Trusts and Estates Blog

Ten Ways to Avoid Financial Elder Abuse

Abuse with circle and line through itlFinancial elder abuse is the third most common type of elder abuse, and according to reports, it’s the fastest growing problem for elderly people. Simple steps of caution can prevent you or your loved one from falling prey to such events.

Paul Greenwood, an attorney and international speaker on the prevention of elder abuse, gives ten ways to avoid financial elder abuse.

1. Choose a caregiver with caution and make your own checks even if the caregiver comes from an agency. Just because someone works for a respectable agency, doesn’t mean they are trustworthy enough for you to give sensitive information to them. Have a family member or lawyer help you check the person’s background for any inconsistencies.

2. Keep an inventory of all jewelry. Some of the most valuable items are the simplest to heist. Jewelry that’s not worn in years is not easily missed and can be resold before it’s even discovered missing. Keep a written record of your jewelry and periodically check to make sure they’re accounted for, especially after someone’s visited your home.

3. Use a shredder for everything with your name, address or any other identifying information on it. Bills, bank statements, law documents, and any sensitive documents should be shredded rather than simply thrown away. Too often private information is gained from trash-diggers or those purposefully looking to steal information.

4. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. If a caretaker or personal friend wishes to retrieve or send mail for you, make sure you can trust them. You need to be sure checks and private information isn’t stolen through your mail.

5. Do a credit search on yourself at least two or three times a year. Identity theft and stolen credit cards are becoming a large problem for many people, including elderly people. Every few months, take time to check your credit. Look for an unusually low score, and report any curious findings. Also, have a trusted loved one keep track of your score if you can.

6. Install caller I.D. to determine if a call is private or unknown and don’t be afraid to hang up. Not everyone who calls asking for your bank account number is actually a representative from your bank or credit card company. If you’re suspicious about a caller, ask for their phone number and tell them you’ll call back. Scammers rarely will give out a phone number that can be traced. Also, call your bank or credit card company and ask if someone from their company is trying to contact you. Take extra steps to be sure you know who you’re talking to before giving vital information over the phone.

7. Remember: You will never, ever win a foreign lottery. The popular internet and phone scam of today is the foreign lottery winner. If you didn’t enter the contest, you will not win it. Always be wary of people wanting you to wire them money. When in doubt, get advice from a family member.

8. Consider letting your bank send a duplicate of your monthly statement to a trusted family member or an accountant or attorney. Someone you trust can review monthly expenditures and be on the lookout for any unknown charges.

9. Don’t assume that people doing work on your home are licensed. Check the background of those you hire, and remember: cheaper isn’t always better if it’s someone you don’t trust. Also, get three estimates in writing and a written contract. Make sure you have written record of the arrangement in case any questions come up later.

10. Have a second line of defense, such as a locked screen door or a security chain guard, at your front door. As sad as it is, our society is changing. Long gone are the days of trust in strangers and open home doors. Too often, elderly people are overpowered by those wishing to enter their homes. Take extra steps to secure your front door.

You can never take too many precautionary measures when protecting yourself from financial elder abuse. If you or a loved one haven’t yet, take time to go through the preceding list and make sure you’re safe from fraud or scam. With even the smallest changes, you can make sure you, your finances, and your estate are safe from those wishing you harm.

For more information on elder law, visit www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com.

Is Estate Planning Necessary?

familywithdogMany people wonder if they need to plan their estate, feeling uneasy about leaving possessions to certain family members and wondering if those left out will be hurt. While estate planning may take extra time, it creates fewer hassles for loved ones after your passing.

Estate planning is more than simply creating a will, but is the careful planning of each asset you possess—everything from your home, furniture, monies, land, and all possessions. Basically, anything that belongs to you. Estate planning can also designate a caretaker of you and your estate should you become unable to do so. If no caretaker is designated for your estate, the courts will assign someone. Make sure you designate someone you can trust—a spouse, adult child, loved one, or close friend who is honest and dependable.

Your estate caretaker does not have to be qualified or trained in estate planning and care, but must be someone you trust. Too many people have been fooled by an insincere loved one and have lost much of their estate because they hastily appointed an unsuitable estate caretaker.

