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    Monthly Archives: November 2014

    5 Secrets for Making the Next Holiday Better



    Being a family trust lawyer involves a lot more than just helping people make medical, financial, and legal decisions. It also gives you front row seats to all things family, including the good, bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, you also see people whose lives are coming to an end, most of whom wish they could go back and get a do-over in one way or another.

    With the holidays officially here again, all of us get a “holiday do-over”, so take advantage by following these 5 secrets for making the next holiday better that I’ve learned from years of being your trusted family lawyer and hearing of life’s greatest joys and regrets:

    1. Avoid heavy topics. Nothing ruins a holiday more than bringing up the status of your dad’s will or asking your sister-in-law if she’s ever going to have a baby. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed and relaxing. There are 365 days a year, so there’s no reason why these discussions can’t be addressed on other days. If holidays really are the only time of year you are all together, try planning a time the day before or after the holiday to address important family matters.
    2. Deal with drama beforehand. Two days before Thanksgiving I overheard a woman screaming, agonizing, and seething as she spoke to a family therapist in our office building. I thought, what is it, an ex-spouse, a boss, a sudden gain in weight? No, it was the thought of having to see her sister-in-law at Thanksgiving dinner. Often times we put off addressing broken family dynamics all year long, only to be forced to deal with them on holidays that were meant to be fun. Address family issues beforehand or try having your family gathering on a different day so you can look forward to the actual holiday.
    3. No more than two rule. Most happy families we know have made it a priority to not over-schedule, meaning they limit their activities to two per day. Rather than drag your kids around to multiple homes on a holiday hoping to make everyone else happy, try limiting the day to one simple activity with your own family unit, and one family gathering with the extended family.
    4. Say yes, mean yes. Anyone else begrudgingly agree to do something, like go to your in-laws on a holiday, only to complain about it the entire week before, the entire drive there, and the entire week after? If you tell your spouse or family “yes”, then you should mean yes. A real yes means you are freely agreeing to do something, and will make the most out of it, rather than sabotage it every change you get. It’s normal to complain but not to the point when it overshadows or ruins the entire experience for others.
    5. Facebook Free. Did you know holidays are a low traffic day for social media sites? That is a good thing! I have never once had a client, when preserving their special memories, or facing the end of their life, say their best life moments were spent surfing the web or liking stuff on Facebook. Special memories are made before they can ever be posted, so focus on making lots of them on the actual holiday, and any day for that matter.

    For more great tips on how to become a more prosperous family, click here to receive weekly tips for becoming a prosperous family.


    Laura K. Meier, Esq. is a family trust attorney and mother of four young children. She is the author of Good Parents Worry, Great Parents Plan. Laura and her husband, Joshua D. Meier, Esq. run a business and estate planning law firm together in Newport Beach, CA.

    The “Talk” You Need to Have With Your Parents ASAP

    lauraanddadI noticed at our annual neighborhood football game this year that the conversations have changed. Yes we still talked about the kids, the husbands, the ex-husbands, and all the new places we need botox, but this year we started talking about new things I thought were still years away. One friend was talking about having to spend the upcoming holiday at her parents’ new condo because they had recently downsized from the family home. Another friend was talking about how the upcoming holiday would be tough because it would be the first one without her dad, who had unexpectedly passed away earlier this year.

    Now that we are getting older, life is changing, not just for us, but for our parents too. You may be wondering just how prepared your parents are for these life changes, and how that impacts you. It’s not comforting thinking you’ll be the one dealing with lawyers, courtrooms, and taxes if your parents pass on without having their affairs in order. But how do you bring up the subject to your parents without making it awkward, or mistakenly appear as though you’re just waiting to get your inheritance?

