Estate Planning

Monday, January 5, 2015

How Can I Talk About It? How do I talk with my Husband, Wife or Parents about their Need to See an Elder Lawyer?

Buy a Blanket 

In spite of the fact that the Calendar says that it is winter; in Southern California we seldom feel too cold. We forget about the bite of winter experienced in other parts of the country. Last week’s cold bite was a bit of a surprise, a shock to many who scrambled to get out extra blankets, seldom used jackets and turn on the heat. For many others, since this cold wave hit San Diego between Christmas and New Year’s, it became an excuse to celebrate and take a trip up from San Diego to Julian or Idyllwild.

In San Diego it can be easy to treat aging like the seasons. We go on with our lives as if it was endless spring, summer, or autumn and just don’t think about winter. But, sometimes we have to think about it. Based on the calls to my office since Thanksgiving, more and more families are thinking about it after visiting with their parents and grandparents.

Elder Care and Estate Planning are Hard to Think About

Part of thinking about aging and thinking about the hazards and expenses of aging is thinking about hiring an elder law attorney. For Seniors and their families living in San Diego, the choice about whether or not to hire a lawyer for estate and elder law planning is not one to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, going to an attorney for a will or trust, for Veteran’s in home care benefits planning, or to protect a family’s nest-egg against possible future nursing home expenses, is a topic that can cause a lot of anxiety both for the senior and for his or her adult children. There are a number of reasons that it’s an uncomfortable topic. 

Of course, the most obvious is that the need for an elder lawyer brings up the topic of the senior’s mortality. An attorney can be brought in for many reasons, one of which is estate planning. And with estate planning comes the reality that each of our lives will come to an end. This can be especially distressing to an elderly person, but can be even more disturbing for their family members and friends.

Facing a Change in Seasons

Another reason that seniors and their families in San Diego find themselves wanting to work with an elder lawyer is because the senior is beginning to make decisions that are not in his or her best interest. No one wants to tell Mom or Dad that it might be time to stop driving, that they shouldn’t have control over their finances, or that it’s time to consider moving to a nursing home. When an elder lawyer comes into play, it’s often to address these exact topics.

We all need to Prepare for Winter 

The conversation can be softened a bit with different approaches. One common one is for the adult child to talk about others who have had a hard time because they, their spouse or their parents didn’t have proper powers of attorney or healthcare advance directives in place. The best way for anyone to make certain that their wishes are followed if they are incapacitated is to take control ahead of time. Each of us can take control ahead of time only by choosing who will be our voice and what they will say for us, by giving them specific written instructions.

One of the things that often brings people to an elder law lawyer is the realization that a senior is starting to decline in health. This could be physically, mentally, or both. Sometimes this realization comes about when family members see that one of their parents is exhausted from taking care of the other. This often opens the door to talking about getting help and paying for help. Elder law attorneys are experienced in helping families find and afford care while protecting their assets.

Of course, it is always better to work on a long-term plan before ill health becomes an issue, but if your family has waited, there are still a lot of options available. Most Seniors want to make plans and not merely have plans made for them. Once the issue of planning has been brought up, many Seniors can be motivated to move forward and plan - so that the plan for them, is their own plan, – not their children’s plan or anything else. The better a senior’s health, the more say that he or she can have in devising a plan. Planning earlier, while in better health, makes available more options.

Plan to Prevent Conflict

Planning to protect against the challenges of aging is often a full family affair. It is usually, but not always, a good idea for adult children and sometimes siblings to be included in the planning process. Seniors who have included their families in their attorney client planning meetings are more likely to follow through. Follow through usually gives the best results. More importantly, keeping family members in the loop can help to reduce friction later because everyone is aware of the plan and knows how it will be enacted. If there are concerned parties that aren’t available, I strongly recommend that they are communicated with for the same reason.

