks

WEEK #6

I WILL BE DEAD, WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?

 

Making the Case for an Estate Plan


I WILL BE DEAD

An unmarried attorney once said to me (about refusing to create an estate plan), "What do I care about my property when I die.  I will be dead!"  Perhaps, he has a point.  Is there really any personal benefit from planning your estate?  Sure, estate planning helps to organize your documents and finances, identify who will get your property and designate guardians for your kids.  But creating a plan to deal with your incapacity and give away your property after your death seems to be a more of a benefit for your family than for you.  Again, begging the question, "If I plan my estate, what's in it for me?"
 

PEACE OF MIND


When I first started estate planning (before I created Mike's and my estate plan) the main benefit I saw was piece of mind -- your affairs are organized for your family/friends to handle.  And really, that should be enough.  We are all adults and we should not have to be rewarded to take responsibility for our lives. 
 

IRRESPONSIBLE


However, taking responsibility for our lives was not enough incentive for Mike and me.  We went decades without an estate plan.  How irresponsible and derelict in our duties as adults were we?  We spent numerous hours on the internet and watching countless basketball games.  We spent plenty of money on Starbucks, I-phones and dinners out.  Yet, we could not string together a few hours and spend the fee to create an estate plan?
 

OUR ESTATE PLAN


Unfortunately, it took Mike's heart attack to spring us into action to create our estate plan.  Now that we have planned our estate, I have come to realize that there really is something "in it for me."  Planning our estate created the focus needed to contemplate life genuinely and to create a better sense of personal connection.
 

CORNY


Sounds kind of corny, right?  Perhaps, even something an estate planning attorney who wants to sell you an estate plan would say.  I was surprised that there were benefits as well.  The point of estate planning is to think about one's death.  So, when Mike and I started drafting our estate plan, I thought, this is going to be uncomfortable.  I figured it would be depressing and even a little frightening at times.  Surprisingly, I found the opposite to be true.  Creating our estate plan was energizing, motivating and satisfying.   
 

LIFE


Although Mike and I had to make provisions for our possible untimely death, that scenario was not my focus.  (Especially now that Mike has received a clean bill of health post heart attack!)  Rather, my attention was drawn to the fact that our deaths are likely still decades away.  Which means that WE STILL HAVE A WHOLE LOT OF LIFE LEFT TO LIVE!!  30-40 years' worth of life.  
 

POST ESTATE PLAN


In a way it felt like a time when I was studying for a test or hosting a party and I realized I had more time to prepare than I thought.  Post estate plan I am focused on not wasting a minute!  Sure, planning our estate motivated me to organize our money and documents.  But mostly, it motivated me to start living my life so that I die without any regrets.  
 

PROFOUND


Of course, I did not need to create an estate plan to appreciate life.  But there is something about inventorying your assets, assigning recipients and incorporating it all in a legal document requiring witnesses that creates a profound impact.  Contemplating and evaluating your life while you still have the time and energy to enjoy it (or change it) is incredibly motivating and worth the effort it takes to draft an estate plan.
 

PERSONAL CONNECTION


In addition to life contemplation, drafting my estate plan also created a unexpected feeling of personal connection.  Mike and I had to choose a person to act as our executor/trustee/agent when we created our estate plan.  Making this decision appeared to be a simple act.  Just write a name down, right?  However, in making that decision I recognized that we are not invincible.  We will someday lose our independence and need someone's help.  Surprisingly, recognizing this vulnerability was not upsetting.
 

SOMETHING FOR US


Instead, I felt comfort knowing that there is now a person (actually four people) who have agreed to step up if we cannot take care of ourselves.  Acknowledging that you need other people is a big step toward feeling more connected.  Plus, knowing that a person (or four people) legally agree to be available for you when you need them makes that personal connection even stronger.  
 

YES, THERE IS SOMETHING IN IT FOR YOU!