    It’s time to have “the talk” with your parents. Here are 5 easy ways to approach your parents’ medical, financial, and estate planning with them without making it as awkward as they did when they had that “other talk” with you many years ago:

    1. Change the topic. Who wants to talk about their own death?  No thanks. Instead of asking your parents about their will or trust, instead ask them about their emergency plan and how you can help. Because emergency planning encompasses so much more than who gets moms ring when she goes, parents are more willing to go there, and estate planning will naturally play into the discussion. (Warning: Be prepared to see your dad’s water storage or indulge him when he shows you how to live off powdered mix for three days.)
    2. Try sharing, not asking. We’re all adults now, and just because your parents are older does not make their estate planning any more urgent than your own. Every adult needs basic planning such as a will and trust, especially if you have little kids or have purchased a home. It is best to get your own house is in order before you go asking your parents about theirs. Plus, by having your own family emergency and estate planning done, you can share your experience with them rather than ask questions about a topic you have only read or heard about.
    3. Don’t pry. Ask practical questions rather than personal questions and you’ll find your parents will be more willing to talk, and you’ll still be adequately prepared to respond to a family crises. While it is your business to know who you need to contact in an emergency, such as your parents medical decision makers or estate planning lawyer, it is less your business to know who dad is leaving his office furniture to or which sibling he chose to be in charge of distributing the family money. Respect your parents’ privacy.
    4. Request a family meeting. Most parents with adult children wish to avoid a family meeting because they’re afraid it will open up a huge can of worms or tear the family apart. They fear a family rift or blow up will occur if family members become too emotional, fearful, paranoid, or unforgiving. Having a structured family meeting facilitated by an objective third party (like a family trust attorney) can actually keep discussions on track and allow family to resolve their differences rather than wait to air their grievances in a courtroom.
    5. Give it a rest. It’s frustrating when parents refuse to get their medical, financial and estate planning in place, especially when you know you’ll likely be the one who has to hire the lawyers, go to court, deal with siblings, and sell the family home when they go. If you have tried encouraging your parents to make their planning a priority and are met with procrastination or resistance, just let it go (at least for a good while). It’s better to keep the peace then get angry with them. Chances are they have had to let a few things go with you so look at it as returning the favor.

    For more great tips on how to protect your family members and get your medical, financial, and estate plan in order, contact your Newport Beach family estate planning firm.

    Laura K. Meier, Esq. is a family trust attorney and mother of four young children. She is the author of Good Parents Worry, Great Parents Plan. Laura and her husband, Joshua D. Meier, Esq. run a business and estate planning law firm together in Newport Beach, CA.

    10 Tips for Charitable Giving This Holiday Season

    According to a recent Forbes article, Americans donated more than $316 billion to charity last year – and most of that came from individuals.  Holidays are a traditional time of giving, and not just because we like to get in those year-end tax deductions!tax

    Forbes provided 10 tips for getting the most out of your charitable giving this year:

    1.  Be sure to itemize.  The IRS requires that you itemize your charitable deductions each year on your 1040 so be sure to keep careful records.

    2.  Get a receipt.  If you are giving property, be sure you get a written receipt from the organization and that it lists the items you have donated.  If you are giving cash you need a receipt as well – either from the charity or a cancelled check or credit card receipt that includes the name of the charity.

    3.  Choose wisely.  Not every charity is recognized by the IRS as an exempt organization.  You can check by name at the IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check website.

    4.  Remember payroll deductions.  If you give via a payroll deduction, your employer should furnish you with a record of your annual deduction.

    5.  Deduct value of incentives.  If you receive something in exchange for your donation – even a coffee mug or a t-shirt – you are required to deduct the value of that item from the value of your donation.

    6.  Consider giving appreciated assets.  You can receive a double benefit if you donate an appreciated asset like stock or real estate.  If you have owned the asset for at least a year, you can deduct the fair market value and avoid paying any capital gains tax.

    7.  Understand what you can deduct.  If you provide services to a charitable organization, you can deduct things like mileage or supplies, but you cannot deduct your time.

    8.  Document gift value.  Non-cash items need to be documented in terms of the item’s condition in order to assess a fair market value.  If your donation is worth more than $500, the IRS requires a written appraisal for fair market value.

