One Month to National Healthcare Decisions Day

It is one month until National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD).  This day is part of a national movement to help increase the number of U.S. citizens who have their healthcare preferences documented and have empowered someone of their choosing to act on their behalf to make decisions when they are unable to.

Some of the grim facts:

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in a 2003 article, “Advance Care Planning: Preferences for Care at the End of Life,” found the following:

  • Less than 50 percent of the severely or terminally ill patients studied had an advance directive in their medical record.
  • Only 12 percent of patients with an advance directive had received input from their physician in its development.
  • Between 65 and 76 percent of physicians whose patients had an advance directive were not aware that it existed.

In support of getting these critical documents in place for everyone, Holmes Shirley Law is offering 20% off on all healthcare directives during the entire month of April.  We are also working to help promote the day and knowledge about healthcare decisions in the Denver Metro area.

Please call us today to learn more – 720-248-7621.

Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

America is a nation of do-it-yourselfers, but building a deck and creating a legally valid estate plan are two entirely different things – and a less-than-perfect deck won’t devastate your family’s financial future or the relationships among the people you care about most.

The prevalence of online legal services has led many people to believe that they can create legal documents cheaply and those documents will be just as effective as if they had visited an estate planning attorney.   The majority of the time this is wrong.

The Good

I am slightly tempted to leave this section blank.  But in all seriousness, DIY is very tempting to a lot of people so here  are a few of the perceived goods:

Inexpensive – a lot of individuals interested in doing estate planning think that all they need is a “simple will” and have sticker shock after speaking with an attorney or law firm over the cost of a complete estate plan.   While going it alone with a book or a form may save you money now, it likely will cost you and your loves ones more in the future.

Time Savings/Flexibility – Do-it-yourself estate planning can be done on your own time schedule.  That much is true.  But to do it right, you will need to spend your evenings, weekends or other free time educating yourself about the law and the available options so you can make the right choices or the documents you complete might not be doing what you think they do.  Remember attorneys spend 3 years after college studying the law and then, in Colorado, 45 hours (minimum) of continuing legal education every 3 years.  That doesn’t even include their own on the job training.

As demonstrated by a recent case in Florida highlighted by the ABA Journal, what you save today may cost your heirs or beneficiaries much, much more later.

Why DIY Estate Planning is a Bad Idea 

No legal advice – Online sites offering “estate plans” are little more than document mills that churn out the same generic forms over and over.  They are not attorneys and cannot advise or warn you if you make a mistake. Plus, who will be there for your family when something happens to you if you’ve used an online document drafting service?  Think your family doesn’t need an advisor to support them when you are gone?  Or incapacitated? Think again.

Consider this: Erica’s father was killed in a motorcycle accident. Dad didn’t leave much behind, but he did leave an estate plan prepared by a trusted family attorney.  Had the family attorney not been there for Erica and her brother, they would have taken what dad did leave and drowned their sorrows in a European backpacking trip.  Thanks to this family attorney, though, Erica and her brother now have a healthy trust fund set up for them for life with the proceeds of a successful wrongful death case.

Leaving it to your family to know what to do after you’re gone is a big mistake for the people you love.

One size doesn’t fit all – your family is different from everyone else’s family.  Just like every state has different inheritance laws, every family has different situations.  An online form will not help you protect child or relative with special needs, or protect a child’s inheritance from creditors or a nasty divorce.  An online form cannot tell you how to protect assets from taxes or help you achieve your financial or charitable goals.

And, an online form cannot keep your family out of conflict during a time of grief.  Even if you don’t have a lot of assets to leave, whatever you do have will be subject to distribution between the people you care most about.  Some of the biggest disagreements we’ve seen after death, aren’t about loads of money, but about the little things, like burial wishes, and who was promised grandma’s wedding ring, dad’s hunting knife or the heirloom teapot, and those little things aren’t going to be dealt with well with form documents.

Save now, pay later – you may think you are saving money by using an online service to create your will or trust, but it is impossible to make a fair comparison since the services provided are entirely different.

An estate planning attorney creates an entire plan tailored to your individual needs in legal documents that will stand up in court, and advises you on ways to cut taxes now as well as in the future, save for retirement and long-term care and truly protect your unique wishes.  No online service does that.

In addition, your trusted advisor is going to be there for your family when you cannot be. The people you love will need someone to turn to after you are gone.  Do you want them to be stuck with figuring out who that should be during their time of grief? Or do you want to leave behind the gift of having taken care of things well during your lifetime and a trusted advisor to hold their hand when you no longer can?

