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Gen-X, 90210 Star Luke Perry’s Death Demonstrates the Importance of Planning for Incapacity

In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support. Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his two children—21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Sophie—along with his fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others. 

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be somewhat shocked when someone so young, successful, and seemingly healthy passes away so suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes glaringly obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who you are. Such reminders can make you feel extremely vulnerable. And they can also be a precious reminder to make the most of life now.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can actually be a wonderful thing, if it motivates you to savor life now AND take the proper action to protect the ones you love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death
Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a fairly recent health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. Since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was the very least he could do.

But wills are just a small part of the planning equation. Wills only apply to the distribution of your assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

In Perry’s case, he was incapacitated by a stroke and on life support for nearly a week before he died. During this period, the fact Perry had a will was irrelevant because he was still alive. But given how events unfolded, it appears Perry had other planning vehicles in place to prepare for just this situation.

The power over life and death
During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely that Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions. Granting medical power of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Perry was put on life support for nearly a week, and then he was removed from it and allowed to die without ever regaining consciousness—and without any apparent conflict between his loved ones. This indicates that someone in his family likely had the legal authority to make those heart-wrenching decisions over Perry’s life and death. Without medical power of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind.

The power over your money
Along with medical power of attorney, every adult should also have financial durable power of attorney. In the event of your incapacity, financial durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your finances, such as paying your bills, collecting government benefits, and overseeing your bank accounts.

We can’t be sure at this point whether or not Perry put in place durable power of attorney, but since this planning document goes hand-in hand with medical power of attorney, it’s almost certain he did. Yet seeing that Perry was only incapacitated for five days before his death, durable power of attorney may not seem totally necessary in his case.

But what if Perry’s incapacity had lasted a lot longer?

Given that Perry could have lingered on life support for months or years, it’s crucial that someone he trusted had the authority to manage his finances during his incapacity. Without durable power of attorney, the court will choose someone to manage your finances, and that someone might be a person you wouldn’t want anywhere near your life savings or checkbook. What’s more, that someone could even be a “professional” who gets paid hefty hourly fees to handle things, even if you have family members who want to serve.

Learn from Perry’s example
While Perry’s death is certainly sad, if it inspires you to put the proper estate planning in place, it can ultimately prove immensely beneficial. Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if and when something happens to you.

We’ll help ensure that in the event of your incapacity, or when you die, your loved ones will have the same protections Perry’s had—and more. Contact us today to attend one of our live educational events or get started with a private Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Why You Might Actually Owe Taxes in 2018

Like many taxpayers, if you’ve already filed your federal income taxes for 2018, you may be surprised to discover you’re not getting a refund this time.  If so, this was almost certainly due to the sweeping tax overhaul made by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA). Since personal tax rates were lowered by the TCJA, it’s natural to assume you would owe less taxes, not more. But as you may have discovered, this isn’t always the case.

Seeing that the TCJA was promised to offer most people a tax break, understanding why you might owe more taxes in 2018 (rather than less) can be confusing. The following questions and answers are designed to shed some light on this situation, so you can start revising your tax strategies for coming years.

 

Q: What changed?
A: In addition to lowering personal income tax rates, the TCJA doubled the standard exemption to $12,000, added limits to deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), eliminated personal exemptions, set limits on deductions for home-mortgage interest, among many other changes. Given all of the changes, you may find that you’re no longer withholding the proper amount of taxes from your paycheck and/or quarterly installments to the IRS. When filing, this can result in either overpaying your taxes (and getting a refund) or underpaying (and owing money).

Q: What does this mean for me?
A:
In light of these new changes, you should carefully review your withholding and make adjustments if necessary. To help with this, the IRS published new withholding tables and updated its withholding calculator into which you can input your current tax data to see if you need to make any changes.

Q: How do I change my withholding?
A:
If you work as an employee, you change your withholding by making adjustments to your W-4. If you work for yourself, you either increase or decrease your estimated quarterly payments.