    9.  Be aware of limits.  Many people are not aware that there are limits on charitable contributions, which are tied to your adjusted gross income (AGI).  If you give more than 20 percent of your AGI, then you may run up against these limits, which vary according to the gift (cash, non-cash items, appreciated assets).

    10.  Give by year-end.  You will only receive deductions for those items or cash you give during the calendar year, so be sure you make your donation by Dec. 31.  If you gift via check or credit card, you will receive the deduction as long as they are recorded by Dec. 31 – even if you don’t pay the credit card or the check isn’t cashed until 2014.

    If you would like more information about protecting your assets, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, but I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call your Newport Beach Trust and Estate Attorney today at 949.718.0420 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

    Consider Your Estate Plan Before You Travel

    We are fast approaching the holidays, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that New Year’s beach cottage before it slips away.  One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind. travel

    Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

    Complete your estate plan.  If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan.  If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

    Update an existing estate plan.  Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan?   A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce?  Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

    Establish guardianship for minor children.  If you have ever gotten a nagging fear about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you, then use that fear to follow through on naming a guardian for raising your minor children.  If you have young kids, there is never an excuse for you to neglect this important step.

    Review beneficiaries.  Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death.  If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.

    Review/update incapacity documents.  Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity.  Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.

    Review/update insurance.  Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs?  If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.

    In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.

    The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now.  You can begin by calling your Newport Beach Trust and Estate Attorney today at 949.718.0420 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for an Achieve Your Dreams 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.

    The Final Log-Off: What Happens to Your Data When You Die?

    Take a moment and consider how much of your life you live online. If you are like most of us, you bank, pay bills, make purchases, connect with friends and communicate with just about everyone you know online. Think about all the digital assets you have accumulated – account information, passwords, email, photos, videos, etc. What happens to all of it when you die?

    Since you will not be around anymore to need this information, you may not care what happens to it. But chances are pretty good that your loved ones will care. There have been many stories of families trying to get access to a deceased family member’s photos and emails on social media sites – in fact, there have been so many requests that most of these sites have policies in place for family to gain access or deactivate online accounts:  Internet security

    Google. Last year, Google unveiled its Inactive Account Manager, which allows users to choose whether to name a beneficiary for their online account activity on all Google sites (which includes YouTube) or to delete it after a set amount of time passes during which the account is inactive.

    Facebook. Facebook allows family members to request that a decedent’s account be deleted or provides them with an option to “memorialize” the decedent’s page so it stays up, but is essentially frozen in time. Facebook requires you to provide a death certificate or a published obituary to accomplish this.

    LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides an online form to remove a deceased member’s profile page from the site. You will need to furnish the member’s name, email address, the URL to their LinkedIn profile and some other information as well as a link to their online obituary.

    Twitter. You must email Twitter a request to delete the account of a family member who has passed and mail them a copy of the death certificate, the obituary as well as a copy of your ID and proof that the decedent owned the account if his or her Twitter handle is different from their given name.

    Yahoo. You can have an account deleted by providing Yahoo with paper copies of the death certificate and the document appointing you are the executor of the estate or personal representative of the deceased along with a letter furnishing the Yahoo ID of the decedent and your request that the account be deleted. Yahoo will not transfer or preserve any data in the account.

    But why make your loved ones jump through hoops to deal with your digital assets when you can take care of it yourself with these three simple steps:

    List all your digital assets. You may already have a list of all your online accounts and passwords (who can remember them all?) so you’re halfway there. Add to that a list of documents on your computer as well as photos and other data that may be stored on backup or thumb drives.

    Decide on keep or delete. Review your list and decide which items are worth preserving and which ones can be tossed. Not everyone wants their family to have access to all their digital files, so decide which files are worth preserving and which files can be deleted. Then tell your family.

    Designate a digital executor. If you have already named an executor in your estate plan, you may want the same person to handle the disposition of your digital assets. If not, then designate someone in your will to handle this task. Do NOT include your accounts and passwords in your will! These are public documents and can easily be stolen by identity thieves.

