Estate planning is not just about getting documents put into place and making sure your finances are allocated to go to the right person or place. An estate plan should be personalized to your own specific needs and lifestyle, to make sure that things like your pets and online accounts have someone taking care of them. Listen this week for the 10 non-financial estate planning issues people face when creating their plan.
Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA®) and Certified Financial Planner™ professional (CFP). Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.
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Victor J. Medina: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last. I’m your host, Victor Medina. I’m so glad you could join us this Saturday morning. I’m excited for today’s show. We’re going to go a little lighter fare for today. I’ve been covering some heavier topics. In fact, we’ve got some guests coming up in the next few weeks.
I thought I’d take it easy on you. I would just cover [laughs] 10 non‑financial estate planning issues. I’m going to cover, for today, 10 things that you should be thinking about in your estate planning that have nothing to do with your money or who’s it going to. I think that’s going to be good.
Now, look it, apologies ahead of time. If my voice is not in its finest form, it’s because last week we celebrated the release of my newest book, “Make It Last ‑‑ Protecting Your Family from the Costs of Aging.” It’s my third book. It was an exciting book launch.
A lot of great friends showing up. We were at a Amalfi’s in Lawrenceville, which has a great little bar area there. It’s where we did the other book launch that we hosted a few years ago. 80 friends and family, clients, referral partners out in the community. It was quite a blast. Of course, I was talking loudly with lots of people [laughs] and having a great time.
Now I’m recovering from that. I think I shook too many hands from people that might have had something, a little something on there, growing, that somehow made it onto me. Still recovering, but it was a great time.
I want to thank everybody who came out to support the book launch. It has been so well received from everyone that’s read it that is a professional in the elder care community, all the way through people that are just lay people that are looking to use the book and learn from it. In fact, that’s our most important audience.
If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, it’s available for purchase. You can go onto Amazon and search for Make It Last Protect Your Family or Victor Medina as the author. It’ll come up. You’ll see the book. It’s available for $25.95.
If you’d like to get it a little cheaper, and you have a smartphone, you can get the Kindle version of that. That’s only $9.99. That’s easily available. By the way, you don’t even need a Kindle for that. You don’t need a special reading device. Every smartphone out there, Android or Apple, will have a free Kindle reader. You can download that Kindle reader and your book will arrive there.
For people that do buy it as a hard copy, and maybe it’s something that they want to read, mark up, and give away, we’ve included in there ‑‑ this is our deal with Amazon ‑‑ that if you buy the hard copy, you can get the Kindle copy 100 percent for free. It doesn’t cost anything extra.
If you buy the hard copy, we will send you the electronic version. Not us specifically. If you go on to Amazon and you click purchase the Kindle version, you’ll see that the cost for that is zero.
Now, if you read the book and you like the book, one of the things that I would love, if you would do us a great service, is to go ahead and leave testimonial on there, a review about what you thought about the book.
It would help us have other people who aren’t sure if this is going to be the book for them. Read through that and make sure that it’s going to be a good book and something that they’re going to read.
Those are ways to buy the book, but I want to give you another option here before we get into the topic for today, which is you can get the book 100 percent for free.
The way to do that is, if you’re a member of a group, if you want to organize a book talk, and we’re talking about maybe 10 to 15 people showing up or more ‑‑ you can get 20, 30, 40, 50 people…If you organize a book talk, I will come and speak on these issues about how to protect your family from the cost of aging.
Everyone in the audience will receive one copy of the book absolutely for free. I’ll even stick around to autograph them if you’d like, inscribe them for you. That’s one way to get the book for free.
I feel so strongly about the need to share this information as widely as possible that I’m willing to purchase copies from the publisher. Of course, I get them at a discount. It doesn’t cost me as much as it might cost on the retail level, but I will purchase them from the publisher.
I will make them available to everyone that is in attendance, just as my contribution, my bit of community service. I feel so strongly about the information that’s in here, and people learning that information, and sharing that information that I’m willing to go ahead and give that copy over to everyone that’s in the audience.