A W-4 determines how much income tax is withheld from your pay by your employer. You fill out a W-4 when you start a new job, but you can change it at any time. Specifically, the form asks you for the number of allowances you want to claim based on personal factors, such as being married and/or having children and filing as head of household. The more allowances you claim, the less federal income tax your employer will withhold, which translates to more money in your paycheck. The fewer allowances you claim, the more federal income tax your employer will withhold, lowering your take-home pay. It’s important that you withhold the proper amount from your paycheck or make quarterly payments. Don’t withhold enough, and you’ll owe the IRS at the end of the year. Withhold too much, and you might get a big refund, but you’ve basically given the government an interest-free loan for that year.

Maximize your tax savings
Adjusting your withholding is just one of many strategies you can use to save on your taxes. Indeed, the TCJA also changed tax laws that have the potential to affect your estate planning strategies as well. In light of this, when the 2018 tax season wraps up, we’ll be pairing up with one of our favorite local CPAs to bring you support and guidance that you can use to maximize your tax savings in 2019 and beyond. Contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

7 Events That Necessitate a Review of Your Estate Plan

Even if you put a solid estate plan in place, it can end up proving worthless if it’s not properly updated. Estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal: It should continuously evolve along with your life circumstances. No matter who you are, your life will inevitably change: families change, laws change, assets change, and goals change. In the absence of any major life events, we recommend reviewing your plan annually to make sure its terms are up to date.

Yet there are several common life events that require you to immediately update your plan—that is, if you want it to actually work and keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. To this end, if any of the following seven events occur, contact us right away.

1) You get married: Marriage not only changes your relationship status, it changes your legal status. Regardless of whether it’s your first marriage or fifth, you must take the proper steps to ensure your plan properly reflects your current wishes and needs. After getting hitched, some of your most pressing concerns include: naming your new spouse as a beneficiary on your insurance policies and retirement accounts, granting him or her medical power of attorney and/or durable power of attorney (if that’s your wish), and adding him or her to your will and/or trust.

2) You get divorced: Since divorce can be so overwhelming, estate planning often gets overshadowed by the other dramatic new changes happening. But failing to update your plan for divorce can have devastating consequences. Once divorce proceedings start, you’ll need to ensure your future ex is no longer eligible to receive any of your assets or make financial and medical decisions on your behalf—unless that’s your wish. Once the divorce is finalized and your property is divided, you’ll need to adjust your planning to match your new asset profile and living situation.

3) You give birth or adopt: Welcoming a new addition to your family can be a joyous occasion, but it also demands entirely new levels of planning and responsibility. At the top of your to-do list should be legally naming both long and short-term guardians for your child. Our Kids Protection Plan offers everything you need to complete this process for free right now. https://mariannesrantalapc.kidsprotectionplan.com/

Once you’ve named guardians, consider putting planning vehicles, such as trusts, in place for your kids. These documents can make certain the assets you want your child to inherit will be passed on in the most effective and beneficial way possible for everyone involved. Consult with us to learn which planning strategies are best suited for your family.

4) A loved one dies: The death of a family member, partner, or close friend can have major consequences for both your life and estate plan. If the person was included in your plan, you need to update it accordingly to fill any gaps his or her absence creates. From naming new beneficiaries, executors, and guardians to identifying new heirs to receive assets allocated to the deceased, make sure you address all voids the death creates as soon as possible.

5) You get seriously ill or injured: As with death, illness and injury are an unavoidable part of being human. If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or are involved in a life-changing accident, you may want to review the people you’ve chosen to handle your healthcare decisions as well as how those decisions should be made. The person you want as your healthcare proxy can change with time, so be sure your plan reflects your current wishes.

6) You relocate to a new state: Since estate planning laws can vary widely from state to state, if you move to a different state, you’ll need to review and/or revise your plan to comply with your new home’s legal requirements. Some of these laws can be super complex, so consult with us to make sure your plan will still work exactly as you desire in your new location.

7) Your assets or liabilities change significantly: Whenever your estate’s value dramatically increases or decreases, you should revisit your plan to ensure it still offers the maximum protection and benefits for yourself and your loved ones. Whether you inherit a fortune, take out a new loan, close your business, or change your investment portfolio, your plan should be adjusted accordingly.

