Bobby’s Blog

One Question Can Make All The Difference. . .(Continued)

If you recall from my last post, we were right at the point of determining whether Bill Sample’s estate plan worked. Bill, a father of 2 with lovely wife Mary, suffered a heart attack at the ripe old age of 45. How well did his estate plan work?
After 2 weeks in the hospital, Bill returns home to his family. However, he is coming home in a wheel chair and cannot feed, bathe or clothe himself. The family’s income has now been cut in half with increased expenses.  Mary can’t afford the mortgage and puts the house on the market at a low price since she can’t wait out the bad market. Mary gets behind on the bills, is facing bankruptcy, and the kids are going through an emotional roller coaster. How well did Bill’s plan work? Did the documents address or explore any of these issues?

Let’s take it one step further and say that Bill died. He has an insurance policy worth $1million that gets paid directly to his wife. A year later the wife is driving down a local highway, distracted by the kids, and kills someone in a car accident. All the insurance proceeds are subject to her creditors and they are indeed taken. Could Bill have structured his plan so that the death benefits would have been protected from Mary’s creditors? Yes. What if she were to get remarried. Could Bill’s kids get disinherited unintentionally? Yes.

Moral of the Story:
I think it is a critical point to understand WHEN you know whether an estate plan works. Normally, you hire an attorney in Year 1 and receive some documents that you don’t understand and have no way of knowing that they will work. You get very little counseling. You then hide the documents somewhere like it is some mystery to be solved sometime in the future by your family in Year 10, 20, etc. Then, you go on with your life thinking you have done the right thing for your family. The problem is that those documents aren’t put into action immediately and there are no instant results for you to judge the value of what you paid for.

Be careful about the questions you ask when shopping for an estate planning attorney. Are you shopping for the lowest price documents or sound advice that will save your family from a lot of heart ache? Your call.

One Question Can Make All The Difference. . .

As an estate planning attorney, I find it odd that I rarely get the following question from the general public: “what are my estate planning options?” You would think that would be a basic question from people who are in the market for estate planning services. That just is not the case. However, I do get a lot of people asking me the following question: “how much do you charge for a will or trust?”

There is a quote I have heard that goes, “the power is in the question.” I really believe this quote can be valuable when you are doing your due diligence in hiring an estate planning attorney. The latter question, “how much do you charge for a will or trust?” has the potential to steer your planning to disaster. While the former question, “what are my planning options?” has the potential to steer your planning towards securing your family’s future and protecting your loved ones.

Why the dramatic difference in just one simple question? I will use a real life example to illustrate what I mean.

Bill Sample (i am protecting the names of the innocent), decides it is time to go shopping for a will because his college roommate died of a heart attack at age 45. He thinks to himself, if it could happen to Rob, it can happen to me and I better get the right documents in place. He does some basic research over the internet and sees that he can download a will off the internet for $79. He thinks about and decides to call an attorney instead as there may be some stuff that I may miss. He calls a local attorney and says: “My wife and I are interested in doing our wills, how much do you charge for each will?”
Attorney: I charge $250 for each simple will and an extra $150 for a power of attorney and medical directive form, when would you like to come in?
They schedule an appointment for next week, the couple comes in, the attorney obtains their basic information in an hour (name, address, kids names, approximate size of estate, executor’s name) and collects the money for the documents. A few weeks later, Bill and Mary Sample pick up the Wills, put them in their safe deposit box, and now Bill feels much better that he has done his “estate planning.” He feels has done the right thing for his family and now they can move on with their lives.

10 years later, Bill unexpectedly suffers a stroke. It is a terrible event that shocks the whole family. Even though this is a tragic event, at least Bill had the foresight to do estate planning for himself and his family. At least they have all the legal and financial issues covered, right?

I will continue with this story in my next post. . .

Syracuse Lacrosse. . . A System That Works

A few weeks ago, I went to my college lacrosse team 20 year reunion of our 1990 national championship team. I played for syracuse university lacrosse and it had been about 10 years since I visited the university. What I found interesting is that the lacrosse program is as successful now as it was when I attended the university. Since I left syracuse, they have won 7 more national titles. How did this program become so successful? What are they doing well that other programs should learn from? I think you can learn a lot from successful organizations, especially about the types of habits they develop.

My return flight from syracuse was delayed and I decided to attend a lacrosse practice to see how the practices have changed since I attended over 20 years ago. What surprised me is that the core or base practice drills the team was running were essentially the same drills I had been taught 20 years ago. We had a specific system and routine that we followed every day and I saw the kids doing the same thing that we used to do. The system produced the consistent results and it was the focus on the system and the mastery of the system that produced these positive and different results. I guess the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” really is true.