If there is disagreement among a senior’s adult children, it may be in everyone’s best interest to bring in a third party. In addition to using a San Diego elder law attorney to address these issues, there are geriatric care managers and mediators who are trained in how to refocus everyone on the true goals of the plan, rather than letting things break down and become a grudge match rehashing wrongs and perceived wrongs which may be decades old.
Just as we talk about spring as the time for cleaning, January is a time for putting things in order and making plans.

New Year's Resolution 

Like northerners clearing snow in winter, as long as it falls, you keep shoveling until the driveway is cleared and stays cleared. Spending a little time with a San Diego elder law lawyer now, making a plan, and putting your affairs in order, can make a world of difference down the road. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Estate Planning is About You, but Not Just About You!

 Estate Planning is About You, but Not Just About You!

Like Elder law where getting the care you need is balanced against preserving assets for your family, every San Diego estate planning attorney’s goals are split when doing estate planning.  Although estate planning lawyers must first and primarily focus on estate planning to satisfy their clients and help them maintain control during their lifetimes, in the long run, a lot of estate planning is focused on those who are left behind.  In creating an estate plan that disperses your assets in the way you want, you are creating a legacy and supporting your family, friends, or favorite causes for their own futures.  It’s a noble and wonderful thing to do.  It can also be kind of complicated for those who are left behind.  Properly using an experienced estate planning attorney can reduce these complications - but you need help them make it easier for your survivors.

It’s likely that when you pass away, your family will be dealing with their own grief, in addition to the legal aspects of inheritance.  It’s a difficult time.  One of the ways that estate planning lawyers know of limiting confusion and difficulties is to create an organized plan for getting everyone the information they need.

For most people, important information is kept in a variety of places.  Some might be on your computer, some in the filing cabinet, and still more in a safe deposit box.  Any estate planning lawyer you use in San Diego should also be retaining information that beneficiaries will need to access.  At the Weissler Law Group, and a small number of other experienced law firms, your information is also preserved electronically for easier and quicker access.

With all that in mind, would your family know where to find everything?   There’s a pretty good chance they would not.  I’ve recently been involved in the administration of the estate of a brilliant and wonderful man.  It is amazing, the hundreds of hours that have been required to track things down.  After more than a year, we are still looking.  He never took the time to put in place a map for his family. 

You can help take away worry and frustration by getting things organized, and your lawyer can help you figure out how.

Make a List

A fairly easy approach is to start creating an inventory of your important documents.  Make a list of the important things your family, friends, or lawyer would need to know—not just in case of death, but also if you were to become medically incapacitated.  In addition to listing these items, you should also make sure to note where they are located and include any contact information needed to access them.  For example, include information for your estate planning lawyer, doctors, insurance agents, etc.  Some of the things your list should detail might be:


  • Will

  • Living trust

  • Health care documents

  • Powers of attorney

  • Medications you take

  • Accountant

  • Insurance agents

  • Financial planner

  • Insurance policies

  • Bank statements

  • Stocks, bonds, and other investments

  • Deeds and titles to property

  • Information on safe deposit boxes (and keys to them)

  • Storage facilities

  • List of assets

  • Debts

  • Information on money owed to you

  • Benefits

  • Tax returns

Additionally, it’s helpful to create a list of all of your online accounts—whether social media or financial—along with your login information and passwords.

None of this information will be useful if no one knows it exists, so be sure that you have told a trusted person how and where to find the inventory.  Most estate planning attorneys in San Diego will advise you to keep originals in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe with copies or even just notes in a binder that can be accessed by the person you’ve designated in case of emergency.  Committed and caring estate planning attorneys will accept a copy of your list and inventory and preserve this critical information for your family.

While there’s no doubt that creating this inventory is a time consuming process, keep in mind that if it’s hard for you, it will be considerably harder for someone who is not you!  Once it’s all together, though, your estate planning lawyer can tell you that it becomes much easier to simply update it when changes are needed.