Count on us for guidance and support
You can count on us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure your estate plan is regularly reviewed and updated at all times. In fact, we have built-in processes to make sure this happens—be sure to ask us about them.

What’s more, rather than looking at the process as yet another task you have to accomplish, we view an annual review as a meaningful ritual that lets you see where your family has been and where you plan to go. But however you look at it, a regular review will put you at ease, knowing your family is protected and provided for no matter what happens. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule your review.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Could an IRA Trust Benefit Your Family?

Unlike most of your assets, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) do not pass to your family through a will. Instead, upon your death, your IRA will pass directly to the people you named via your IRA beneficiary designation form. Unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone. The beneficiary could cash out some or all of the IRA and spend it, invest the funds in other securities, or leave the money in the IRA for as long as possible.

For a number of reasons that we’ll address more below, you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust. But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA; you’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names—IRA Living Trust, IRA Inheritor’s Trust, IRA Stretch Trust—but for this article, we’re simply going to call it an IRA Trust. IRA Trusts offer several valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce
While IRAs are typically protected from creditors while you’re alive, once you die and the funds pass to your beneficiaries, the IRA can lose its protected status when your beneficiary distributes the funds to him or herself. One way to counteract this is to leave your retirement assets through an IRA Trust, in which case your IRA funds will be shielded from creditors as long as they remain in the trust. IRA Trusts are also useful if you’re in a second (or more) marriage and want your IRA assets to be used for the benefit of your surviving spouse while he or she is living, and then to distributed or be held for the benefit of your children from a prior marriage after your surviving spouse passes. This would ensure that your surviving spouse cannot divert retirement assets to a new spouse, to his or her children from a prior marriage, or lose them to a creditor before the funds ultimately get to your children.

Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions
In addition to outside creditors, an IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. If the IRA passes to your beneficiary directly, there’s nothing stopping him or her from quickly blowing through the wealth you’ve worked your whole life to build. When you create an IRA Trust, however, you can add restrictions to the trust’s terms that control when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. With our support, you can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

Tax savings
One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. Yet if the IRA passes directly to your beneficiary at your death and is immediately cashed out, the beneficiary can lose out on potentially massive tax savings. Not only will the beneficiary have to pay taxes on the total amount of the IRA in the year it was withdrawn, but he or she will also lose the ability to “stretch out” the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their life expectancy. A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the RMDs are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth. 

Minors
If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So, without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age. When the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, he or she can withdraw all of the IRA funds at once—and as we’ve seen, this can have serious disadvantages. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

Find out if an IRA Trust is right for you
While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. Laws regarding IRA Trusts vary widely from state to state, so in some places, they’ll be more effective than others. Plus, the value of IRA Trusts also varies greatly depending on your specific family situation, so not everyone will want to put these trusts in place.

If you have more than $150,000 in retirement accounts, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to find out if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Overlooking This Basic Part of Your Estate Plan Can Be Tragic

The recent death of the CEO of QuadrigaCX, a major cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, demonstrates a basic, yet often-overlooked, tenet of effective estate planning:

In the event of your incapacity or death, if your heirs don’t know how to find or access your assets, those assets are as good as gone. Indeed, it’s as if those assets never existed at all.

While it might not be that big of a deal if the assets in question aren’t worth much money, in the case of QuadrigaCX’s owner Gerald Cotten, the lost assets were purportedly worth $145 million, representing the vast majority of the company’s crypto holdings. The hefty sum effectively vanished after Cotten died without leaving instructions for how to access the digital currency’s security passcodes. The crypto holdings were owned by some 115,000 clients, who used the exchange to buy and store their digital coins.

