Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where's my Estate Plan?

So you've taken the steps to meet with an attorney (hopefully Attorney Dalton) and set up your estate plan with the appropriate documents. But what now? Where do you keep them? Who do you tell about them? And are there places you shouldn't keep them? 

One of the most important documents in your estate plan is your living will or advanced health care directive. This document outlines your wishes for your medical care in the case that you can no longer make these decisions for yourself. Your living will should be kept with your health care proxy, which appoints another person to make helth care decisions for you in the event that you cannot make them yourself. First and foremost, your health care agent should be notified of his or her appointment. You should also tell them what your wishes are if you become terminally ill and on life support so they may direct the health care providers. 

A great place to keep these documents is in a marked envelope on your refrigorator. In the event of an emergency, they will be easy to grab, and if you are being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, the EMTs are more likely to see them. 

You should also give a copy of of these documents and other health care related documents, such as a patient authorization form, to all of your doctors so they also know what your wishes are. 

Additionally, bring these documents (or copies of them) with you when you travel so that you will easily have access to them should you end up needing to visit a doctor or an emergency room while you are away from home. Make sure to check out our other blog post to find out more about traveling with your documents!

Other estate planning documents, such as wills and deeds, should be kept in a place that is safe and where the necessary people can find them. For these documents to be effective, they need to be accessible so that your family members or friends are able to carry out your wishes. If your family can't find your will, it is effectively useless.

So where do you keep these documents?  Many people are tempted to keep their estate planning documents in places such as a bank deposit box.  Please don't fall to this temptation though. When it comes time for these documents to be used, there may not be anyone around with access to the safe deposit box and most banks will not allow anyone other than the owner of the deposit box to access it. Instead, keep your documents at home in a fire proof box, which you can buy at Staples.  You can grab it in a hurry and the box is easily placed in a closet.   

After all the hard work and money spent on preparing estate documents, the last thing you want is for them to go unused because the right people did not have access to them. 

All in all, as long as your documents are accessible and you have communicated their whereabouts to the people you've assigned responsibilities to in them, you should be in the clear when it comes time to use your documents.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

You Got WHAT for Your 18th Birthday?

Eighteen is a big year. It's the year you can vote, buy scratch tickets and tobacco, and it's the year that most students, like myself, graduate from high school. I was lucky enough to receive a car for my 16th birthday, so it really seemed like the sky was the limit when it came to what I was getting for my 18th birthday and graduating high school. And personally, I felt like I deserved a lot because I was graduating top 10 in my class and was student council president. But my dreams all came crashing down on September 9, 2011 when I opened the envelope to see what my parents decided to give me, an estate plan. 

After spending the past three summers and the majority of my professional life learning the ins and outs of estate planning I now understand the gift that my parents gave me was huge, but at the time, not so much, and five years later (eeek, I'll be 23 in September), I think that every 18 year old should get an estate plan for their birthday. Read on to find out why. 

Me on my 18th birthday, because nothing says 18 like a Barbie cake

Although when I turned 18, my parents were still supporting me; I was still living in their house, they were about to start my tuition payments for the college I would begin attending next fall, and they still claimed me as a dependent on their tax return, I was legally considered an adult. For one, this meant that even though I was still on their health care plan, they would no longer able to access my medical records or speak to my doctors on my behalf. And although I consider myself a highly independent person, this scared me. If I still needed my mom to hold my hand when I got a shot, how was I expected to make all my own health care decisions? In signing a Health Care Proxy and Patient Authorization, it gave my parents the ability to make doctors appointments and talk to my doctor for me when I didn't quite understand what was going on. All I had to do was provide my doctor's office with a copy of the document, and my parents would have access. 

This may seem scary to some teens who don't want their parents to have access to knowledge like the results of their STD tests or if they take birth control, but signing this document was well worth it to me. When I was a freshman at UMass Amherst, I went out one night with a splitting pain in my side. Normally, I could dance it off with my sorority sisters, but not this time. I was awake all night with a splitting pain in my side and my room felt like it was a million degrees even though it was early spring. The next morning my roommate took my to the ER, and sure enough, I had an appendicitis. Before my mom could make it out to Amherst, I was taken in to surgery, but I knew that when my mom got there, even if I was still in surgery or under anesthesia, she could talk to the doctor and find out about my condition because of my health care proxy. 

In line with the health Care Proxy and Patient Authorization, I also signed a Living Will, which, in basic terms, gave my parents permission to "pull the plug" should I become incapacitated with no hope of ever coming back. I hope and pray that my parents never have to use this document, but it is one that it extremely important to me because I do not want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures, and I want to be able to die with dignity. Alternatively, a Living Will can also dictate that a person wants every extraordinary measure taken should they become incapacitated, but that is up to whose ever Living Will it is! With accidents being the leading cause of death for 18-25-year-olds (Jacobs, 2015), this can be an extremely important document for this age group to have.