Hopefully, it will help them avoid some of the problems that can occur when you are just, for lack of a better term, ignorant, if you just don’t know what’s going on with elder law issues and asset protection issues. If you’re not aware of that, just learning about it often will give you the opportunity to avoid stepping on this landmine somehow along the way.
That’s important to get that education out there. The more educated you are, the more empowered you are to act and the better results that you can get. Just understanding where not to step, what to avoid, what might be coming down the road.
That’s what the goal of the book is, is to share that kind of information ‑‑ where the landmines are, and how to avoid stepping on them. That way, you can use it as a reference. If you’re just at this stage where you’re getting a little bit older and you’re concerned about it, or there are even sections in there that deal with people that are in the middle of a crisis.
Many times in my law practice, I see people coming in. I don’t see them healthy with pre‑planning on their mind, just diligent that way. I see them in a moment of crisis. I might visit with a daughter that just put mom into an assisted living facility. They found her wandering. She fell. She’s discharged from rehab. Something along the way, but there is a moment of crisis for them.
What they want to do is they want some guidance. They want to make sure that they’re doing the right thing for mom or dad for that kind of care. There are sections in the book that help you understand how to manage that crisis for them. What they want to do is they want some guidance and they want to make sure that they’re doing the right thing for mom or dad for that kind of care.
There are sections in the book that really help you understand how to manage that crisis, from a legal and financial standpoint. We don’t really go into too much on the health care side because that’s not an expertise of mine.
On the legal and financial planning and understanding what the different levels of care are, things like that, we try to set that stage for people that are dealing with a crisis so it’s a good book for those individuals as well.
Again, really excited to launch the book. Really excited to have an opportunity to share this information. If you’re interested, again, you can purchase the book on Amazon. That’s $25.95 or $9.99 in a Kindle format. If you buy the hard copy, you’ll get the Kindle format for free.
If you really want the whole shebang for free ‑‑ I can’t give you the Kindle for free if you do this ‑‑ if you set up a book talk, organize a group for me to come and speak. It could be an Alzheimer’s support group, a caregivers group. It can be a group at an assisted living facility or it can be at your church.
Some group that you regularly meet with that you think should know this information. I’ll come and speak. No charge, of course, for the speaking, but in addition to that, we will go ahead and bring copies of the book and make them available for free for everyone that attends.
Victor: I got a few boxes of them. Help me get rid of them. [laughs]
All right, when we come back I’m going to talk about the 10 non‑financial reasons to do planning or issues around planning. I’m excited for this book, so stick with us. We’ll be right back after this quick break.
Victor: Hey, everybody, welcome back to Make It Last. Today, I want to talk to you about 10 issues that really have nothing to do with your financial life, not about who’s going to be getting what that are really central to estate planning and we’re going to have to jump around a little bit.
Some of these will apply to you and some of them will not, but, for the most part, there are things that are included in estate planning. If you’re not working with an estate planning attorney that’s talking to you about this, they’re doing half the job because estate planning isn’t just about getting a set of documents.
I gave a talk yesterday, and one of the things that I talked about was that it is just not about going out there and getting a will and checking it off a to‑do list. You’re not paying a price for paper. That’s not a plan.
We want to make sure that the plan is a far‑reaching, broad, encompassing strategy so that, no matter what life deals at you, you’ll be able to handle it and have considered all of it as part of your planning.
Let’s go with number one, the first non‑financial estate planning issue. It really is health care. This is a pretty basic one. What I mean by health care is that, in every estate plan, you should be thinking about who will be making health care decisions if you can’t.
That person ends up getting named in one of a couple of different forms. We generally call them an advanced health care directive, but it’s like a health care power of attorney. Every state’s going to have a slightly different formulation of this, but there is a mechanism for appointing somebody to make decisions for you.
It’s important that we identify that person in your planning. Not only do we want to identify who that person is, but we also want to identify who a backup might be because something could happen to that first person. You don’t want to be without somebody along the way. You want to make sure that you’ve got somebody slotted in there.