Estate planning is something in life we should all do to be good family members and perhaps, even good citizens. Today, in a society where loneliness is on the rise and people are longing for more personal connection, it is nice to know we can feel energized and personally connected by just living up to our responsibilities.  If you plan your estate, there is something in it for you!

THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK #5 (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).


THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD: One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  October 30th (7 weeks)

WEEK #5

 DRAFT IT, EQUAL IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR

Making the Case For An Estate Plan

EQUAL TREATMENT
 

Generally, in life, equal is fair.  Equal treatment usually means fair treatment.  Being treated fairly brings harmony and makes us happy.  In my childhood equal treatment was the gold standard that my parents tried to live by.  My mother was adamant that she and my dad treat my brothers and me equally.  Equal attention, equal punishment, and equal love.
 

IMPOSSIBLE

Of course, that was impossible.  If you asked my older brother John and me, our younger brother Mark received more of the attention and less of the punishment.  Still, we recognized that our parents tried their best. 
 

CHRISTMAS GIFTS
 

There were always the exact number of gifts for each of us under the Christmas tree.  All birthdays and graduations were celebrated with enthusiasm.  We were all given the same educational opportunities.  The only time equality lost out was at Halloween.  If we collected it (candy), we kept it (eat what you kill, right?). 
 

PROPERTY DIVISION

Even upon my mom's death, she insisted that her property be divided equally (she had an estate plan).  We siblings were independent adults.  Dividing things equally seemed easy and fair.  (My brother John likely deserved a bigger share because his financial independence from our parents started much earlier than mine.  But, as usual, he took the high road and encouraged equal shares.)


ILLINOIS INTESTATE LAWS


Illinois intestate law agrees with my mother.  In Illinois, if parents die without a will or a trust their estate is divided equally among their children.  So, if something had happened to Mike and me before we drafted our estate plan, our property would have been divided equally among Paul, John, Maureen and Luke. 


EQUAL INHERITANCE


This seems fair, right?  Perhaps, if our kids were all independent adults and had successfully made their way in the world an equal inheritance would be fair.  But, our kids are not quite independent adults.  They are still somewhere between childhood and adulthood.  While they make their way to adult success, dividing an inheritance equally would not be fair. 
 

NOT ADULTS YET


Paul is a senior in college, John is a sophomore, Maureen is a freshman and Luke is a high school junior.  Even though our kids are close in age, there is still a world of difference in their circumstances. 
 

PAUL


Paul is almost an adult.  As a senior in college, he would only need to pay for one semester of college tuition from an inheritance.  He would be able to use the bulk of an inheritance as he pleased.  He could save it, put a downpayment on a home, start a business or just travel more.  He would have a great deal of financial freedom. 
 

JOHN AND MAUREEN


John and Maureen are just starting their college careers.  College tuition and living expenses would take a big bite out of an inheritance.  They would not have the same financial freedom Paul would enjoy. 
 

LUKE


Poor Luke (literally), would have to pay for all his college tuition and expenses from an inheritance.  In two years, when Luke would begin attending college, the price tag might be even higher than it is today.  Would he be forced to use his entire inheritance on college expenses?  Or, even worse, would he be saddled with college loan debt, an expense Paul would never have had to incur? 
 

NO ALLOWANCES


Illinois intestate law cannot make allowances for age differences.  For good or for bad, the law is blind to extenuating circumstances.  Fortunately, our kids do not have to worry about intestate laws.  After Mike's heart attack, we created an estate plan for our family. 
 

ESTATE PLAN


We were able to create provisions that considered the age difference in our kids.  We created a "pot trust" which delays dividing an inheritance until all the kids finish college.  We also created a provision that provides the older kids the ability to borrow against their inheritance.  They can pay for grad school, buy a condo, pay for a wedding, etc.  This way the older kids could still move forward with their lives while the younger kids continue to make their way into adulthood.  Luckily, with an estate plan, we can create fair treatment (and happiness) when the law cannot.
 

