Monday, December 26, 2016

Conservatorship for Mother with Advanced Alzheimer’s

Brook Thurston, in our Walnut Creek office, has been helping a client obtain a Conservatorship for her mother. When the mother had begun showing signs of dementia five years before, she had moved in with our client. In the early stages, the disease had been manageable. While our client had a demanding job, she was able to adjust her schedule, working more frequently from her home office, which allowed her to keep an eye on her mother.

The disease progressed from dementia to advanced Alzheimer’s

But the dementia became Alzheimer’s, and it’s a heartbreakingly progressive disease. The mother had reached the point where she could no longer engage in conversation and had to be constantly watched. Our client would find her mother eating banana peels, drinking detergent, trying to dress herself, but getting confused and wearing a sweater as pants. To complicate things, the mother had recently fallen, broken her hip and was now in the hospital. Her mother’s condition had reached the point where she required 24/7 care, and our client could no longer care for her mother alone.

No Power of Attorney to access assets

Her mother had never created a Living Trust with a Power of Attorney or Advanced Healthcare Directive. When our client finally intervened to take charge of her mother’s care, it was too late to get the Power of Attorney that would provide access to her mother’s assets to pay for the costs of the more comprehensive care she now required.
A Conservatorship would allow our client to make decisions about her mother’s care
Our client was applying for a Conservatorship for her mother. This legal status would allow her to make decisions about her mother’s care. As Conservator, she would also have access to her mother’s assets that would help pay for her care.
Brook filed the necessary papers with the court, petitioning for the Conservatorship. The court assigned an investigator to the case to confirm that there weren’t any signs of elder abuse or other illegal schemes to gain access to an aging woman’s finances. The court also scheduled a Conservator hearing to review the case.
Access to her mother’s assets, allowing her to pay for more comprehensive care
As her mother’s Conservator, our client now has access to her mother’s assets, which will help pay for her care. She is now legally responsible for making decisions about where her mother will live and the kind of care she will receive. She must keep financial records and submit regular reports to the court.

Responsibilities of a Conservator: 

  • Making decisions about meals, living arrangements and housekeeping
  • Providing for health and personal care
  • Providing transportation, including taking the Conservatee to doctor’s appointments
  • Making sure the Conservatee’s bills are paid
  • Investing the Conservatee’s money
  • Making sure the Conservatee gets all the benefits for which he or she is eligible
  • Making sure the Conservatee’s taxes are filed and paid on time
  • Keeping exact financial records
  • Making regular reports of the financial accounts to the court and other interested persons.
In this situation, much of the anxiety and a lot of trouble could have been avoided if our client’s mother had created a Living Trust when she was still mentally alert, giving her daughter Power of Attorney and naming her the agent for her Advance Healthcare Directive. Instead, her daughter struggled with the economics of her mother’s care until the court eventually appointed her as her mother’s Conservator.

Still putting off your Living Trust

Our Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive. Most of our clients tell us they’re surprised at just how easy it was. Make an appointment today to get started on your Trust. Helpful. Compassionate. Affordable

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Probate Case Study: The Story of Sally and the Sharks

About a year and half ago, a well-dressed woman came into the Oakland office and asked Ian, one of the owners, if he did Probate. “Yes, of course we do!” Ian loves doing Probates.
This woman was very professional and pleasant. She was accompanied by a past client, and apparently the two of them worked together. Ian had enjoyed working with this client, so he was delighted with the referral and was looking forward to working on a new Probate case.

Mrs. Cruikshank became a client. Her business? Buy low, sell high

Mrs. Cruikshank asked Ian if she could be a client: Ian would prepare Probate matters for her for the true Entitlees to the properties, as a vendor. Her business was buying and selling houses that were in Probate; she intended to clean up by buying low and selling high. Well, that’s how people like JP Getty and the Rockefellers made their fortunes—it’s the American way, right?