An untimely death and a cold wallet
According to an affidavit filed in a Canadian court, Cotten, age 30, died suddenly of complications related to Crohn’s disease while traveling in India during December 2018. In January 2019, QuardigaCX filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from creditors, including all of the customers with crypto stored in the company’s electronic vault. Ironically, the digital assets were lost in part because Cotten followed a security practice designed to safeguard the funds. Most of the company’s cryptocurrency holdings were stored in a “cold wallet,” or one that isn’t connected to the Internet. The use of a cold wallet is a common practice, since “hot wallets,” or those connected to the internet, are a frequent target of hackers. This typically would’ve been a prudent measure, but Cotten reportedly stored the cold wallet on an encrypted laptop that only he knew how to get into. According to Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Roberston, following multiple searches, she has been unable to find the passwords that will open the laptop and provide access to the company’s cold wallet. QuadrigaCX even brought in IT experts to get into Cotten’s laptop, but so far, all attempts have been unsuccessful. Canadian financial authorities and independent auditors are currently investigating the case, with some even speculating that Cotten’s death was faked as part of a nefarious scheme connected to QuadrigaCX. Whether it ultimately turns out to be a simple case of carelessness or something more malicious, the lesson remains the same:

From cryptocurrency to safety deposit boxes and everything in between, your family must know how to find and access every asset you own, otherwise it could be lost forever.

In fact, there’s a total of more than $58 billion of unclaimed assets from across the country held by the State Department of Unclaimed Property. Much of that massive sum got there because someone died, and their family didn’t know they owned the asset.

Incomplete estate planning
Another puzzling fact is that upon first glance, Cotten was diligent in his estate planning. Indeed, Cotten named Roberston as his estate’s executor and left her instructions for the complete distribution of his assets, including a private jet and multiple properties in Canada. He even left behind $100,000 for the care of his two dogs—yet he managed to forget to include the passcodes that would unlock his company’s vast crypto assets. We believe that most people holding crypto assets haven’t taken the proper steps to ensure their heirs will know how to access these assets upon their incapacity or death. Given this, if you own any digital currency like Bitcoin, be sure to call us to make certain these assets have been correctly included in your estate plan. Indeed, if you have any assets that might potentially be overlooked in the event of your incapacity or death, contact us now.

Easily avoidable
What makes this loss so tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. Whether your estate is valued in millions or thousands, your plan must include a comprehensive inventory all of your assets. And as Cotten’s case shows, this inventory must also include a detailed instruction for how your heirs can find and access every asset. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, a comprehensive asset inventory like this is a standard part of every estate plan we create. And whether it’s cryptocurrency, social media accounts, or online payment platforms like PayPal, this inventory will include detailed instructions for accessing all of your digital assets and their passcodes. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed how today’s children are increasingly influenced more by their peers than their parents. http://rantala.com/blog/2019/02/05/reclaim-your-role-as-your-childs-primary-influence-part-1/

In today’s society, the once-unbreakable bond between parent and child is being increasingly eroded. This disconnect is wreaking havoc on children’s psychological development, while making parents feel powerless to get through to their kids. In more than 20 years of work and research, world-renowned family physician and child-development expert Gabor Maté discovered that a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes following WWII are a leading factor in this detachment. These changes have made it difficult for parents to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for their relationship with their kids to remain strong. And to fill this void, children are increasingly turning to their peer group for role models and mentors—often with disastrous results. “They [children] are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Last week, we discussed how a lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship has led kids to bond more intensely with their peers. Here, we’ll look at the devastating effects these peer-centered relationships can have, and how parents can reclaim their role as the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

The crisis of the young
For evidence of just how unhealthy it can be when a child’s relationship with his or her peers matters more than the one they have with their parents, Maté points to the dramatic rise in violence, suicide, and mass shootings among today’s youth. “The crisis of the young has manifested ominously in the growing problem of bullying in the schools and, at its very extreme, in the murder of children by children,” says Maté. “Such tragedies are only the most visible eruptions of a widespread malaise, an aggressive streak rife in today’s youth culture.” Maté found that in the vast majority of childhood suicides, the key trigger was how the children were treated by their peers, not their parents. When kids consider acceptance from their peers as their primary source of fulfillment, rejection and bullying can be utterly Earth-shattering. “The more peers matter,” says Maté, “the more children are devastated by the insensitive relating of their peers, by failing to fit in, by perceived rejection or ostracization.” While youth bullying and violence are certainly nothing new, Maté believes the expanding influence of the Internet and social media makes today’s kids far more vulnerable. “Technology and social media, which are very much geared and marketed toward strengthening the peer culture, give kids an additional power to do each other significant emotional harm,” says Maté.