    To review an existing estate plan or create one for yourself and your family that includes the management of your digital assets, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning attorneys at the Meier Law Firm today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session.

    Why Estate Planning is for Life, Not Death

    We know that no one likes to think about death, especially their own.  Which is why many people procrastinate when it comes to estate planning.  Because it’s for when you die, right?  Wrong!  When done with a Personal Family Lawyer, creating an estate plan makes your life better.planning

    Here are some of the things that estate planning does for you while you are alive:

    • Gets you thinking about the real meaning of your life, what you want to pass on beyond your life and what’s most important to you to do now;
    • Gets you thinking about how you want to be cared for at the end of your life and lets you name someone to make those good decisions for you;
    • Has you think about your money, who you want it to go to, how you want it handled, what you want it to do in the world after you aren’t here;
    • Names someone to care for your children in case you can’t;
    • Helps you minimize taxes;
    • Lets you provide for a special needs child or other loved one without disrupting their governmental benefits;
    • Protects your assets from divorce – yours or your children’s – as well as lawsuits and creditors;
    • Enables you to gift portions of your estate to your children or charities while you are still alive in a tax-advantaged way that inspires wealth creation instead of depletion;
    • Helps you plan for your own long-term care in a way that won’t deplete your estate

    Of course, having an estate plan also offers you peace of mind that you have done what you could to protect loved ones and pass on your assets efficiently after death.  Having an estate plan in place before you pass guarantees that:

    • Your personal property and assets will pass to the people you want to have them
    • You spare your family the expense and pain of having to go through the probate process
    • Your minor children are provided for in the way you choose, with a guardian named to raise them with your values and a trusted adviser in place to manage their finances until they come of age
    • Your assets are protected for your heirs by setting up a trust with a distribution option for when they reach adulthood (or other milestones of your choice)
    • Beneficiaries have been named for retirement and other financial accounts as well as life insurance policies so the assets in these accounts go to the people you choose
    • The financial privacy of your family is protected

    If you’d like to talk about Estate Planning, call your Newport Beach Trust and Estate Attorney today at 949.718.0420 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for an Achieve Your Dreams 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.

    5 Reasons Why You Need to Review Your Estate Plan

    Creating an estate plan to protect your financial future and that of your family is just the first step in the estate planning process. Once those documents are executed, you will still need to review your plan annually to ensure it continues to reflect your needs and achieve your goals. Here are 5 reasons that can trigger the need to review your existing estate plan:

    mother daughter

    Family changes. Marriage, divorce, birth and death are four family changes that should prompt an estate plan review. If one of your beneficiaries dies, you will need to remove them from your estate plan. A new child or grandchild means adding beneficiaries. If your daughter gets a divorce, you will likely want to remove her ex from your estate plan but keep their children in. These circumstances can also trigger changes to those people designated as guardians, executors or health care agents.

    Health changes. The state of your own health may dictate changes to your estate plan, especially when it comes to long-term care. You may want to help a family member who has no other resources for long-term care, or if you yourself suddenly need long-term care, you may need to provide a trustee with new instructions on the kind of care you want – i.e., staying at home with in-home help or paying to live in a senior living facility.

    Work changes. You may suddenly want – or need – to retire, which could necessitate withdrawing from your IRA funds to support yourself instead of contributing more. If you have a family business, you may want to sell it or convert a sole proprietorship into an LLC or corporation, which could mean a significant change for your estate plan.

    Market changes. If the total value of your estate has fluctuated by more or less than 20 percent, this should prompt an estate plan review. A significant gain could provide you with assets you may want to gift to children or grandchildren to reduce or remove estate taxes.

    Law changes. Tax law changes all the time, so reviewing your plan at least once a year is the best way to either take advantage of any new changes that could benefit you, or revise your plan so these changes do not adversely impact your estate.

    To review an existing estate plan or create one for yourself and your family, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

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

    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%. Medical decisions

    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.  To put the proper protections in place for your family, contact our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $750 for a Achieve Your Dreams 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 at 949.718.0420 and mention this article.

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