Another important document that I signed when I was 18 was a Durable Power of Attorney. This document appointed my mom to be my Attorney-In-Fact, which gave her the ability to act on my behalf legally in financial matters. Again, this may be scary to some 18-year-olds because it gives your Attorney-In-Fact access to your otherwise confidential college grades, but it can also be extremely useful. 

Me at a German Castle, presumably I needed more money for shopping
and beer, sorry mom and dad.

For example, after I graduated from high school, I lived abroad in Germany and Austria the summer before I headed off to college. The Power of Attorney gave my parents the ability to send me money abroad from my own bank account back home. With so many students spending a semester abroad or taking a gap year these days, having this document can be extremely beneficial in case parents have to access their children's bank account or contact a foreign embassy on their child's behalf. 

I also signed a Last Will and Testament, which like my Living Will, I hope is not used in the near future. Nevertheless, it is an important document to have because I do have assets, regardless of how small they are. 

Wills, Health Care Proxies, and Durable Power of Attorneys are not something that are on the mind of every 18 year old, but I sure am happy that my parents gave me an estate plan. Check out this article for more information, and of course call us if you have any questions. And we hope now you know exactly what to get your son or daughter for their 18th birthday. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

There's No Vacation for Legal Documents

image via thealertmind.blogspot.com

Every year, over 650 million vacations are taken between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And most of those vacations are probably taken with one goal in mind: to have fun. But unfortunately, sometimes things don't always go as you plan, and as we like to say around the office, "failing to plan is planning to fail," so whether you're just going a few towns over for a small get away or planning a cross country road trip, here are a few simple tips to help you get by if things don't go as planned. 

1. Bring your health care documents with you when your travel. When planning a vacation, we often don't include a trip to the ER or hospital stay in those plans, but it is important to always be prepared for the unexpected. If you have an estate plan, you most likely have documents such as a Living Will and Health Care proxy, which are important documents to have in case you end up in the hospital and are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. These are just as important to have when you are traveling as when you are living your day to day life at home. It is also important to travel with your health insurance card, medicare/medicaid card, and medical information card to avoid mistreatment or headaches in the future.

2. Check up on your Power of Attorney. Another important aspect of an estate plan is a Durable Power of Attorney, which gives someone the power to act for you in a legal or financial matter. If you become severely ill while traveling and have to stay in the hospital where you were vacationing, your attorney-in-fact can ensure that your bills are paid and other things at home don't fall apart. It's always a good idea to let your attorney-in-fact know that you are traveling, just in case.

3. Understand where you are traveling to. When traveling across state lines, in nearly all cases, your legal documents will be valid, but if you are traveling abroad, it is best to do some research before you leave the tarmac. Ask questions like: does this country recognize health care proxies? Living wills? Does my insurance cover treatment in this country? If I have medicare (which does not cover health care costs outside of the US), what is my back up plan for paying for health care bills should I encounter them abroad? Even if the answers to some of these questions aren't the answers you want to hear, it's important to understand the implications that they might have if you become ill.

Checking up on these three things can make your vacation run a little more smoothly should you encounter an unexpected illness. Thousands of people travel every year without incident, but it is always a good idea to have a plan in place. So get out there and explore, relax, read, swim, hike, and sight see, but do it with a plan in place!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Reading List

Looking for a summer read? Look no further! We’ve complied a great summer reading list, many of our picks having to do with law, estate planning, or wills, and a few beach read office picks. Let us know what you think of the books we picked and suggest your own summer favorites in the comments!

The Last Will and Testament of Zelda McFigg by Betsy Robinson
The 2013 winner of Black Lawrence Press' Big Moose prize, The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg is the fictitious memoir of 49 and 1/2 year old Zelda McFigg written as her last will and testament. She truly believes that she could have been a huge celebrity, if only people had been able to see her "inner beauty and star quality." Zelda takes the reader on a wild ride through her life, and she touches upon the qualms many people have with the media-struck age we now live in. If you're looking for a light hearted and relatable read this summer, this is your book.
Barnes and Noble: 4.6/5

The Testament by John Grisham
Just one of many John Grisham legal thrillers, The Testament, takes readers on a wild ride through the streets of Washington D.C. to the jungle of Brazil and then back again! Just a few hours before his death, millionaire Troy Phelan rewrites his will leaving his family out and giving his fortune to an unknown woman in Brazil. Attorney Nate O'Riley is tasked with the job of finding this mystery woman, all while Phelan's family is none too happy about the new will. This thriller will keep you on the edge of your beach chair.
Barnes and Noble: 4.1/5

The Will by Kristen Ashley
Josephine Malone is a jet setting assistant to a fashion giant, and when her grandmother passes away, she assumed she'd be inheriting her house and maybe some money. She never expected what was coming to her at the will reading. Kristen Ashley fans claim that The Will is one of her best novels, and they say it follows her true romantic style. If you're looking for a romance to sweep you away at the beach this summer, then The Will is definitely your summer read for 2016.
Barnes and Noble: 4.5/5