Meet Sally, the Estate’s Administrator

One could not have imagined a nicer, more caring person than Sally, who out of the goodness of her heart stepped up to administer the Estate after those named in the decedent’s Will refused to do so, even though they were going to inherit assets from the Estate. Sally had nothing to gain; she was the decedent’s longtime friend, and felt compelled to help.
The Shark Crew was trying to buy the Estate’s real estate for a price that was far below market value—a total violation of the probate code. They should have gotten a professional appraisal to determine current market value in the Bay Area’s red-hot real estate market. Instead, they circumvented this step and tried to practically steal the Estate’s property.

In Probate Court, the Court’s in charge

Thank goodness for the Probate Court. At a hearing for court confirmation of the sale, the court essentially forced the Shark Crew to pay a reasonable price for the property. Once the house was sold, Ian mistakenly figured that the Shark Crew was gone. Wrong.
One of the Estate’s less-functional beneficiaries was still living in the house. The home was no longer part of the Estate, so it was no longer CDP’s matter. But the Shark Crew convinced Sally to pay a distribution to all of the Estate’s beneficiaries before obtaining a court order to generate money to help this beneficiary move. This also cleverly saved Mrs. Cruikshank and the Shark Crew the time and expense of evicting this squatter.

Ian, a law and order guy, becomes her worst nightmare

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cruikshank was really sick of hearing from Ian—his constant hand-waving about pesky things like rules, procedure and the probate code. Ian’s a law and order guy, after all. She’s religious and figured God would either absolve her, take care of her—or at the very least, forgive her for her sins.
Now, as they wearily approach the end of this long, strange journey to close the Estate, Ian’s trying to keep his client from being sanctioned by the court for her extremely poor judgment.

The moral of this story: Avoid Probate by getting a Living Trust!

Stay out of probate! Do a Living Trust, for crying out loud, and avoid the sharks who want to “help” you sell your real estate.
If you do find yourself needing to go through Probate, find a good provider, such as a lawyer or Legal Document Assistant with a good reputation. There are no shortcuts. Real estate scams abound, and Probate creates low-hanging fruit. People are grieving, in a state of shock and loss, mourning their loved ones. They’re vulnerable and facing the long, confusing Probate process. When some nice person offers to “help” them, they’re delighted. Don’t get eaten by sharks–stay out of the water in the first place.
Of course we do Probate! Contact us one of our three Bay Area offices. Better yet, avoid Probate altogether and make an appointment to get started on your Living Trust. We help you through every step of the process. Helpful. Compassionate. Affordable

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Case Study: Attorney MIA; Client Chooses CDP to Get Divorce

A woman came into our Walnut Creek office because she simply wanted to get divorced. She had begun divorce proceedings many months before with a divorce attorney who had come highly recommended, but she was frustrated with the process, the delay and the mounting costs.

She had to constantly remind him to file documents and he became very impatient with her requests for explanations of the divorce proceedings and expectations. A charge of more than $1,000 for a series of email exchanges full of legalese that did nothing to detail her husband’s support obligations was the final straw. When she couldn’t get hold of her attorney for more than two weeks because he was busy with more important cases, she knew it was time to find a better solution.

She began Googling for family law attorneys

California Document Preparers showed up on the first page of her search engine results page, she began reading testimonials from the many satisfied clients and called to schedule an appointment with Caitlyn, one of the family law specialists in our Walnut Creek office.

No wonder this client was frustrated

Hers was a relatively simple, uncontested divorce. She and her husband were still on fairly good terms and were in agreement about division of property and a parenting plan for their small daughter. The experience with her attorney had convinced her that he wasn’t really interested in a simple divorce such as theirs. He kept looking for reasons to create animosity and take their case to court; as the case dragged on, the fees kept mounting.

What a different experience working with Caitlyn

“Caitlyn explained my options, and it all began to make sense. I was regularly in touch with Caitlyn as she patiently guided me through paperwork and the divorce process. She is smart, efficient and explained everything so I could understand. Best of all, California Document Preparers charges one flat fee. My divorce is finally over–just three months after I began working with Caitlyn. She did more work for me than my attorney–at 1/20th of the fee.”