JOHN


I was taught a great lesson about equal treatment and happiness by my son John when he was eight years old.  John was having a birthday party and he asked to invite a boy from school.  John stated that he had talked to the boy and the boy wanted to attend John's party.  This boy, however, had not invited John to the boy's birthday party the week before.  I asked John if he really wanted to invite this boy when the boy had not invited him.  I said that it did not seem equal?  John said, "If it makes me happy to invite him and him happy to attend what does it matter if it is not equal."  Who is the parent now?

THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK #4 (an estate planner's chronicle)

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks


 

WEEK #4

SIGN A FORM, MAKE COLLEGE EASY

Making the Case for an Estate Plan

ACCIDENTS
 

Accidents happen.  The Clancy household is no exception.  In fact, a few of the Clancy kids seem to be downright accident prone.  In total Clancy kids have made nine trips to the emergency room so far.  Two broken legs (Paul), one broken collar bone (John), two separated shoulders (John and Paul), one broken finger (John), one smacked forehead (John), one slashed knee (John), one sliced fingertip (Luke).  
 

4-ALARM


At first, these accidents were a four-alarm incident, particularly when Paul, at age six, skied into the rental house.  Eventually, accidents turned into a smooth operation for Mike and me.  We were usually near the "scene of the incident" and could quickly whisk the injured kid to the emergency room, talk to the medical staff, obtain treatment and be on our way in a few hours.  Even when Paul broke his leg (the second time) at a high school soccer game.  We were at the hospital within 20 minutes of getting the call. 
 

ADULTS


Now that Paul, John, and Maureen are away at college, an emergency room visit could be much different.  The college kids are all over 18 years old.  Therefore, they are considered adults in many respects including in the eyes of healthcare law.  Although our kids are covered on our healthcare plan, they still retain their right to healthcare privacy.  Just like paying our kids' college tuition does not give us the right to receive their college grades, covering our college kids with our healthcare plan does not grant us access to their medical information. 
 

RESPONSIBILITY


Of course, this is what we want, right?  At least, most of the time.  We want our college kids to turn into responsible adults.  So, we encourage them to assume adult responsibilities (budget money, unsupervised schoolwork, independent living, etc.).  If they accept adult responsibilities it only seems fair that they should receive adult privileges.  One adult privilege is the right to privacy including healthcare privacy.  
 

COLLEGE ACCIDENT


For the most part, college kids keeping their healthcare information private is not problematic.  Not unless a college accident turns into a medical emergency.  If Paul's soccer accident (broken leg) had happened at college, it would have been upsetting but not a four-alarm incident.  Paul would have been conscious and therefore, he would be able to inform Mike and me of his condition.  Or Paul could have agreed for the healthcare staff to update us on his medical condition.  Either way, Paul could choose to waive his right to privacy. 
 

UNCONSCIOUS


But what if Paul's accident involved a head injury and he was unconscious?  He could not waive healthcare privilege. It would be the medical staff's decision using a 
"patient's best interest" standard to decide what medical information to reveal.  Likely, there would be no problem if Mike and I were present at the hospital and the medical staff could identify us.  But Paul's college is 150 miles away.  Nowadays medical personnel are not eager to violate a patient's privacy.  What if the medical staff refused to reveal medical information over the telephone?  Would we have to wait for an update until we drove to the hospital two hours away?
 

EASY OPTION


Luckily, there is an easier option.  A HIPAA (Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization form.  This document allows an adult (including adult children) to release medical information to named individuals (like parents).  The HIPAA authorization form can be signed by a college student and a copy kept by a parent in case of a medical emergency. 
 

HIPAA FORM


A HIPAA authorization form along with a Medical Power of Attorney (appointment of an agent for medical decisions if incapacitated) and a Property Power of Attorney (appointment of an agent for property decisions if abroad or incapacitated) can ensure that your young adult is completely covered in the case of an emergency. 
 

GET THE FORM


In Illinois a HIPAA authorization form does not need to be witnessed or notarized.  It is a straightforward document.  I have included the one I use here.  
HIPPA AUTHORIZATION FORM  Power of Attorney documents are more complicated and therefore, I recommend obtaining them from an attorney to ensure they are completed correctly.  
 