Regardless of whether your estate is large or small, planning for the care of it is necessary. By carefully planning for your passing, you can assure that your family members are cared for even after you’re gone. Especially if your spouse or loved ones are older, careful planning becomes even more vital. You can also often provide tax-free gifts for them, depending on circumstances.

While planning your estate may take extra time out of your busy schedule, careful estate planning benefits everyone involved. It will not only set your mind at ease, but will assure that those who you want to inherit from your estate do so, while minimizing what goes to the government.

We will discuss appointing a caretaker for you individually when you cannot care for yourself in another post coming soon.

If you would like more information concerning your estate planning options, www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. Whether your estate planning goals are immediate or long-term, a California certified estate planning specialist will be able to counsel you on the best options available to you to meet your individual needs.

When to create a Will – The Jimi Hendrix Legacy

Electric_GuitarThe landscape of American music was changing. Out with the swing, jazz, rhythm, and blues of the early 1900s, and in with the rock that captivated the nation’s young people. One man who was struck by the change, and some would say led the revolution was known for his retro dress, on-stage antics, and reckless lifestyle. To his mother he was known as Johnny Allen, but across the world he was known as Jimi Hendrix.

To understand the unexpected and sudden fame Jimi experienced, one must realize the poverty into which he was born. His mother, seventeen at the time of his birth, battled alcoholism her entire life and died when Jimi was sixteen years old. His father, a retired Army officer, did little to provide support for Jimi and his four siblings. Of the Hendrix children, Jimi was the only one to live in the care of a family member. His sisters Kathy and Pamela were given up for adoption early in life due to physical deformities. His brother Joseph also suffered physical deformities and was given to state care at age three. His other brother Leon was in and out of welfare care during his childhood.

Needless to say, Jimi faced many difficulties early in life. From run-ins with the law to a dishonorable discharge from the Army and difficulty selling himself as a bona-fide musician, some thought he’d never make it in show business. But despite the many setbacks he faced, Jimi struck gold when he took his music overseas to England.

Between 1966–1970, Jimi Hendrix became one of the leading rock guitarists in both England and America. But his sudden, overwhelming fame didn’t bode well for his personal life. Hendrix entertained many different girlfriends wherever he went, reportedly used elicit drugs, and even fathered a daughter.

In the midst of his fame, tragedy struck. Jimi Hendrix was found dead in a London apartment on September 18, 1970. Fans were crushed, the music industry shocked, and loved ones heart broken. But that wasn’t the end of their struggles, as it was soon discovered that Hendrix had left no will.

Hendrix’s estranged father, Al, took control of Jimi’s estate, and set Al’s adopted daughter from his second marriage in control of “Experience Hendrix”—Jimie’s estate. Al also cut out Jimi’s brother from the Hendrix legacy, sparking a court battle that lasted thirty years! Amidst the family struggle for Jimi’s estate, Jimi’s daughter, Tamika, came forward to claim her father’s estate. But since Tamika’s mother was a runaway teenager, the courts did not honor Tamika’s claim to the Hendrix estate, stating that no other US court had recognized her as his daughter.

In the end, the story of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy is marred by the continuous estate battles and fighting amongst his family, perhaps best displayed by his long-time unfinished tombstone in Washington. But all this turmoil could have been avoided had Hendrix taken time to create a will.

At the time of his success, Hendrix didn’t think twice about creating a will. His reckless living leads observers to believe his lack of planning was out of lack of concern about his future. But despite his youth, Hendrix should have planned for the care of his estate.

Here are three situations in which people should take time to create a personal estate plan:

1. After marriage. Marriage is a wonderful event that is preceded by many tasks. From planning the wedding to arranging a living situation and obtaining the wedding certificate, some minor details can get overlooked. One of those details is creating a will.

Once you and your new spouse are settled, take time to seek out an estate lawyer and plan for the care of your possessions should you pass unexpectedly. If you don’t create a will after marriage, definitely do so after having children.

2. After children. The birth of a child brings a couple into a completely different world of responsibility. Not only must they care for themselves, but their child is dependent upon their actions as well. What a wonderful yet overwhelming time!