The missing element
Outside of the obvious reasons why peers make terrible parenting substitutes, the crucial element missing from peer relationships is unconditional love. “Absolutely missing in peer relationship is unconditional love and acceptance, the desire to nurture, the ability to extend oneself for the sake of the other, the willingness to sacrifice for the growth and development of the other,” says Maté. Unconditional love is the most potent force in the parent-child bond, laying the foundation for the relationship’s strength, intimacy, and influence. Without unconditional love, the parenting relationship becomes no different than any other. Just about anyone is capable of caring for another person as long as they fulfill their expectations. But outside of marriage, the family—chiefly, the parents—is typically the only source for this critically important factor. Maté notes that some of today’s common disciplinary techniques can unintentionally signal to the child that parental love is only available if certain conditions are met. As an example, Maté explains how putting a child who’s throwing a tantrum into timeout can make it feel like the parent’s attention and love are merely conditional. “Timeout withdraws your relationship from the child,” says Maté. “They learn they’re only acceptable to you if they please you. The relationship is seen as unstable and unreliable because it’s showing them you’re not available for them when they’re most upset.” While this example is quite literal, Maté says that any behavior or action by the parent that threatens to undermine the unconditional nature of the parent-child relationship can be harmful. Without the underlying trust that their parents will be there for them no matter what, a children’s primary source of safety and trust becomes a source of insecurity. When kids are in a state of insecurity, it’s easy for them to become defensive and enter into fight or flight mode. This makes them extremely difficult to communicate with, much less develop the level of intimacy needed for a close parental bond to form.

Reclaim your influence
To prevent children from seeking attachment from outside sources, Maté says parents must make their kids an offer that’s too good to refuse. “Our challenge as parents is to provide an invitation that’s too desirable to turn down, a loving acceptance that no peer can provide,” says Maté. Rather than resorting to special parenting techniques, Maté stresses that the best thing parents can do to become closer with their kids is to simply take pleasure in being with them. “A real relationship with kids doesn’t depend on words; it depends on the capacity to be with them,” says Maté. “Welcome their presence with your body language and energy. Express delight in the child’s very being.” And your most challenging job as a parent is to do this even when they are pushing your every button, as all kids inevitably do. No matter how your children are behaving, consider a way to show them that they’re loved and accepted unconditionally. This may go against everything you learned from your parents but consider doing it anyway. And if you find this particularly difficult, take Mate’s advice and think back about what you would’ve really wanted from your own parents in such a situation. “The ultimate gift is to make a child feel invited to exist in your presence exactly as he or she is at the moment,” says Maté. “Children must know they’re wanted, special, valued, appreciated, and enjoyed. For children to fully receive this invitation, it needs to be genuine and unconditional.” When children get this level of acceptance, they naturally desire to become closer with whomever is offering it. Rather than fearing or being threatened by their parents, children want to be with them. They want to follow them. Once this unconditional relationship is established and/or restored, Maté says that parents will be able to parent intuitively. “If we know how to be with our children and who to be for them, we need much less advice on what to do,” says Maté. “Practical parenting approaches emerge spontaneously from our own experience. We don’t have to resort to techniques or manuals—we act from understanding and empathy.”