You could use an advance health care directive that’s been sanctioned by the legislature in your state. Typically, the government sanctions one. You can use a document called the Five Wishes. You want to make sure that somebody is in that role as being appointed to make health care decisions.
As I said to you, it has to be one person at a time. You definitely want a backup to the main individual, but you can’t name a committee here. You want to make sure that you are not creating a scenario where people are going to argue.
In fact, in many states, it’s invalid to execute an advanced health care directive that names more than one person in charge. It’s presumptively invalid. We do only want to name one person at a time.
I’ll give you a hint about the other half of that. Whoever you name, of course, should get a copy of your healthcare directive so they know what they need to be following, what rules need to be followed.
You also want to share it to the people that weren’t named that are going to be close in the family. You want them to have the opportunity to know, A, who’s in charge and, B, what your wishes are so there’s no disagreement about that, that person is following your particular desires. Number one is health care and deciding who’s going to make healthcare decisions for you.
The second non‑financial estate planning issue is your pets. Many people have pets that need to be care for. Who’s going to take care of those pets when you pass away? They might outlive you. [laughs] I [indecipherable 10:50] sometimes, but it’s not a goldfish. You might not be able to count on it going belly‑up before you do.
We want some plan in place. Someone who cares enough about animals ‑‑ and specifically the kind that you have ‑‑ that will step in and make sure that there is a very smooth plan for taking care of these animals that are entrusted to you and your care.
It may not be the same people that are your executors and other people making decisions for you. They may not be animal people. They might not be a cat person, or a dog person, or a bird person, but you do want to find somebody that is your kind of animal person. They are different and you’re going to know that.
There’s generally a community around that you meet, you build, you foster. You’ll have a friend, there are persons such as your executor. Wouldn’t be a beneficiary, but they would be a good person to take care of your bird if something happen to you.
Some of these more exotic pets, they’re a little hard to do that, but they’re all commitments. Talking through that with somebody and having a pet buddy if something were to happen to you is an important part of that.
That set of instructions should go into your estate‑planning binder. Every time we put an estate plan together, we create a binder that has all of the planning documents in there.
There’s always some tabs that are there for either memorial instructions or other trust documents, a letter of instruction, some format, that’s a great place to leave this pet letter that anybody that is in charge…By the way, have a conversation with your executive.
Say, “Look it. Over there, that’s my” ‑‑ in our office, it’s a red binder ‑‑ “red binder with my estate plan and in addition to having to do with all my money and what’s going to be going on when I die, that’s also where you’re going to take care of Fido.”
You want to make sure that they know where to find those instructions. You might let them know that so and so has agreed to take on responsibility for that if something happens to you.
The third non‑financial estate planning issue is your wisdom. Another way of saying that is your value. Many times people have learned lessons in life that they want to share with other individuals. How are you going to do that? What kind of legacy are you going to leave behind?
Sharing your experience, your wisdom, and the things that you think have helped form the person that you are or might help form somebody that you care about. You can do this in a variety of different ways. Certainly, we can leave letters behind and people do that.
One of the nicest things that I saw for a client that we did an estate plan for was there was a letter to both of his kids. The letter was an interesting mix of practical stuff like, “Here’s my lawyer. His name is Victor. Make sure you contact him, he knows what’s going on.”
It also included some other things. It talked about how much he loved their mother who predeceased him. He was a widower. He also talked about other things ‑‑ “I’ve learned in life that…” and he went through that. It was a really touching letter to read.
It was very much this guy’s personality that he would have mixed those two things together. It wasn’t all sap, wisdom, and values. In the one letter he had a lot of practical stuff about where the key to the safety deposit box was and where it could be located. He took the opportunity to share this message with his two adult kids.
I know that they really appreciated the opportunity to hear his voice and what he was sending behind. Nowadays, it’s so easy to make recordings. You can do it on your smartphone. There’s all these voice memo apps that you can sit down and have a discussion with somebody or you can sit and record yourself.