Should the parents of a child under 18 years of age pass away, the care of their child is designated in their will. But if no will is present, the care of the child falls to the state who will place the child in foster care or other homes. The better transition for a child is if the parents designate a family member or close friend to care for their child.

3. After inheritance or success. Here is where Jimi Hendrix went wrong. Rather than recognizing the fame and monetary gain he was experiencing, he lived for the moment and failed to plan his estate. Of course he didn’t anticipate dying at a young age, but few people do so.

If you’ve come met financial success through your own efforts, come into a large amount of money or inherited possessions lately, take time to either create an estate plan or update your estate plan. The easiest way to assure a simple transition is to carefully plan for the care of your estate.

Posthumous court battles and family arguments can be avoided if you will take the time now to plan your estate. Learn from Jimi Hendrix’s mistake. Even though you might not think you possess much, take the time to create a will and allow an estate lawyer to help you plan for your future and the future of your family.

If you would like more information concerning your estate planning options, www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. Whether your estate planning goals are immediate or long-term, a California certified estate planning specialist will be able to counsel you on the best options available to you to meet your individual needs.

What is Probate?

Within the estate planning process, legal terms can be confusing. One such term, probate, is a simple term, but plays an important role in planning for the future of your estate.

gavel Dictionary.com defines “probate” as the following:

“The legal process in which a Will is reviewed to determine whether it is valid and authentic. Probate also refers to the general administering of a deceased person’s Will or the estate of a deceased person without a Will. The court appoints either an executor named in the Will(or an administrator if there is no Will) to administer the process of collecting the assets of the deceased person, paying any liabilities remaining on the person’s estate and finally distributing the assets of the estate to beneficiaries named in the Will or determined as such by the executor.”

Probate is simply the proving of a person’s will for the distribution of assets, done by a probate court. Probate comes from the Latin word probatum meaning “a thing proved”.

The probate process contains a few simple concepts:

1. The deceased person’s Will is taken to probate court and proven valid;
2. The executor of the Will then will settle any outstanding debts the deceased person may have accrued;
3. Next, the executor of the Will distributes the deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries; and
4. The probate court overseas the administration of the Will by the executor and protects the interest of the beneficiaries.

(It is this last point that drives people to want to avoid probate in California. The court process is so rigid, and has so many mind numbing procedural rules that it takes 12 to 18 months to complete the process at great expense.)

If a person passes away without designating an executor in a Will, one will be appointed to the estate in probate court. A few people purposefully decide not to appoint an executor and leave that process to the courts, but this is rarely the best method of estate planning.

One drawback of the probate process is that every detail of the Will and estate is public record. The value of the estate, lawyer and estate manager’s fees, and the overall condition of the estate is put on record in probate court. Due to mandatory fees, probate can become quite costly, especially compared to the cost of creating a trust to avoid probate.

The best way to prepare for the future is to establish a Will, or better yet, a trust. Such documents can provide an executor specific direction in how to distribute an estate. While it might be the choice of some people to opt out of a trust and allow the probate process to handle estate distribution, this decision should be taken only in rare circumstances. Creating a trust is always the preferred option for many reasons, not the least of which is avoiding the probate process.

Probate can be a time-consuming and confusing process for the person without a Will, but through careful planning and the creation of a good Will, you can remove some of the painstaking processes involved in probating an estate.

If you would like more information concerning probate or other estate planning options, www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. Whether your estate planning goals are immediate or long-term, a California certified estate planning specialist will be able to counsel you on the best options available to you to meet your individual needs.

Avoiding Elder Abuse—The Story of Brooke Astor

“All it takes for elder abuse to flourish is for family and friends to do nothing.”

Brooke Astor lived what some would believe to be a coveted life. The philanthropist and author was married three times, most notably to Vincent Astor, the last heir of the Astor family fortune. From that marriage, she inherited much in the way of wealth and assets. After Vincent died, she took control of the Astor Foundation and used the Astor wealth to donate to many needy causes. She was noted for her benevolence and lived by her life motto, “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.” Even after liquidating the Astor Foundation, she continued her benevolent giving, improving local libraries and community gardens.

As Astor grew older, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and soon began losing her mental abilities. Having established her son from her first marriage, Anthony Marshall, as her caretaker, she turned everything over to him and trusted him to manage her estate.