I hope that the information I have shared here, helps you, and those your care about.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Getting Your ‘Ducks In A Row’ For National Estate Planning Awareness Week

The words “wills”, “trusts,” “estates,” and “health care directives” mean to you? Do you envision useful tools which help you protect your family and your wishes if death or incapacity strikes? Or do you brush off these terms believing they are only important for the super-rich or elderly? October 19th-25th marks National Estate Planning Awareness Week, which is a key reminder of just how important estate planning is for everyone. Whether you are a 20-something new parent just starting out, a wealthy entrepreneur or a senior citizen relying on others for long-term care, estate planning provides a solid legal foundation for protecting your family, your financial security, your wishes and your independence through all of life’s transitions. 
Let’s take a look at:

Your Family: If you have minor children, estate planning allows you to appoint the people you want to raise them in the event of your unexpected death or incapacity. Using trusts, you can protect minor children, and even adult children, who may not be prepared to receive a large sum of money after you die. Tools such as health care directives and powers of attorney can make it easier for your family to manage your medical and financial affairs during a health care crisis. Not to mention, estate planning can help shield your loved ones from unnecessary court/legal fees, taxes, strife and family feuds during an emotional time of crisis or loss.
Your Finances- Whether you have a billion-dollar estate or a simple home and a modest savings account, estate planning can help ensure more of your money goes to your family and not the government after your passing. Proper estate planning can also help senior citizens and baby boomers qualify for Medicaid and additional VA Pension Benefits for health care without becoming impoverished or “spending down” everything they own. Many professionals such as physicians and contractors also look to estate planning to shield their personal assets from lawsuits, creditors and other risks associated with their occupations.
Your wishes- Do you have assets you wish to leave to certain people? Are you in a non-traditional relationship or blended family and want to ensure your loved ones are taken care of and share in your inheritance after you are gone? Is there someone you trust to make important medical or financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so? Without an estate plan in place, all of these personal decisions will be made by the courts if the unthinkable happens. This is why estate planning is such an important strategy in making sure your wishes are known and honored if tragedy strikes.

Your Independence- With a solid estate plan in place, you no longer have to fear aging and whether or not you’ll become a burden to your kids during the golden years. Instead, tools such as living trusts, powers of attorneys, insurance policies and health care directives can help you fund your future care needs and carefully design the life and independence you wish to enjoy during your later years.  Advanced estate planning techniques to protect assets from long term care costs are also available - if you act in time.

Be More Than Aware—Take ACTION!

While National Estate Planning Awareness Week is a wonderful observance to help more people become aware of estate planning and its role in helping you protect your financial future and the people you love— the information is useless if you don’t take action!

Estate planning is one of those time-sensitive and critical tasks which must be taken care of as soon as possible. If an unexpected illness or accident happens, you may find many of the planning options once available to you are suddenly gone and your hard-earned money will be exposed to the government, creditors and medical facilities during a crisis. 

Instead, be proactive and get your affairs in order while you are still healthy, of sound mind and have the opportunity to make your wishes known.  There's no greater peace of mind knowing that your assets and loved ones will be protected, no matter what happens. 

For anyone who sets an appointment to either create a new plan or update an old one, mentions this posting and has us do legal work on their estate plan for them, we will donate $50 to either the Alzheimer's Association's San Diego Chapter or Meals on Wheels.. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall took care of her Dog First - Create a Trust for Your Pet

Lauren Bacall who passed away August 12, 2014 took care of her Papillon Sophie as the first item in her will. Lauren Bacall to care of her Dog First
Bacall, whose will made public Friday when it was filed with the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court, wasn’t crazy. She left $10,000 to her son subject to a legal obligation that he hold and manage the $10,000 for the care of her faithful and loving dog. She left $250,000 in trust for each to her Grandchildren.  Her Grandkids can use the money towards their college education, but otherwise won't receive any of it until they are 30 years old.  Bacall, who was once married to Jason Robards, Jr. and then later to Humphrey Bogart, left the bulk of her 26.6 million dollar fortune in equal shares to her children - Sam Prideaux Robards, Stephen Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Bogart.

To many faithful pets are destroyed when their owners can no longer take care of them. Who will care for your dog or cat when you pass away? What will happen to your bird if you become incapacitated? For many people, providing care for their pet after they pass away or if they become incapacitated is a very big concern. In reaction to pet owner concerns, most states (including California) have statutes that provide for the enforcement of trusts created for the benefit of pets.