I thought about my law practice and about how are firm has developed since we started focusing on our process and our system. Traditionally, law firms do not really have an estate planning process or an identifiable system. Most attorneys are focused on producing documents and their system is basically their computer. When we changed our focus on producing a plan that works for the client WHEN they actually need it to work (disability/death) it is supposed to work, then our system changed. We needed to develop a process to title assets properly, commuicate updates to the clients on a routine basis, educating the family, etc. When we were able to clearly see our goal in this manner, our system started to take form and our team (the law firm) starting focusing on fine tuning our process so that we were producing tremendous results for our clients.
For example, every year we hold a “What to Do” workshop for our clients and their families. What to do when a loved one becomes disabled and What to do when a loved one passes away. We have found that clients and their families don’t know the first two things to do when a significant event like disability or death occurs. We initially designed this workshop to address these issues. However, through the years clients have given us consistent feedback that it would be good to have a “Helper’s Handbook” that the clients and family members could have in their possession and reference when needed. So our law firm team developed this “Helper’s Handbook” and continued to refine it to meet our clients’ expectations. So every year, our team practices and focuses on making our ” What to Do” programs better and how we can make our handbook better. Focusing our efforts on making the clients life easier helps clarify the law firm goals and brings the team together to create successful plans.

My point is that I belive estate planning is a process and is not just a transaction or document. Some attorneys are more “word processing” oriented and our focused on the documents as the end result, while other attorneys are focused on counselling and the actual plan results (did the plan work smoothly or was it painful, long, expensive process?). We find that we get consistent positive results when we focus our systems on counselling the family. The way we “practice” and refine our system is by constantly looking at our process and asking the following questions:
1) What are we doing well in our planning process?
2) What do we need to improve on or what aren’t we doing so well?
3) What aren’t we doing that we should be doing?

By objectively looking at our practice and mastering our systems (just like the lacrosse team working on the same drills every day until they master them) we provide consistent results for the clients. Maybe this is a simple point, however, I find that this point is often overlooked.

This blog is not intended to provide tax, legal, financial advice. It is simply a forum to express my opinions of issues that I see on a daily basis.

What is Estate Planning?

What does “estate planning” mean? Why should I care? Not knowing the answer to these 2 important questions cost my family dearly. If you don’t know what it is, why would you bother doing anything about it? Many people think they know what estate planning is: “oh yeah I have a Will or a Power of Attorney or a Trust” but they have no clue what these documents do. They simply know they have some type of document. If you are looking for a document, download it off the internet and save yourself the time expense of using an attorney. However, beware of the consequences to your family. If you don’t know what your document does, how can you expect your family to have any clue? People are better consumers when buying a high definition tv as opposed to when they are trying to set up their estate plan. Your estate plan directly impacts your family and all the wealth you have created. It might be a good idea to do your due diligence here. A good first step would be to try to imagine what life would look likefor your family members if you were disabled or if you passed away. I could think of a 1000 better ways to spend my time but if you don’t take the time to think about this topic critically, then, in my experience, you will cause considerable emotional and financial damage to your family.

So where would I start? I would define what estate planning means to me. Here is my best definition of estate planning that I use on a daily basis:

I want to control my propery while I am alive and well;
A plan for me and my loved ones if I become disabled;
Then I want to give what I have, to whom I want, when I want, in the way that I want;
All while assuring my wisdom is transferred along with the rest of my wealth.

If one understand this definition and feels comfortable with how their plan works, then I believe you are going in the right direction to protect your wealth and your family. In my next post I will go into this definition of estate planning into more detail and what it means to me. . .

As always, this blog is not intended to be used as legal, tax, and or financial advice. It is simply my perceptions regarding the events that occur in my daily personal life.

Questions the Attorney Should Be Asking. . .

In my recent posts, I have been reflecting on the death of my father and how his estate planning could have been structured to avoid the disaster our family encountered when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He (and our family) lived with the disease for 12 years. If I had the opportunity to rewind the clock and if I was the attorney handling my father’s estate plan, here are some of the questions I would have asked him that were NOT asked:

Attorney: Mr. Feisee, as your attorney I need to prepare a plan that will address your needs immediately. Let’s call it “Next Month” Planning. In this regard, I would like to explore some different scenarios with you and get your thoughts.

Dad: Okay, what would you like to ask.

Attorney: If we were to do nothing as far as planning and you were to have a stroke next month, or be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other catastrophic illness, can you describe how life would look like for your wife?