HYPOCRITES


If we ask our college kids to be responsible and prepare for a medical emergency, are we hypocritical if we do not take the same action for ourselves?  Draft your estate plan (wills, trust, powers of attorney).  It is easier, cheaper and less time consuming than you think.  


________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If I have persuaded you and made my case
please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument.


THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE (an estate planner's chronicle) WEEK #3

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks

WEEK #3

 CAN ESTATE PLANNING BE SEXY?

Making the Case for an Estate Plan


Sexy and Estate Planning sound like an oxymoron.  Estate planning involves discussing two taboo topics: death and money.  One would think a couple may experience many emotions discussing death and money.  Sexual desire would not be one of them. 


THE LAW


Even the law plans for a couple's negative emotions during estate planning.  The law handles this problem with a Conflict of Interest Waiver form.  This document tells a couple what they need to do if the cannot agree about their estate plan.  Essentially, fire their couple's attorney and hire individual attorneys. 

NEW ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY


When I first started in estate planning this waiver seemed a bit troubling. The taboo topic of money can cause a great deal of disagreement in marriages.  Many a couple have divorced over money issues.  Wouldn't needing a couple's agreement involving two taboo topics (money and death) make drafting their estate plan a insurmountable task?  As a new estate planning attorney (with many potential couple clients) this question led me to a second question.  Will I constantly be getting fired?

FIRST COUPLE MEETING


Consequently, I was filled with much trepidation when I attended my first couple client meeting.  The spouse, who had contacted me via email, enthusiastically greeted me at the front door.  We sat down in the living room and began to make small talk.  The other spouse was called into the room but did not respond. 

THE RELUCTANT SPOUSE

Eventually, the reluctant spouse entered the room, sat down and looked very bored.  As I explained the details of estate planning, the reluctant spouse remained distracted throughout the entire discussion.  Petting the dog, talking to the kids and looking at a cellphone. 

APATHY


My fear of too much emotion began to turn into a fear of not enough.  Would apathy lead to indecision?  Am I destined to bounce between constantly being fired and not getting hired?  Nevertheless, the reluctant spouse agreed to meet in a few weeks.  I gave the couple a questionnaire and a list of needed documents and left.  

SECOND COUPLE MEETING


Two weeks passed, and I went back to the couple's house.  Surprisingly, I was greeted at the door by the reluctant spouse. The reluctant spouse was chatty and engaging.  We met up with the other spouse and began to discuss their estate planning desires.  The two spouses sat close to each other, laughed at each other's comments and smiled a lot.  The meeting was quite pleasant and enjoyable.  All estate planning decisions were easily made.  We set a two-week date to sign the documents. 

SIGNING MEETING


At our signing meeting, I was greeted by both spouses who appeared quite happy.  Throughout the signing process the couple sat close to each other.  They were attentive and affectionate toward each other the entire meeting.  This led me to think.  Was estate planning a turn on?

SIMILAR MEETINGS


My next several couple client meetings were similar in nature.  The meetings started with a reluctant spouse and ended with an affectionate couple.  I began to wonder.  Was creating wills, trusts, and powers of attorney an aphrodisiac?  Maybe there really is something to be said for us lawyers being called counselors.  

ULTIMATE TEST


The ultimate test of my theory of the "power" of an estate plan was drafting my husband Mike and my estate plan.  We Clancys are a private people (or at least one of is).   So, all I can say is this.  During the entire process of drafting our estate plan Mike and I never once thought about hiring individual attorneys ;)

SINGLE CLIENTS


What about single clients?  I do not ask my single clients about their personal lives.  However, I have noticed that all my single clients appeared to be very happy at the signing meetings.  I know that when I was dating, I found that the happy men were the most attractive.  