We’ve helped more than 2,000 couples get divorced

Divorce is never easy, but we prepare the legal documents, notarize and file them. Clients tell us they’re surprised at just how easy it was! Best of all, we’re there for you every step of the way. Make an appointment today to get started on your Divorce.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tom Clancy’s Estate Battle: Wording Trumps Intentions

Tom Clancy died in August of heart failure. Just 66, he left behind a huge body of work, and most of us remember him for his books and the movies they spawned, including The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games. He left behind a family, a fortune and an estate battle, but the struggle between his widow and four adult children over his $86M estate is now over. Maryland’s highest court ruled about a key clause in the codicil to Clancy’s Will, and the ruling was a decisive victory for Clancy’s widow.

Legal documents written in an unclear manner

One of the best-selling authors of all time, it’s ironic that the fight boiled down to an interpretation of a clause in his estate-planning documents that was written in an unclear manner.
The dispute centered around a provision in Clancy’s second codicil (amendment) to his Will. The Will, signed in 2007, divided Clancy’s assets into three Trusts:
  • One-third for his wife
  • Another third for his wife to use while she was alive and then onto his daughter from that marriage
  • The last third was to be split among his four adult children from a prior marriage.
Just weeks before he died, Clancy signed the codicil, which included this key sentence: “No asset or proceeds of any assets shall be included in the Marital Share of the Nonexempt Family Residuary Trust as to which a marital deduction would not be allowed if included.”

Four justices sided with the widow 

Maryland’s court was closely divided about what this language meant. The four who ruled in favor of Clancy’s widow believed that this clause meant that all estate taxes from Clancy’s Estate would have to be paid by the children’s Trust, not the Trusts containing her money, because that was the only way to fully protect the marital deduction to federal estate-tax laws.

Three justices sided with the four adult children

These justices felt that the children should only pay one-half the tax bill, not all of it, and this clause did not alter the outcome. They felt that Clancy wanted to protect the marital deduction but not to increase it at the expense of what his children would inherit.
Interestingly, the lawyer who drafted the codicil initially acted as executor of Tom Clancy’s estate, and he sided with the children. This suggests that the language was intended to apply as the children contended, yet the law isn’t about intentions, but what the documents actually say.

What does this mean for Tom Clancy’s heirs?

The four children now have to pay the IRS estate tax bill of almost $12M. If they’d won, the total tax bill would have been closer to $16M, but they would have been able to split it with one of the Trusts set up for Clancy’s widow. The results: they lost $8M, and the IRS lost out on $4M.

A strange irony for a writer

A loss of $8M for Clancy’s adult children, two years’ worth of litigation and who knows how much money in legal fees. And it all would have been avoided if the language had been more clear.

Take a lesson from Tom Clancy: wording trumps intentions

The wording of your estate-planning documents is what matters, not your intentions. While most of us, unfortunately, don’t have $86M estates over which our heirs will haggle, battles like this occur on a regular basis across the country. Make sure all of your assets are accounted for; read your documents carefully; understand what everything means before signing.
Still putting off your Living Trust? We prepare the legal documents and notarize them–most of our clients tell us they’re surprised at just how easy it was! Make an appointment today to get started on your Trust.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Living Trust Case Study: Grandma Outsmarts Her Family

When it comes to the matter of distributing someone’s assets after he/she dies, funny things happen–even in the best of families. The reality is that when there is money involved–assets, property and valuable belongings–greed often rears its head. In some cases, it’s the aggressive sister and her greedy husband who are the troublemakers. But just as often, someone else entirely thinks he or she deserves the biggest share of their parent’s estate.

In our Oakland office, one of our clients entertained our team with what is ultimately a very funny story about his grandmother and the greedy relatives who were hoping to inherit their share of their grandmother’s modest estate.