Express your love with estate planning
Estate planning is one of your chief responsibilities as a parent, but it’s also one of the greatest expressions of your unconditional love. You can use estate planning to show your children that you love them unconditionally, that you’re here for them no matter what, and you can even begin to involve them in the process right now to varying degrees depending on their age. Indeed, the planning process itself can be an opportunity to enhance your connection with your kids. Communicating clearly about what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death (and talking with your children about what they want) can foster a deeper bond and sense of intimacy than just about anything else you can do. Though such conversations can feel awkward, as your Personal Family Lawyer,® we can help guide and support you in having these intimate discussions in an age-and-stage appropriate way with your children. Indeed, our clients consistently share that after undergoing our estate planning process, they feel a deeper sense of connection with their children. While estate planning isn’t likely to completely fix your relationship with your kids, it can be an important first step in regaining that all-important sense of intimacy and trust Maté describes. Contact us today to learn more.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, P.C. Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 1

Have you ever felt that the unbreakable bond you once had with your children is seriously eroding? It can feel as if the very foundation of your relationship is falling apart. It may feel like you can no longer communicate with your kids. No matter how hard you try, your once-cooperative child is impossible to get through to, much less control. Their previous desire for your attention, connection, and affection has been replaced with distance, silence, and coldness.

This detachment leaves you feeling helpless and betrayed. In order to regain your influence, you try using the latest trendy parenting techniques, but nothing seems to break the deadlock. Feeling utterly powerless to regain your connection, you fall back on authoritarian methods of discipline you previously avoided. But your attempts at discipline only seem to make things worse. Rather than bringing your children closer, they become even more defiant. Eventually, the gap grows so wide it seems totally unbridgeable.

Bridging the divide
If this sounds familiar, you might want to listen to Dr. Gabor Maté. Rather than offering a quick-fix solution to this complex issue, Maté combines the latest scientific research with his own 20 years of experience as a family physician to empower parents to earn back their children’s love and loyalty. In numerous presentations, interviews, and the book Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Maté explains the causes of this disconnect and describes how parents can reclaim their role as their children’s primary mentors and role models. Maté posits that the main reason for children’s detachment is due to a growing lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship. The foundation for parenting is centered around what developmental psychologists call an attachment relationship. An attachment relationship is based on children’s innate desire to connect with and belong to their parents. This attachment forms the entire context for child rearing, and even the best parenting skills in the world can’t compensate for a lack of such a connection. “The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does, but rather who the parent is to a child,” says Maté. “When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher, or a coach.”

A relational, not a behavioral issue
As long as the child desires to stay attached—emotionally connected and close—a deep sense of psychological intimacy will naturally arise. Above all else, this bond sets the stage for the parent to be the primary source of influence over the child’s identity, values, and personality. “People think parenting comes from their responsibility, strength, and wisdom, but it doesn’t come from that,” says Maté. “It comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.” Children who lack this connection with their parents or primary caregivers become extremely difficult to raise and even teach. Given this, Maté stresses the fundamental goal for parents is to ensure that their children want to connect and have a close relationship with them. This does not mean just giving your children whatever they want, but instead giving them what they likely need most—more time and connection with you. “The starting point and primary goal in all of our connections with children ought to be the relationship itself, not conduct or behavior,” notes Maté.

Kids raising kids
Children will always try to distance themselves from their parents as a natural way of exerting their independence, and parents have traditionally remained their primary source of influence. What’s changed, according to Maté, is that in recent decades, a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes have seriously eroded parents’ ability to remain the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives. “Children’s attachments to parents are no longer getting the support required from culture and society,” says Maté. “It’s not a lack of love or parenting know-how, but the erosion of the attachment context that makes our parenting ineffective.” For a variety of reasons, often centered around economics, many parents are no longer able to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for the relationship with their kids to remain healthy and strong. And because children have a deep-seated psychological need for such attachment, they seek out another source to fill this void. “If kids have an attachment void, their brains can’t handle it. So, they seek to fill the void with their relationship with their peer group, which becomes their role model and mentor,” says Maté.

Following WWII, children have increasingly formed strong attachment relationships with their peers that compete with the bond traditionally filled by parents. These relationships can seriously erode parents’ influence and authority. “They [children] are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Dire consequences
Maté notes that it’s perfectly normal and healthy for children to have close relationships with their peers. The problem arises when these relationships supersede the ones they have with their parents. “The most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parental authority and love is the increased bonding of our children with their peers,” says Maté. “The bond with their peers becomes their primary attachment relationship: the relationships they care most about, have the highest emotional stake in, and are the guiding light for their behaviors, culture, norms, and so on.”