You can even do it with video if you feel comfortable that way. There’s a whole set of planning strategies called priceless conversations that are really around setting up a way of capturing this legacy.
I think it’s important because many times we won’t remember that you got left a $5,000 CD from mom, but the idea that you learned a particular lesson, that’s what’s shared. That’s what’s shared amongst the children that remain and that’s what’s shared with the grandkids along the way, something that they want them to know about grandma or grandpa.
It’s really the stories, their values, this is what they always did. I remember that they would do X, Y, or Z. That formed who they are and why I admired them so much. If you can help capture that wisdom, those values, that’s an important part of planning.
Now, let’s go from something completely soft like your wisdom to number four on this, which is online accounts. [laughs] More and more, everyone’s got some form of an online account. It’s hilarious.
My mom’s got Facebook. She even has an Instagram. I want to say that she has an Instagram account before I got an Instagram account. In all truth, it’s because it’s my son who had this Instagram account where he posted a lot of his photographs. He’s a very talented photographer. She wanted to see those photographs, so she got Instagram before I did.
What are we going to do to access those things? How will family access digital things after you’re gone? Now, we’ve got both a practical, really specific recommendation that we can make and then just some general points of advice.
The really practical suggestion is there are pieces of software out there that will capture and keep passwords for you. There’s probably a whole other show that we could do on digital security. In fact, I might pick up on that for next week as an introduction before we have our guest come on.
There are password managers, whether it’s a LastPass or 1Password, those are the two largest ones. What they’ll do is they will gather all of your passwords for anything that you might log in and need a password for.
Everything that’s on a browser ‑‑ all of your banking, all of your social media accounts, but also licenses for software. They can have secure notes, things that are encrypted. If you just wanted to write something like Social Security numbers or something like that, they would be captured inside of this software.
It’s one of the most powerful tools that we have, first of all, because we’re so much at threat for hackers and people coming into our accounts looking for money or ways of spoofing who we are. You want to keep that broad, right? We don’t want one password to be the same password that you use over and over and over again.
There may be one password, one single password that you capture to log in to the site and share that with the next generation. Put that in that letter. Put it in your estate planning binder that there’s this one password. That way, if you change passwords, which you’re going to be recommended to do ‑‑ again, maybe we’ll capture this next week ‑‑ but you’ve got to change passwords along the way.
One password goes into the software and lets people know how to access the rest of the information that’s in there. That’s a really practical recommendation.
The last points to remember is many people don’t know who you are and where you are. Where you are out in the digital world can be spoofed and hacked, especially if it’s not being minded and tended to. Just having a list of where to look for…Many times, your family members don’t know what you’re engaging in and it’s important for them to learn about that.
Maybe not while you’re alive. Maybe there’s a whole secret Facebook life that you don’t want them to know about. That’s OK. After you’re gone, letting them know that you have a Facebook account, or Snapchat account, or Instagram account, or the Twitter account, I can’t even get through all of them. [laughs]
Knowing where that stuff is is important, and how to access it. It’s generally giving them a road map. Again, this can go into that very specific estate planning binder. That way you have all of it when you need it.
The last one before we take a break are family heirlooms. I cheated on this one a little bit. I would assume that you could probably find some value for family heirlooms. There’s something about maybe a grandfather clock that might have a lot value associated with it. Many times we’re just talking about a special pie plate that really only has value to the people that might get it.
One of the things that we do in our estate plan is we create a memorandum of tangible personal property. You didn’t have to write any of that down because what I want you to do is think about it as the Special Stuff List. There’s special stuff in your life, and there’s somebody that you want to have that special stuff.
One of the things that you can do is lay out who’s supposed to get what so that there’s no fights along there. This is the better version of walking around your house with little green, orange, and red dots that you put on everything, and tell Sally, “Look, everything with a red dot is yours and everything with a green dot is your sister’s.”