He had always been close to his grandmother

Our client’s grandmother had helped raise him, and she had always been loving and supportive. They had remained very close, and it was his turn to care for her in the final years of her life. He had helped her create her Living Trust and he had Power of Attorney, paid her bills, took her to her doctor appointments, checked in with her most days and spent as much time with her as he could. In turn, she left most of her modest estate to him.

This grandmother was a hoarder

We probably all know a few people like this kind grandmother—she grew up during the depression, and she never forgot those difficult times, so she saved/repurposed everyday items. Cottage cheese cartons were her Tupperware containers, empty bread sacks with their little plastic closures became her Ziploc bags. She lived alone in her later years, and her cupboards, drawers, attic and garage became stuffed with the containers and other paraphernalia that she was saving to repurpose for some other use—things that should have long ago been recycled or gone to a landfill.
Grandma was tough, independent and resilient, but old age finally caught up with her, and at 93, she knew she didn’t have long to live. Assorted family members gathered around her, most of whom hadn’t bothered to call, write or stop in to see her in years. She slyly told everyone that there was a large amount of money hidden in her house. The result? The house and all of its bags and empty containers was cleaned out in record time. Our client, who was her caretaker, knew that there was no fortune, but took great pleasure in watching his greedy family members clean out the house as they searched for the money, each hoping to be the one who uncovered the hidden riches. Grandmother enjoyed her little joke enormously and got the last laugh.

There is a moral to this story

People tend to move real property, brokerage accounts, life insurance policies and other big-ticket items into their Living Trusts. But in all too many cases, smaller items are not accounted for. And it’s these items that can cause family conflicts. Many of these items have monetary value, but often it’s the sentimental value that makes them just as coveted. The more detail you provide as you create your Living Trust, the less dissension there will be for your family.

Are you still thinking about creating a Living Trust in 2016? 

There’s still time. The California Document Preparers team can help you. Call today to schedule an appointment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Executor Creates Process for Distributing Mother’s Assets

Clients who prepare their Living Trusts identify their assets and how they will be distributed among their heirs when they die. Assets include the obvious things such as real property, brokerage accounts, life insurance policies and other financial resources, but they also include other high-ticket items such as cars, jewelry, artwork, antiques, valuable collections, etc. Many people carefully allocate the large items but fail to identify how the smaller items will be distributed among their surviving family members. These are often items that may not have great financial value but are rich in sentiment, and their distribution can become highly contentious.

An Oakland client distributes mother’s assets

An Oakland client, the executor for his mother’s estate, shared this story of how he successfully distributed his mother’s assets among his siblings. His mother had created a Living Trust and had divided her estate equally among her three children. But she had not identified how the many small, sentimental items were to be divided among her three children. His brother and his wife were aggressive and greedy, and he wanted to avoid their taking the most valuable items, leaving his sister and him with the leftovers. He wanted to prevent potentially hard feelings and conflict, making sure that each of them was the recipient of household items and mementoes that would comfort them and keep their mother’s memory alive.
He knew, for instance, that his sister loved a beautiful Wedgewood plate that his mother always used for their birthday cakes, and she had a lovely gold bracelet that he would like to give his daughter. A wicker rocker in her study was where his mother used to sit and read, and he would love to have that chair in his own study. None of these things was worth a lot of money, but each was rich in memories.

As executor, he devised a plan that included only the three siblings, not their spouses

  • Each would create and prioritize a written list of the items he/she wanted from their mother’s belongings, without saying one word to each other.
  • They would flip a coin to see who would choose first.
  • The sibling who won the coin toss would select the first item, segregating it physically into a pile.
  • The person who came second would do the same, then the third, continuing until all of their mother’s belongings were taken.
  • If somebody’s choice was already taken, they would take the next item on their list, if that item was still available.
  • After all items were chosen, conversation was allowed and trading could begin. “You really wanted that item bracelet, and I really wanted that ring; would you be willing to trade?” Etc.