We invite you to take advantage of our specialized legal services for families with a Family Wealth Planning Session.  Call our office today at 720-248-7621 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about designing an estate plan that fits the needs of you and your family.

Vacations are the Perfect Time for Families To Talk About Estate Planning

Memorial Weekend is coming, and it traditionally has marked the start of the “summer” season.   I know we will be hosting and attending BBQs and neighborhood gatherings.   We are also busy finalizing summer plans.    These plans, like those of most Americans, include visiting with our extended families.  While there are few perfect times to talk with parents about their estate plan, the relaxed times you spend together on vacation can be one of them.

Here are some tips on how to conduct this critical conversation:

Find a good place to start.  One of the best ways to ease your parents into a financial discussion is to bring up your own.  Tell your parents that you were looking into your own estate plan and wondering if they had already executed their own.  Sometimes you can use scare tactics to good effect – there are usually a lots of stories about celebrities or others who have neglected to plan and paid the price with dire consequences.  If you missed these headlines,  read our March Newsletter for an article on the late Paul Walker’s estate.

Take it easy.  If you feel that parents may need some help with organizing their financial lives, be reassuring rather than applying pressure.  Let them know that you want to make sure their financial independence is kept intact for as long as possible.  Take things one step at a time, such as extending an offer to help them use online bill pay or assist them with organizing their information at tax time.

Respect boundaries.  Many parents feel uncomfortable discussing their finances with their children.  If you face this obstacle, let your parents know that you at least need to know where to find their important documents, or who does know where to find these documents besides them.   Reassure them that you aren’t attempting to control them in anyway but you simply want to help and make things as easy as possible for you and your siblings when something does happen.

Offer options.   Discuss the safety of important documents and suggest they either use a safety deposit box or fire-proof, water-proof safe for originals and have a third party, such as an attorney, financial planner, one of the family, or a trusted friend keep copies.   Learn and share information about services such as DocuBank, that provide online storage of medical directives and other important healthcare information and the importance of everyone’s primary care doctor having copies of these documents as well.

Sometimes initiating a conversation with parents about estate planning can be easier with the help of a Personal Family Lawyer®.   At Holmes Shirley Law, we can help.  Call our office today at 720-241-7621 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about designing an estate plan that fits the needs of you and your family.

How Advance Medical Directives Became a Way of Life in One American Town

This is a heart warming story about a town has done what National Healthcare Directives Day hopes to achieve for all of America…

With just over 50,000 residents, La Crosse is a lot like other small American towns – but there is one thing that makes La Crosse stand out:  96% of La Crosse residents who have died have had an advance medical directive in place.  Nationally, the percentage of Americans with an advance directive stands at about 30%.

Actually, there are two things that make La Crosse stand out:  the town also has lower healthcare costs than any other place in the U.S.  And these two things – a high incidence of residents with advance directives and low healthcare costs — are inextricably linked.

According to a recent NPR story, all this came about because of one man:  Dr. Bud Hammes, Medical Humanities Director at Gundersen Hospital in La Crosse.  Dr.Hammes often found himself sitting with families of terminally ill patients, trying to figure out what to do next.  He said the conversations were excruciating: “Did mom ever say anything to you?” “Do you know what dad wants?”  He said that the moral distress of the families was tangible.

Dr. Hammes knew that this could be avoided, since most patients were usually sick for years.  So he started training nurses to ask patients if they wanted to sign an advance directive and over the years planning for death has become a way of life in La Crosse.

And the lower healthcare costs?  Dr. Hammes said that the reduction in spending was an accident, a byproduct of letting people make their own choices.  He said that when you let patients choose and direct their care, they often make a much less expensive choice.

You can listen to the entire NPR story here:

NPR: Living Wills are the Talk of The Town in La Crosse, Wis.

Making end of life plans is one of the most comforting things you can do for your loved ones.  We strongly believe in the importance of this for every adult, and encourage families to have conversations about each others wishes.  To put the proper protections in place for your family, contact our office at 720-248-7621 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $500 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16th

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Holmes Shirley Law, along with other national, state and community organizations, will be involved with National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD).  This is a national effort to highlight the importance of advance healthcare decision-making.

Having swift and immediate access to well-drafted healthcare directives in a medical emergency can reduce stress on patients, hospital staff, and most importantly, loved ones.   Additionally, making healthcare decisions before an actual medical emergency is critical.  

The comprehensive estate plans provided by Holmes Shirley Law include the personalized healthcare directives that clients need in a medical emergency.  These documents can include a healthcare power of attorney, living will, HIPAA release, among others.   Our firm also emphasizes to clients the importance of talking to their family about their wishes.  These conversations can make difficult situations later on much easier.  