For many children today, peers have replaced parents as the most influential force in creating the core of their personalities. When children look to other children to serve as their role models and mentors, this can have dramatic effects on their psychological development. And as we’ll see in part two, in the worst cases, the consequences can be fatal.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on how parents can reclaim their role as the primary influence and mentor in their children’s lives.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Don’t Let Your Elderly Parents Become Victims of the Grandparent Scam

Imagine this… You are an elderly grandparent who lives alone. You get a call in the middle of the night from your college-aged granddaughter. She’s frantic and crying, telling you she was mistakenly arrested while vacationing in Cancun. She says she needs you to pay her $1,800 bond, or she’ll be transferred to a dangerous Mexican prison. The Mexican police told her she only has a few hours before she’s transferred, so she needs you to wire the money immediately. She’s petrified about her parents finding out she was arrested and begs you not to tell them. Because she only has a couple of minutes to use the police station phone, the call ends abruptly before you can get any further details.

What do you do? 

If you’re like the thousands of others who’ve gotten just such a call, you’d probably wire the money in a heartbeat. It is your grandchild’s life after all. However, just like the others, you’d soon find out that your granddaughter hasn’t been arrested and was never in Mexico.

The Grandparent Scam
Known as the Grandparent Scam, this con has been around for years, and while it may seem farfetched, it has tricked many caring seniors. And in recent months, there has been an uptick in the number of people falling prey to the deception.

The details can vary, but the scam typically works like this:

1) You get a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. They might be in jail and need bond or be stranded in a foreign country and need money to get out.
2) The caller asks you to wire money to a specific location or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.
3) The “grandchild” will often plead with you not to tell their parents they’re in trouble.
4) Once you send the money, the caller breaks off all contact, making it impossible to recover your funds.

Preying on the vulnerable
While just about anyone can fall for such scams, the elderly are the ones targeted most often. This is due to the fact that seniors are frequently lonely and eager to hear from family. And whether it’s because their hearing is failing or because they haven’t seen their family members in a while, they’re more likely to not recognize voices.

Due to their advanced age, seniors are also less likely to think clearly in a crisis, making them more susceptible to fear and panic. Finally, the elderly are less familiar with technology and social media, so they don’t realize how easy it is to access enough of someone’s personal details to make the scenario seem realistic.

What to do
In most cases, the best course of action is to simply hang up and contact the authorities. However, if the caller really does sound like the family member they claim to be, here are some steps you can take to help verify the situation is legitimate:

1) Don’t panic. It’s far easier to be deceived if you’re nervous or scared.
2) Be wary of calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Ask to call them back on the person’s own phone, and never accept requests sent solely by email or text.
3) Verify the caller’s identity by asking them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet.
4) Beware of urgent demands that money be sent immediately. Reputable sources don’t try to pressure you into making split-second financial decisions.
5) Call other family and friends to verify where the person is. A reputable source will respect your caution and give you the opportunity to verify the facts.
6) Requests for money to be wired are often scams, as it’s nearly impossible to get your money back in cases of fraud. Request a more secure transaction method, such as through a bank or PayPal. Legitimate sources are likely to offer multiple payment options.

Comprehensive protection
Please share this article with any seniors in your life. There are countless other scams out there that work in much the same way, so even if it’s not this particular con, by becoming aware how these deceptions work, they’ll be much less likely to fall for them.

Of course, scams and cons are just one threat to seniors’ financial security. Without comprehensive estate planning, there are numerous other ways your family’s wealth and assets can be squandered or lost which have nothing to do with fraud.

Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put planning strategies in place to safeguard your family’s finances and other assets, both tangible and intangible. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Use Estate Planning to Ensure Your Family Isn’t Stuck Paying For Your Funeral

With the cost of a funeral averaging $7,000 and steadily increasing each year, every estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. Yet it isn’t enough to simply set aside money in your will. Your family won’t be able to access money left in a will until your estate goes through probate, which can last months or even years. Since most funeral providers require full payment upfront, this means your family will likely have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket, unless you take proper action now.