Siblings satisfied with the process

There was only one case where two siblings really wanted one item and a settlement/deal couldn’t be reached. Our client’s sister wanted something that he had chosen, but he wasn’t willing to part with it–their mother’s favorite pasta bowl that she had bought in Italy. There was no dispute, no loud discussion, and everyone was very satisfied with the process and the results—including his brother.
Have you created your Living Trust and named your executor? Contact the California Document Preparers team today to schedule an appointment. We help you through every step of the process.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Divorce: What If My Spouse No Longer Lives in This Country?

With our diverse Bay Area population, it’s not unusual that couples get married, then one spouse decides to return to his/her country of origin or move to another country altogether. Divorce can be part of this life change.
Our family law team at California Document Preparers finds that these cases surface from time to time. In most situations, these are uncontested divorces, with little property and no children or support. We recently helped several couples; in both cases, the wife was filing for divorce. One husband had moved to Ireland and the other had returned to his native Fiji. In both cases, these were relatively simple procedures–younger couples who had been married fewer than ten years, without community property or children, so there were no child support issues.

The method of serving your spouse varies by country

If you’re filing for divorce in the US, one spouse must be served with the divorce papers. When a spouse lives outside the US, he/she can’t be served; rather, he/she must respond to the court in which the spouse filed. The method for serving your spouse outside of the United States will depend largely on the laws of his country. This process typically runs about $1,000, may require additional document translation fees and take about nine months, if not longer.

Submitting a formal response to the court

We’ve learned that if the respondent (the person who has received the divorce papers) submits a formal response with the court after he/she has been served, then the petitioner (the spouse who is filing for divorce) is not required to submit a formal proof of service. Once served with the packet, the respondent can complete the response form (within the packet that he/she is served) and submit it to the court, along with the court filing fee.

California Document Preparers assists with document preparation and facilitating signatures

Once the response is filed with the court, the parties must continue to work together to complete the final court paperwork. California Document Preparers assists in preparing these documents and facilitating signatures between the parties. We’ve been very successful in helping our clients get divorced in those situations where spouses live in separate countries.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lessons on Estate Planning from Gene Wilder

A comedian whose career spanned 40 years, Gene Wilder was 83 when he died in August from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He kept his illness hidden from most people for at least three years. The star of legendary comedies Blazing SaddlesThe Producers and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory reportedly wanted his fans to keep laughing over his large body of work rather than mourning the tragedy of his final years.

According to experts, keeping Alzheimer’s a secret is a common approach

Most Alzheimer’s sufferers hide symptoms for as long as possible for a variety of reasons.
  • Losing control. Those who are alone fear they’ll lose control of their own lives if their family or friends think they can no longer care for themselves and/or handle their own affairs.
  • Shame. There is also considerable shame attached to this disease, and many people who are in the early stages of dementia are understandably in denial. It may be family members, alarmed about cognitive changes, who finally force the issue. Interestingly, those patients who have advanced education or who have used their brains the most during their careers who are most successful at hiding their disease the longest.
  • Loss of friends. In another blog we talked about a New York woman who was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, and her therapist advised her not to tell her friends for fear they would abandon her. Her solution? She stopped going to that therapist, told her friends and, indeed, did lose a few friends who did not have the capacity to provide the support she would need.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming common among the elderly and, unfortunately, the incidence will increase as our baby boomer generation ages. An estimated 80% of us can expect to experience at least some degree of dementia in our lifetimes.

Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s creates immediacy

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is critical to move quickly to create or update a Living Trust and other estate-planning documents before the person deteriorates and is unable make decisions or sign legal documents.
Those suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can often still make legally valid decisions for themselves. It may be necessary, however, to get a doctor’s letter attesting to the patient’s ability to understand what he/she is signing. It’s important to make sure that all of the legal documents are in place, including the Will, Living TrustPower of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive. At California Document Preparers, our comprehensive Living Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advanced Healthcare Directive.