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman by John Tesarch
What is it with men leaving their fortune to mystery women? Like Troy Phelan, Henry Hoffman leaves his fortune to an unknown woman, and his children are left to pick up the pieces and find her. The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman takes you through the remarkable life and Henry and the trials and tribulations his children face during their lives and after their father's death. It is a story of "love and loss, conflict and survival" (goodreads.com) that almost everyone can relate to.
Goodreads: 3.3/5

Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler
Almost everyone remembers what it's like to make the change from high school to college, but things take a turn for the worst for Lizzie Brandt. When her parents die in a tragic accident during her freshman year, she discovers that they appointed her as the guardian of her younger brother. She is forced to grow up a lot faster than she expected to, and finds solace in her History TA. Last Will and Testament turns into a classic love story where the love threatens everything that means the most to the couple. This is a great novel for young adult readers, but would also be great for anyone looking for another love story.

Office Picks
Elaine: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
Of course Attorney Dalton suggested a law themed book! The Lincoln Lawyer, which is also a movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey for those of you not into reading, is the story of attorney Mickey Haller who runs his criminal defense practice out of the back seat of his Lincoln town car. Haller seems to have landed the case of his career, but will something get in the way?

Melody: The Nightingale by Kirsten Hannah
The Nightingale is the captivating story of the journey of two sisters through the treacherous time of World War II in Europe. This book captures life through many different lenses, making the reader care about more than just the tragedies of war but also the lives, loves, and losses that these women have.

Colleen: The Farming of Bones by Edindge Danticat
"I read this novel for one of my history classes at UMass Amherst, and I really loved it because it teaches you about such an unknown part of history, the 1937 massacre of Haitians, without making it feel like a history class. It is such an easy read and is a book that still sticks with me many years later. "

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What Does Attorney Dalton Do?

Yippee our first blog post! The following blog post was from a paper Colleen, the newest member of our office, wrote about Attorney Dalton for her career class at UMass Amherst. Ever wonder what it's like to be Attorney Dalton, or an attorney in general? This post should answer many of your questions!

"As a history major, going to law school has always been something that seemed like it would be in my future. As much as I love history, I came in to UMass with that as a major simply because it was something that I liked and saw as a stepping stone to a career in law. I spent a lot of time in high school history classes studying American history, and I thought if I studied history as a prerequisite to law, it would make me the best lawyer possible for the type of law that I thought I wanted to pursue, constitutional.

From my time here at UMass, though, I have realized that law school is something that is not in my near future, but I have not ruled it out entirely. I have spent the last eight years, between high school and college, rigorously pushing myself academically, and I can honestly not fathom another three years of intense schooling right now. I still have an interest in law, but right now I am very much more interested in getting my feet on the ground with work experience and taking the chance to live on my own.

That being said, I am still interested in one day pursuing a degree in law, even if it is not in the area that I originally considered. For my informational interview, I spoke with a lawyer in the law office that I have periodically interned in over the past 3 years, and currently work for as a social media manager and office assistant. The office focuses on elder law, and I have been able to see a little bit about what that means from witnessing will signing and putting together files, but the informational interview gave me a better look into what that truly means. I spoke with Elaine Dalton, who is the head lawyers in the office, and she gave me some insight into what a typical day is like for her and other elder law attorneys. She said that 50-75% of her day is spent meeting with clients doing estate planning and probate, dealing with nursing home and medicare issues, and working with real estate. The rest of her day is spent returning phone calls and emails and generating written communication. She also said that although this is a rough guesstimate of where her time is spent, there is no typical day and that all clients are different. Elaine may spend most of her day in her office meeting with younger clients or may spend her day traveling to meet with clients who are unable to leave their house or nursing home. Drafting wills and working with medicare applications may sound boring, but because each day is so different, it can be very exciting and challenging.

When asked why she has been able to establish a successful practice and continue to grow it, Elaine said it was because she works to relate to her clients on a personal level and doesn't speak to them in "legalese." She assumes that her clients know nothing about the process they are about to go through, and she makes sure they understand everything to the fullest degree.

Elaine talked about how she stays relevant in her field. Elaine takes classes from the MCLE, or Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, and does other work in order to stay up to date on the newest laws and ways to practice. She talks with other attorneys about the way they are doing their work and follows different law news outlets to see when laws change. I believe that this is important to be your best in any field and to see it working so well for her encourages me to keep up with my education once I am in the "real world."

Elaine did mention that law school is extremely challenging, and that she knows many people who did not pass the bar the first time they took it but also that I should not be discouraged if I ever choose to attend law school because she loves her job, practice, and being able to help people with what she is doing."

We hope you learned a little bit about Attorney Dalton and what she does! And make sure to follow our blog for more stories and updates!