THE ANSWER IS YES


Can estate planning be sexy?  My experience as an estate planning attorney leads me to answer yes.  The critics may disagree.  They may say that clients are affectionate and attentive because they are glad to complete an unpleasant task rather than due to an increase in libido.  The critics can think what they want.  I will stick with my yes answer. 

HAPPINESS


In these times when the world has become so divided and polarized, happiness is harder to come by.  Why question it?  Perhaps, in the future, couples will update their estate plans instead of renewing their wedding vows to strengthen their relationship.

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If I have persuaded you and made my case please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument.

THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE (an estate planner's chronicle) Week #2

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THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks
 
 

WEEK #2

CHOOSE A NAME, DON'T PLAY THE ODDS

 Making the Case for an Estate Plan



 

  PARENTING
 

Parenting really is wonderful.  Helping children to blossom, discover their talents, and embrace the world is incredibly fulfilling.  Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds.  There are many decisions to be made and responsibilities to undertake along the way. 
 

DECISIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
 

Mostly, those decisions and responsibilities are readily assumed by us (reading books, hosting birthday parties, attending graduations).  But not always.  It is our job as a parent to make the tough decisions and endure the heavy responsibilities (crying babies, enacting discipline, homework patrol). 
 

IRRESPONSIBLE


I would like to think that my husband Mike and I have been responsible parents.  We have tried to raise our kids to be hard working, kind and caring.  However, since Mike's heart attack, I now realize we were incredibly irresponsible in one regard.  We never named guardians for our kids. 
 

DIFFICULT DECISIONS


In our defense, choosing a guardian is not an easy decision.  Parenting your own child is an all consuming, life changing endeavor.  Suggesting someone else assume that role seems incomprehensible. 
 

OUR FAMILY


Would guardianship of our kids by our parents close the door on our parents' hard won carefree retirement years?  Guardianship by siblings or friends without children would effectively force them into a lifestyle that they had not chosen.  Didn't our siblings and friends with children already have enough on their plates?  Guardianship was a lot to ask of someone, even family, even in theory.  So we didn't.  No will with guardianship designations, no powers of attorney, no estate plan.  Mike and I just played the odds.  Fingers crossed that our kids would make it to adulthood without needing a guardian.
 

FORCED DECISION


Now I realize that not naming a guardian for our kids effectively would force that decision on our family.  Raising a child who is not your own could be a burden.   Choosing the best parent substitute for a family member's child could be downright soul crushing.  If our kids turned out great, no regrets.  But what if one of our kids developed problems?  Wouldn't our family constantly wonder if they made the right guardianship decision? 
 

IMPACTFUL


That forced guardianship decision could have deeply impacted our children's lives.  It could also have affected the harmony in our extended family.  Plus, would our kids always have wondered why their own parents, two attorneys, did not find the time and garner the courage to draft a will with a guardianship designation?  Was our inaction not only irresponsible but also cowardly?
 

TODAY


Fortunately, for Mike and me the odds were on our side.  Post heart attack, we now have an estate plan with guardianship designations.  Our kids are adults and teenagers, so it made our guardianship decision a lot easier.  Still, the decision needed to be made.
 

GUARDIANSHIP ADVICE
 

So, what guardianship advice is there for parents with young kids or with a disabled adult child?  Use your parenting skills to solve your guardianship problem.  As a parent you solve the problem in front of you first.  Put the tired baby to bed before you read books to the toddlers. 
 

GUARDIANSHIP DECISION


The same is true for guardianship decisions.  Think in the short term for your guardianship designation (three to five years).  If after that time, no change, then great, let it ride.  However, if your life or your guardian's life have changed, change the guardianship designation. 
 

WILL/ESTATE PLAN


Through drafting a will you be able to designate a guardian for your child.  This way you can decide the best person to be a parent substitute for your child.  You will avoid the possibility of forcing your family to make that decision for you.  A guardianship designation is still not one of the easiest parenting decisions you will make but it is one of the most necessary.

_______________________________________________________________________________

If I have persuaded you and made my case 
please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your will/estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument.