Creating a Power of Attorney to manage income and assets

The Power of Attorney, called an agent, is usually a trusted family member, domestic partner or friend, who will make financial and other decisions when the person with dementia (the principal) is no longer able. Power of attorney documents should be written so that they are durable–valid even after the principal is incapacitated and can no longer make decisions. The agent is authorized to manage and make decisions about the income and assets, according to the instructions, and in the best interests, of the principal.

An Advanced Healthcare Directive to make decisions about care

An Advanced Healthcare Directive empowers a trusted friend or family member to make healthcare decisions for the principal when he/she no longer can. This includes choosing doctors and other providers, including hospice care. It also includes treatment and care facilities. For a person in the later stages of dementia, the healthcare agent also may make end-of-life decisions, such as giving do not resuscitate (DNR) instructions to healthcare providers. For the person with dementia, it’s important to talk through his/her wishes early on to make sure the agent not only understands but agrees to act on his/her behalf.

A final caveat . . .

When a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease signs new estate-planning documents after the disease has progressed, it greatly increases the chances that someone in the family may contest the validity of the documents in court. Getting these end-of-life documents in place as soon as possible after the disease’s diagnosis helps assure that they will not be challenged.
Call the California Document Preparers team today to schedule an appointment for your Living Trust. We help you through every step of the process.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gray Divorce: Facing the Economic Challenges

A few months ago, we wrote a blog about a new trend they’re calling gray divorce—late-life divorce. These days, one out of every four people experiencing divorce in the United States is 50 or older; nearly one in ten is 65 or older. The reasons vary, but may include empty-nest syndrome, the increased number of women in the workforce, the desire for a better quality of life and higher rates of remarriage.
The emotional distress and challenges of gray divorce are similar to those of divorce at any age, but older couples face additional obstacles that magnify the difficulties. They often face a limited number of years in which they can generate income, have complicated assets and adult children who may get involved. There is another depressing statistic: for those on their second or third marriage, the rates of divorce are even higher.

Customize a team of advisers customized for your needs

If you’re an older couple facing divorce, many experts recommend identifying a team of professionals to guide you through the process. Depending on your emotional needs and the complexities of your financial landscape, this team may include a mediator, financial planner, accountant and/or therapist. If the divorce is uncontested—if you’re in agreement about the division of assets–California Document Preparers can help you get your divorceOur team of family law specialists prepares and files all of the legal documents and is sensitive to the emotional needs of our divorce clients; we’re available by phone and email to respond to questions throughout the entire process.
In a gray divorce, working with a financial expert becomes more important because most couples have built up a lifetime’s worth of assets that must be valued and split. There’s the family home, pensions, 401k’s, brokerage accounts and life insurance policies to be taken into consideration. There may be the family business or investments in other ventures, expensive artwork, antiques, vehicles and valuable collections that also must be assessed as part of the estate. Valuing these complex assets and income streams requires time and expertise.

Who gets to keep the family home?

The family home is often a point of contention, especially with older couples. We all can understand not wanting to leave 20 or more years’ worth of memories. This was where you raised your children, where the family gathered to celebrate holidays and important events. There is the familiarity of the neighborhood and good friends. Given the uncertainties that lie ahead, the family home’s appeal can become amplified, as it represents familiarity and a connection to a former, happier life.

Hanging on to the family home may not make sense financially

Divorcing couples need to understand that when they were living together as a married couple, in many cases, they had two incomes. In their new single lives, there will be just one. It’s a time to get very realistic about finances and think pragmatically about how you will support yourself on one income. Be open to alternatives that will leave you in a better financial position. Selling a home or opting for other assets may provide the income you will need in the years ahead. That large family home with a swimming pool and extensive landscaping can quickly become a burden. Many divorcing midlife couples find that downsizing can dramatically help manage costs as they create new lives for themselves.
Call the California Document Preparers team today to schedule an appointment to talk about your divorce. We help you through every step of the process.