Marshall had other plans though, and he began selling important pieces of art and jewelry that Astor had planned to be donated once she passed on. Anthony convinced his mother that they were in need of funds (even though her estate was valued at $200 million), and often pocketed money from the sale of prized possessions.

Anthony even went as far as to dismiss beloved staff members (a butler and a lawyer who had been with Brooke for fifty years). He also shut down her country home where she had told friends she wanted to die. Even in small day-to-day details, Marshall cut costs—refusing to take Astor to doctors’ appointments, neglecting to give her medication, and making her do without things she could afford.

Family members became suspicious when one of Astor’s most treasured paintings, “Flags, Fifth Avenue” by artist Childe Hassam which was promised to be donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anthony Marshall’s son, Phillip Marshall, began paying close attention to the activities surrounding his grandmother’s estate. Staff at her apartment even told him of ways Anthony had been depriving Astor of time with friends among other things.

After observing these injustices and gathering evidence, Phillip approached a few wealthy friends of Astor’s and with their help, hired a law firm to investigate the reports of elder abuse. Brooke Astor passed away in 2007 at age 105, and in October 2009, Anthony Marshall (age 85) was convicted of fourteen charges including grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, scheming to defraud, falsifying business records, offering a false instrument for filing, and conspiracy.

While the Astor abuse gained national media attention because of the popularity of the Astor estate, cases of elder abuse happen every day. Parents leave children or loved ones in charge of their estate, trusting them to care for them as they grow older, yet sometimes those they love can turn out to be poor caretakers.

Phillip Marshall has learned the impact of elder care abuse, and is now a national speaker on the subject, seeking to raise awareness of the problem. As he says, “All it takes for elder abuse to flourish is for family and friends to do nothing.”

If you have an elderly friend or loved one living in care of someone, pay close attention to how the elderly person is being treated. If you see signs of elder abuse or suspect something might be wrong, get help. Contact a lawyer, law enforcement officer, or family member who can help. Don’t allow your loved one to suffer needlessly.

If you would like more information concerning this issue or other estate planning options, www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. Whether your estate planning goals are immediate or long-term, a California certified estate planning specialist will be able to counsel you on the best options available to you to meet your individual needs.

Update on Democrat Disagreements over Estate Tax Reform

WASHINGTON (May 20, 2010)– Congress Daily reports that an estate tax agreement is far from certain and speculates that it could even return at a 55 percent rate and $1 million per spouse exemption beginning January 1, 2011.

Senate Democrats discussed the issue at a heated policy luncheon earlier this week, while failing to reach a consensus.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) advocated the 55 percent/$1 million exemption approach, maintaining that the pre-2001 rates would only affect 2 percent of the country’s estates. When asked about reducing the tax to 35 percent while lifting the exemption to $5 million, he said, “I will do everything I can to stop that.”

On the other side is Senate Small Business Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who supports the reduced rate and higher exemption. “We’ve been rasslin’ and struggling with how to resolve this estate tax issue, and the fact of the matter is, even in the Democratic Caucus, there are varying views,” she told the news source, calling the 35%/$5 million parameters a “reasonable compromise.”

Landrieu said she would exempt more than 99 percent of small businesses from the tax, though acknowledged that votes remain scarce. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem like there’s enough votes to do anything. There doesn’t seem to be 60 votes at this point to do any of those proposals.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said that the majority of Senate Democrats oppose the 35 percent/$5 million plan, estimating the split at “80 percent, 20 percent” against.

“I think we’re not yet at the point where we’re drawing lines, but the idea that we’re going to give an incredible economic advantage to less than 1 percent of our taxpaying population is really offensive to me, to understate it dramatically,” Casey said. “Most of our caucus is very concerned about what will happen on the estate tax, and I think there are some who would probably be with Sen. Kyl, but I think it’s a small number.”

Capitol Hill insiders said that Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) previously were in general agreement on the 35 percent rate with a $5 million exemption, though Baucus dismissed talk of any loose agreement earlier this week. “There is no agreement on the estate tax in either substance or process. None whatsoever.”

Editor’s comment – If the Democrats cannot agree on a fix, it seems that the odds of finding Republican support are very low indeed.

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