 

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theresa.clancy@theresaclancylaw.com

www.theresaclancylaw.com

(708)819-1580


THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE (an estate planner's chronicle) Week # 1

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the problem:  50% of Americans do not have an estate plan.

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks

WEEK #1

 START WITH A PLAN
(not a heart attack)

Making the Case For An Estate Plan



I woke up to my husband lying in bed beside me, unconscious and gasping for breath.  He was in full cardiac arrest.  An incomprehensible fact.  Mike was only 55 years old and one of the healthiest people I knew.  He never smoked, ate moderately, and biked 25 to 50 miles almost daily.  Yet, here he was having a heart attack.  I called 911 and began to perform CPR while our teenage kids watched in horror.  Once the paramedics arrived Mike coded on our bedroom floor.  Luckily, thanks to some great first responders, Mike was brought back to life and rushed to the hospital.  

 

NO HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVES

 

At the hospital I was asked if Mike had heath care directives.  Embarrassed, I had to reply that he did not.  Even though my husband and I were both attorneys, we had never drafted documents for health care directives.  We also did not have a trust or a will, no estate plan what-so-ever.  Never even had the conversation.    We were too healthy, too young, and too busy to deal with all that paperwork.  Plus, we would have plenty of time in the future when we are older, when life was slower, right?  Or so we thought.  I made a guess about my husband's health care desires and into surgery he went.

 

INCAPACITY

 

Mike received a successful angioplasty procedure (two arteries were blocked over 90%) but he was unstable, and he still had not regained consciousness.  The doctors said they could not predict the outcome.  Time would tell.  My husband lay unconscious in his hospital bed hooked up to a breathing tube and a heart machine.  My emotional stress began to be compounded by a financial one. 

 

GUARDIANSHIP COURT


I started to think about the possibility that Mike might remain unconscious for some time.  If so, his lack of capacity could mean that I would not have access to his individual finances.  Those finances included his paycheck, the money that we used to pay our monthly bills.  If we had bothered to draft an estate plan I would have easily been given access to Mike's financial matters.  Without one I might need to hire an attorney and ask a guardianship judge for the authority to get access to the money we used to pay the bills.  

 

PROBATE COURT

 

If, God forbid, Mike died, I might need to hire an attorney and open a probate court case.  There, the intestate laws of Illinois would be applied to distribute Mike's property.  Half of his property would be distributed to our kids and half to me.  This could mean that I might be borrowing money from my kids to pay our bills and their college tuition.  A fact almost as incomprehensible as Mike having a heart attack. 

 

AMBULANCE RIDE
 

Mike received excellent care at the original hospital.  But there came the time when he needed to be transferred to a second hospital to receive additional care.  With Mike riding in the back of the ambulance still hooked up to a heart and a breathing machine, I was directed to sit in the front passenger seat.  As we drove through red lights at 2 a.m. I started to think about a third incomprehensible fact, an ambulance crash.

 


WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS

 

If something were to happen to both Mike and me who would take care of the kids?  What would happen to our dog, Pepper?  Would someone find all of our necessary documents in our piles of papers?  In hindsight, it seemed so irresponsible of Mike and me to have potentially burdened our kids and our family with all these life decisions and financial matters.  Were we really ever "too busy” to organize our documents and draft an estate plan?  Thankfully, due to expert ambulance transport personnel, we made it to the second hospital accident free.  There Mike again received wonderful care.

 

TODAY


Mike made a full recovery.  He regained capacity about seven days after his heart attack.  Most of his doctors say he is lucky to be alive.  Today, Mike is quite healthy.  He is back at work and he even biked 50 miles a few days ago.  Now, there are only a few indicators that Mike ever suffered a heart attack.  One is the four bottles of heart medicine on his dresser.  Another is the signed estate plan in our desk.  

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

THE RESULT:  If I have made my case, please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument. 

 

new logo small.jpg

theresa.clancy@theresaclancylaw.com

www.theresaclancylaw.com

(708)819-1580