You want to be able to line all of those things up. Then anything that’s not spoken for, they can get rid of however they want. It will be fine. I think it’s important to lay all of that out in one of these Special Stuff Lists. That way there will be no disagreements, and there will be a way of passing that on after you’re gone.
Victor: You’re going to hear me again, and again, and again, “Where should that stuff live?” Yep, your special estate planning binder. That red binder is going to get bigger and bigger by the moment, and it’s going to be a great repository of everything that is about your estate planning life.
All right. Listen, we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will cover the last five things dealing with your estate plan and non‑financials, and we’ll wrap that up. Just stick with us when we come right back after this quick break.
Victor: Welcome back to Make It Last. We’re talking about the 10 non‑financial issues related to estate planning. The first five that we talked about really had some documents that were associated with it. One of these other next five, we’re going to have that as well. These next ones are really about issues to think about in planning.
One of them has to do with guardianship. Depending on your age, most of our listeners are already in retirement, so they’re not raising minor children, but they may be responsible for a special needs child, somebody who is disabled, or they may have children that have minor children. They are my grandkids that might be young.
This will be important for them to share that information with their kids. You want to think about who’s going to raise minor children or be responsible for people that need that help if something happens to them. This is done in the form of a set of documents called the Guardian Nomination papers.
It’s important that we speak about this because, at the end of the day, naming a guardian for someone is not something that is followed as an instruction that’s just in the paper. It’s actually something that a judge makes a final determination in the best interest of that individual.
You can write down, “I want so‑and‑so to be a guardian,” but that is not determinative. There’s going to be a judge, so you want somebody that’s going to be making that decision, that judge, to going to bring in your desires and know about them. It’s just as important to name who you want as it is to name who you don’t want.
One of the things that we do for people that are going to be naming guardians is we have a document called a Confidential Exclusion of Guardian.
What it is, is a place to list somebody, either well‑meaning and hard‑headed, that isn’t going to get that they’re not going be the person that’s in charge, or a cockroach that’s going to come out of the woodwork because there’s money involved and they’re just bad people.
We’re going to name somebody that we do not want to be a guardian whatsoever, they’re going to be excluded, and we’re going to talk about why.
That way, when the judge is making that decision about who’s going to be in charge of this person, they not only have the affirmative, but they don’t have any worry somebody’s going to raise their hand and say, “But, they didn’t think about me.” “No, no, no. They thought about you. They didn’t want you, and here’s the reason why.”
We want to make sure that we’ve named people in the negative as well as in the affirmative. In addition to naming long‑term guardians, one of the things that we recommend is that people nominate short‑term guardians.
There is going to be a period of time where you’ve passed away and we haven’t gotten to a court yet to make a final determination, so we want some form of short‑term guardian nomination as well. That is important. That was number six.
Number seven. I want you to think about the relationship between your children, siblings, anybody that’s going to be having to manage your affairs while you become incapacitated, or after you’ve passed away. Are they prone to fighting? Who’s the problem one? How can we minimize potential hot‑spots along the way?
If you think about this ahead of time and a little bit more deliberate about who you name and what they’re going to be doing, what they’re going to be in charge, and how much information that you share, you have the opportunity to cut off any battles and issues that might be coming along the way.
Weird things happen when parents pass away. Children that have held things under wraps for a long period of time finally feel free to speak their mind. You get otherwise decent people acting weird in there. We do want to avoid those issues.
Many times, sharing information and being very open and transparent about the kinds of things that you want to have happen, who you put in charge and why, it gets people with an opportunity to process that, so they’re not processing both the grief that’s associated with you passing away as well as the friction that can occur from these relationships that might be already strained.
That was number seven.
Number eight is living arrangements. This is an important one because we have so many different levels of care that you can get as you get older. I talk about some of them in the new book.
We talk about independent living, continuing care retirement communities or CCRCs, having a home health aide in assisted living facility, and a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. If you ask most people, they don’t ever want to end up in a nursing home. I can respect the idea that they don’t want to do that.