Holmes Shirley Law also takes its commitment to healthcare decisions one step further by making sure that clients’ healthcare directives are immediately available to family members and to the hospital in an emergency.  With a membership in DocuBank provided as part of all estate planning done with Holmes Shirley Law, clients know that a hospital can get their legal directives and other critical medical information around the clock, just by carrying a wallet card.

In honor of NHDD, Holmes Shirley Law is providing information and tools for the public to talk about their wishes with family, friends and healthcare providers.  The firm can also assist with the execution of written advance directives (healthcare power of attorney and living will) in accordance with Colorado state laws.

Specifically, on April 16, Holmes Shirley Law will be hosting an informational session on healthcare directives at 9:30 am at their office in downtown Castle Rock as well as offering ½ off preparation of simple healthcare documents (a $125.00 savings) from 10:30 am until 2:30 pm.  Space is limited so please contact us at 720-248-7621 to reserve your spot or visit their website at: www.ColoradoEstateLaw.com for more information.

Other good information about National Healthcare Decisions Day is available at www.nhdd.org and www.docubank.org.

What’s Changed in Your Life?

Estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. Your life changes, your assets change, the laws change — and if your plan doesn’t change, your family gets caught holding the bag. The people you love most end up bearing the brunt of your failure to act.

Conducting a proper review of your estate plan will help identify the potential need to update your plan because of:

Life transitions:  Have any babies been born, loved ones died, people gotten divorced or married?   If so, you need to revisit your plan.

Changes in the law:  Changes in federal and state tax laws may require updates to your healthcare and financial powers of attorney. State regulations can also be revised to open up new wealth planning strategies that should be a part of your estate plan.

Changes in assets:  Has your net worth gone up or down?  Have you invested in any new assets, such as businesses,  opened new bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, real estate or anything similar?  If so, your plan needs to be revisited.  And the spreadsheet of assets you have for your family (you DO have one, right?) needs updating.

Funding of assets and beneficiary designations:  One of the most common mistakes people make is not properly completing the transfer of assets into a trust within their estate plan.  Another common error is having beneficiary designations that are inconsistent with the distribution language in the estate plan.  We recommend a review of those matters annually.

If you do not review your plan and update it regularly, your family will have to deal with the consequences. If you would like more information about creating or updating your estate plan, call our office today at 720-248-7621 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for an Estate Plan Review but if you are an existing client, we’ll waive that fee and if you are coming to us for the first time and book an appointment in April or May, we will waive all but $250 of the fee.  Call 720-248-7621 today and mention this article.

Upcoming Kids Protection Planning Presentation

Please join us on Wednesday, March 12th at 9:30am at Cookies and Crema in Castle Rock for a free one hour presentation on Kids Protection Planning.

In this educational, informative, empowering class —for parents with children at home —local mom and attorney Karen H. Shirley will cover what you need to know about making sure your kids are taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want, no matter want.  Karen will guide you to take charge and ensure you have done the right thing by your family.

During this no-charge class, you will discover:

  • The 6 most common mistakes parents make when naming guardians, even when working with a lawyer — and how to fix them.
  • How to choose the right guardians for your children and make sure your children are never taken from your home or placed with strangers if something happens to you.
  • How to make sure your assets are immediately and privately available to the people you’ve named to care for your children.
  • Why a Will alone is simply not enough to make sure your kids are taken care of the way you want, by the people you want, no matter what.

Those attending will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of the book “Wear Clean Underwear! A Fast, Fun, Friendly – and Essential – Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents” by Alexis Martin Neely.  Space is limited, so reserve your spot by calling 720-248-7621 or registering online.

The 4 Legal Agreements Every Business Owner Needs

One of the most common questions small business owners want to know is what kind of legal agreements they need. And while the answer to this question depends a lot on what kind of business you operate, there are four key legal agreements that virtually every business owner needs to protect and operate their business legally:

1. Owner Agreements. If you are in business with another person, it doesn’t matter if your business structure is a partnership, an LLC or a corporation – you will need an owner agreement. These can take the form of a partnership agreement, an operating agreement, a founders’ agreement or a shareholders’ agreement. The agreement, or sometimes multiple agreements, detail how ownership in the company is being distributed, how compensation will be paid to owners and managers, how capital contributions will be handled and other operational issues – including what happens if someone wants out, becomes incapacitated or dies.
2. Employee/Contractor Agreements. These agreements set the rules for how your relationship with employees and contractors will be governed. Business owners that use independent contractors want to be sure that the relationship is documented properly, especially in terms of allocating responsibility for payment of taxes and exclusion of such items as workers’ compensation and unemployment. Having employment and contractor agreements for everyone that works for/with your business ensures that expectations for job performance are spelled out and what the grounds are for termination.
3. Vendor Agreements. Every business needs formal agreements with vendors and suppliers that help ensure the needs of the business are being met as agreed upon. Issues of exclusivity, indemnification and liability all need to be set forth in your vendor agreement to protect your business against claims where a supplier is at fault.
4. Customer Agreements. Whenever you make a sale to a customer or client, you have entered into a contract. Thus you want to be sure that the terms and conditions of your agreement for sale of goods or services is designed to provide both the business and the customer with the proper legal protections. If you are making sales online, you need to be sure you have the proper terms of service and privacy policy agreements on your website that details what customers can expect from the business.

If you are interested in learning more about business protection strategies, call us today at 720-248-7621 to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you set up your business for success.

Year End Beneficiary Designation Review – Make it A Holiday Tradition

When you look around your holiday table this year, you will probably not be thinking about the beneficiary designations on your 401(k), IRAs or life insurance policies.  But you should… perhaps make it a new holiday tradition.

Having the wrong beneficiary designated on these assets and on other things like bank accounts, annuities and 529 college savings plans is probably one of the biggest estate planning mistakes people make.  This is because most of us name those beneficiaries when we initiate a plan or open an account and then forget to change or update the designations as our personal and financial lives change.

However, life does change.  Often more frequently than we think. This is why you need to review and update your beneficiary designations at least once a year.  For example, here are seven scenarios that could cause a change in beneficiary designation:

  • You got married, divorced or remarried
  • You changed jobs and moved your retirement account
  • One of your beneficiaries died
  • The birth of a child or grandchild
  • You moved your account to another financial institution
  • One of your beneficiaries became disabled
  • You did created or updated a trust or will

Additionally, it is not uncommon for an institution to incorrectly process a beneficiary designation, especially if you are not designating “standard” beneficiaries.

Not having the correct beneficiary designated (or designating a minor) can wreak havoc on your family when something happens to you as well as create tax issues for your heirs.  You could unintentionally disinherit the very people you care the most about and potentially tie up your estate in probate or, worse, litigation.

Enjoy your holiday with family, but take an hour or two before the New Year and make it a point to review your beneficiary designations and , if necessary, update them.

If you don’t already have an estate plan – or have one that needs to be reviewed and updated – make 2014 the year you get this done.   Please call us today to schedule your appointment at 720-248-7621.

Six Tax Questions to Ask Before Year-End

Everyone’s “to-do” lists seem to grow longer at this time of year, but yours may be incomplete if you haven’t yet reviewed  and answered these six tax questions before the end of the year. If you need help answering these questions, please call our office at 720-248-7621 for an appointment or a referral to a trusted tax professional that can help you.

Should I defer or accelerate income?  If it looks like you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2014, ask if you should pull more income into this year.  Conversely, if you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, ask if you should defer income until January.  In addition, find out if you should accelerate deductions by paying any income or property taxes not due until 2014 this year.

Should I take any gains or losses this year?  If you are currently in a low tax bracket and have made gains on your investments this year, you may want to consider selling some investments to realize lower tax rates on those gains.

Should I do a Roth conversion?  If you have a traditional IRA, you may want to convert all or some of the assets to a Roth IRA, especially if your retirement is years away.  While you will pay taxes on those assets now, your earnings will grow tax-free in a Roth IRA.

Should I make any changes to my FSA or HSA for 2014?  If you have a flexible spending account or health savings account through your employer and anticipate bigger medical expenses in the new year, you may want to increase those funds to allow yourself to use pretax money for out-of-pocket medical costs.

Should I be making charitable contributions?  If you made more money this year, you may want to think about reducing your taxable income with charitable contributions.  Gifting appreciated securities will allow you to avoid the capital gains tax while still deducting the full amount of the donation.

Should I be making gifts to family?  In 2013, you can give up to $14,000 (or $28,000 if you are married and your spouse participates) to as many individuals as you want.  This allows you to assist family members while removing taxable assets from your estate.  It’s important that if you are going to be giving financial gifts, you call us before hand to discuss options available to so those gifts are protected from bankruptcy, divorce or other creditors forever.

If you would like more information about tax-saving strategies, call our office today at 720-248-7621 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  Everyone’s calendars are pretty full this time of year, so call today to make sure you can get in.