Dad: Well, since I own my own business, we would lose all that income. I guess my wife would have the burden of paying 2 mortgages with half the income. As far as my care, I guess she would be responsible for taking care of me as well. I guess she would be put in a very stressful position. Life would be tough, I am not sure how she would get by.

Attorney: Let’s fast forward 10 years and say that your wife managed to make ends meet for 1o years while taking care of you. Let’s say you pass away at this point. Can you describe how life would look for her at that point?

Dad: Well if she had to take care of me for 10 years, while working and paying all the bills including my medical care, I would say that she would be in a difficult financial position. She would probably have to work another 10 years at least and probably work until the day she died.
After going through 10 years of dealing with my care, I am guessing she would just want a break and take it easy since she is in her 70s. Life would look pretty bleak for her too.

Attorney: Let’s look at the other side of the coin and say that we did do some planning and that the plan included things like long term care insurance, diability insurance, and life insurance that would fill the liquidity needs of your spouse and family if these events were to occur. How might life look like then?

Dad: Well if there was money coming in to take care of me, that would lighten the load tremendously. If we could replace my income that would be a tremendous relief to my wife. As far as the life insurance, although I am not a big believer in, I see how it could be the ultimate gift I could give to my wife. I never looked at it this way.

Attorney: Maybe we should explore some options and talk to your advisors about how we can make this work with your budget.

Dad: Good idea.

This conversation could have saved our family over $600,000 in long term care expenses and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and mortgage expenses. Maybe my dad would not have implemented all the ideas, but I think he may have done 1 or 2. Those 1 or 2 items could have changed our family members’ lives life tremendously. My mom currently works 8-10 hours a day and she is in her mid 70s. There is no vacation in sight. . .

As always, this blog is not intended for financial, legal, and/or tax advice. It is simply a place where I reflect on my personal life experiences. I am not selling any financial or insurance product; talk to your own professionals for any specific advice.

Questions the Attorney Should Be Asking. . .

In my recent posts, I have been reflecting on the death of my father and how his estate planning could have been structured to avoid the disaster our family encountered when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He (and our family) lived with the disease for 12 years. If I had the opportunity to rewind the clock and if I was the attorney handling my father’s estate plan, here are some of the questions I would have asked him that were NOT asked:

Attorney: Mr. Feisee, as your attorney I need to prepare a plan that will address your needs immediately. Let’s call it “Next Month” Planning. In this regard, I would like to explore some different scenarios with you and get your thoughts.

Dad: Okay, what would you like to ask.

Attorney: If we were to do nothing as far as planning and you were to have a stroke next month, or be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other catastrophic illness, can you describe how life would look like for your wife?

Dad: Well, since I own my own business, we would lose all that income. I guess my wife would have the burden of paying 2 mortgages with half the income. As far as my care, I guess she would be responsible for taking care of me as well. I guess she would be put in a very stressful position. Life would be tough, I am not sure how she would get by.

Attorney: Let’s fast forward 10 years and say that your wife managed to make ends meet for 1o years while taking care of you. Let’s say you pass away at this point. Can you describe how life would look for her at that point?

Dad: Well if she had to take care of me for 10 years, while working and paying all the bills including my medical care, I would say that she would be in a difficult financial position. She would probably have to work another 10 years at least and probably work until the day she died.
After going through 10 years of dealing with my care, I am guessing she would just want a break and take it easy since she is in her 70s. Life would look pretty bleak for her too.

Attorney: Let’s look at the other side of the coin and say that we did do some planning and that the plan included things like long term care insurance, diability insurance, and life insurance that would fill the liquidity needs of your spouse and family if these events were to occur. How might life look like then?

Dad: Well if there was money coming in to take care of me, that would lighten the load tremendously. If we could replace my income that would be a tremendous relief to my wife. As far as the life insurance, although I am not a big believer in, I see how it could be the ultimate gift I could give to my wife. I never looked at it this way.

Attorney: Maybe we should explore some options and talk to your advisors about how we can make this work with your budget.

Dad: Good idea.

This conversation could have saved our family over $600,000 in long term care expenses and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and mortgage expenses. Maybe my dad would not have implemented all the ideas, but I think he may have done 1 or 2. Those 1 or 2 items could have changed our family members’ lives life tremendously. My mom currently works 8-10 hours a day and she is in her mid 70s. There is no vacation in sight. . .

As always, this blog is not intended for financial, legal, and/or tax advice. It is simply a place where I reflect on my personal life experiences. I am not selling any financial or insurance product; talk to your own professionals for any specific advice.