Many times, that’s out of our control. What we want to do is think about how we want to be living. Not only what kind of arrangements that we have, but what services are being provided. If you’re lucky enough to have resource to help supplement, what do you want to use those resources for?
You’re going to want to be taken out for a meal occasionally. You want to have something come in. You want your hair cut on a regular basis. You want certain quality‑of‑life things, things that are related to dignity.
You want that to be spelled out so that people know what they are expected to do to care for you, and that you’ve got good certainty that you’ll actually receive that care and those arrangements.
Number nine are burial wishes, and pretty straightforward. Do you want to be cremated? Do you want to have a visitation? What will your obituary say? What does the memorial service look like?
In our estate plans that we write, we always have two or three pages for memorial instructions. That’s never anything that should be put into a will. That’s a separate document, most of the time, because the will may not be located for a little while. In fact, under New Jersey law, can’t be probated for 10 days.
What we want to do is spell out what you want to have happen. In the documents that we create, there’s always these two pages that are blank lines. Who are going to be your pallbearers if you’re going to have that kind of service? Do you want a repast? What food do you want in there?
I make a light of it when we do our planning here. My estate plan is pretty clear that, when I pass away…I grew up a musician. I still play a little bit. I play the trumpet. I love the Dixie music. One of the things that I wanted to have happen is like in New Orleans. When you die, there’s something they call the second line.
It marches down the street behind the casket. People are dancing. There’s music going on. That’s what I want. That’s in my memorial instructions. I’m going to save a little bit extra and we’re going to create a second line.
Whatever it is that you want, make sure that that’s spelled out in your documents so that there’s no question about it, and we usually just set it to follow the instructions.
The last one, the last non‑financial estate planning issue has to do with end‑of‑life decisions. Are you going to be an organ donor? Do you want a feeding tube? Do you want certain kinds of care to be provided?
On a very surface level, there’s going to be some things that you’re going to want and not want. You might say, “Look, if I’m terminally ill, if I’m permanently unconscious, I don’t want a feeding tube.
“I don’t want to be brought back with CPR if that happens,” as you get older and if you are fortunate enough to be diagnosed with some form of condition or a health issue that has a disease state that you can predict.
If you get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s, or MS, if you’re terminally ill with cancer and you know what the disease state might look like as it progresses, and what kind of care might be recommended, we’re going to want to get a little bit more detailed in this advanced health care directive.
You’re going to want an opportunity to really talk about certain things that you want and don’t want because you’ll know them with more particularity. It’s hard to do if you don’t have that kind of diagnosis because you can get hit with anything and you just can’t cover everything that’s out there.
If things firm up a little bit, crystallize a little bit, that you’re going to have one of these progressive diseases and you’re going to be facing that kind of issue, you are going to want to spell out specifically what you want to have happen.
Let’s summarize real quick before we get out of here for today. The 10 non‑financial estate planning issues that you should consider are ‑‑ Health care, who’s going to make decisions for you? Pets, who’s going to take care of them? Your wisdom and your values, how are you going to pass those along?
Online accounts, how are people going to access them? Family heirlooms. Naming guardians for people that need them. Thinking about sibling relationships after you’re gone. Living arrangements and the kind of life you want to live if you can’t control that on your own. Burial wishes. Then, finally, end‑of‑life decisions.
Those are the dirty 10. [laughs] I was going to say dozen, but it’s not. It’s 10.
All right, that’s it for today. Again, if you’re interested in getting a free copy of the new book that I wrote, Make It Last, how to protect your family against the costs of aging, go ahead and reach out to us.
Contact us for a speaking engagement. Put a group together and we’ll be happy to come and talk on the book and give free copies to everyone. Other than that, thanks for joining us here today. We’ll be back next week.
Victor: Next couple of weeks we’re going to have some guests. Strap in for that. That’s going to be pretty exciting. We will catch you next Saturday on Make It Last, where we help you keep your legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure.
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