If you want to avoid burdening your family with this hefty bill, you should use planning strategies that do not require probate. Here are a few options:

Insurance
You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. The policy will pay out to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is available. But you’ll likely have to undergo a medical exam and may be disqualified or face costly premiums if you’re older and/or have health issues.

There is also burial insurance specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known “final expense,” “memorial,” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. However, you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy pays out. Because of the sky-high premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases.

If you have any type of insurance to cover your funeral, make sure your family knows about it! These policies are often never cashed in because the family didn’t know they existed.

Prepaid funeral plans
Many funeral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.

While such prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not actually cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference. Plus, most states have inadequate laws protecting funds in pre-need plans, putting your money at risk if the funeral provider closes or is bought out by another company.

In fact, these packages are considered so risky, the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit industry watchdog group, advises against purchasing such plans. The only instance where prepaid plans are a good idea, according to the FCA, is if you are facing a Medicaid spend down before going into a nursing home. This is because prepaid funeral plans funded through irrevocable trusts are not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

If you’re looking to buy a prepaid funeral plan in order to qualify for Medicaid, be sure to consult with us first, as not all pre-paid funeral plans are Medicaid compliant, even if the funeral home says they are. Moreover, if the irrevocable trust is not set up correctly, it may violate Medicaid’s look-back period, delaying your eligibility.

Payable-on-death accounts
Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts, sometimes called Totten Trusts, that you can set up to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.

A POD does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.

Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, and it puts the account at risk from their future creditors.

Indeed, we know one client who lost the money in a joint account she shared with her granddaughter over a single bad business decision. The granddaughter was sued over a lease default, and when she lost the case, her creditors were able to go after the joint account.

Living trusts
With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you don’t need to buy a pre-built trust from a funeral provider. We can create a customized living trust that allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.

With a living trust, you can change the terms at any time and even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need an irrevocable trust to help qualify for Medicaid, we can create that too and help you ensure the trust stays totally compliant with all of Medicaid’s requirements.

Don’t needlessly burden your family
To help decide which option is best suited for your situation, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can put an estate plan in place that includes adequate funding to ensure your funeral services are handled just as you wish—and your family isn’t forced to foot the bill.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the estate planning tools all unmarried couples should have in place.  http://rantala.com/blog/2019/01/09/4-estate-planning-must-haves-for-unmarried-couples-part-1/

Here, we’ll look at the final two must-have planning tools.

Most people tend to view estate planning as something only married couples need to worry about. However, estate planning can be even more critical for those in committed relationships who are unmarried.

Because your relationship with one another is frequently not legally recognized, if one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning can have disastrous consequences. Your age, income level, and marital status makes no difference—every adult needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

Last week, we discussed wills, trusts, and durable power of attorney. Here, we’ll look at two more must-have estate planning tools, both of which are designed to protect your choices about the type of medical treatment you’d want if tragedy should strike.

Medical power of attorney
In addition to naming someone to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity, you also need to name someone who can make health-care decisions for you. If you want your partner to have any say in how your health care is handled during your incapacity, you should grant your partner medical power of attorney.

This gives your partner the ability to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. This is particularly important if you’re unmarried, seeing that your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process, and even deny your him or her the right to visit you in the hospital.

Don’t forget to provide your partner with HIPAA authorization within the medical power of attorney, so he or she will have access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care.

Living will
While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. If you want your partner to have control over how your end-of-life care is managed, you should name them as your agent in a living will.

A living will explains how you’d like important medical decisions made, including if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you.

Without a valid living will, doctors will most likely rely entirely on the decisions of your family or the named medical power of attorney holder when determining what course of treatment to pursue. Without a living will, those choices may not be the choices you—or your partner—would want.

We can help
If you’re involved in a committed relationship—married or not—or you just want to make sure that the people you choose are making your most important life-and-death decisions, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put these essential estate planning tools in place.

With our help, we can support you in identifying the best planning strategies for your unique needs and situation. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

 This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.