Unlike your children or other relatives or friends that you may leave money to via your last will and testament, an animal cannot be a beneficiary of your will. Pet owners, instead of naming the pet as beneficiary, must designate someone to take care of their pet after they die and they can then leave money to that person or place in the hands of another to pay for the cost of providing care.

Prior to specific statutes which allow for the creation of an enforceable “pet trust,” if an individual left money to a family member or friend in their last will and testament stating in the document that the bequest was solely for the purpose of caring for their pet, the family member or friend would be under no legal obligation to spend the money on their pet. In fact, they could take the pet to the pound and keep the money for themselves if they chose to do so. Any money left in a last will and testament to an individual “for the care of a pet” was often treated as merely a request and unenforceable in a court of law.

While many might say, “I trust my brother with my dog and I know he would take care of him”- what happens if your brother’s son becomes allergic to your dog? Or, what happens if your brother moves into an apartment complex that won’t allow pets? A pet trust can provide direction regarding any of the unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

Setting up a trust for your pet is much like setting one up for a person. The trust is a legal entity into which you put money and then designate a trustee who is responsible to safeguard and administer the money. In the case of a pet trust, you designate a caregiver and then the trustee is in charge of making payments to the caregiver for your pet’s expenses (special dietary needs, grooming, pet toys, veterinary care, etc.). Of course, it is always a good idea to name one or more alternate trustees and caregivers in the event something should happen to them. In addition, a provision of the trust will need to provide for what happens to the money you have set aside for your pet after their death. Many people chose to have the remaining balance go to the caregiver or a charitable organization.

It is important to keep your trust up to date with current information and to ensure nothing has changed in your designated caregiver’s situation that might warrant changing designees (are they still willing to take on the commitment, can they still physically handle the responsibility, etc.). It is also a good idea to give a copy of the trust to your chosen caregiver, any successor(s) and family members who may be involved with the care of your pet.

Creating a trust for your pet is not just for the wealthy or the eccentric. It is a relatively inexpensive and practical way to ensure you have provided for your pet when you can no longer do so because of death or incapacity.

We at the Weissler Law Group are pet people and are experienced in creating trusts for pets involving small to large amounts of money. We can be reached at (619) 281-1888,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Experienced San Diego Trust Attorney urges you to “Plan Now To Avoid Becoming A Burden Later”

As a San Diego trust and estate lawyer I help all sorts of people deal with the subject no one wants to talk about—what happens after you grow old and when you die. After your death, when your loved ones are grieving, it can be hard to devote proper time and energy to the details of your funeral and post-mortem affairs. If you plan some of this in advance, your children can be certain to respect your wishes, while having the time they need to grieve. 

One important issue to discuss with your children is how you want your body to be handled after death. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you want a large headstone, or something simple? If you are cremated, do you want to be in an urn or interred at a cemetery? Would you like a religious service, and if so, what kind? It may seem obvious to you what you would like, but sometimes your children may not know, and may end up fighting at a time they should be coming together to mourn. For a substantial percentage of San Diegans their religious faith plays a factor in what final arrangements they feel are ‘right’ for them.

Many people pre-pay their funeral expenses, so it is important to let your children know if you have. Speaking with other Estate Planning Attorneys in San Diego about what is called "pre-need" planning, I have been amazed.  I have been amazed at how many of us have witnessed times where there was a plot paid for, but the children didn’t know, and so paid for another!

What about your obituary? Trust and Estate lawyers in San Diego regularly see cases where relatives are angry because the children got details wrong in their parent’s obituary listing. If you pre-write your own obituary, you can make sure that all of the details are correct, and that it says precisely what you want it to. It can be humorous, serious, or a little of both; if you write it, you control the message.

Planning for final disposition of your remains and putting together your own obituary will lift an enormous burden from your family’s shoulders.

Have you written a will? You’d be surprised by how many fights happen once a parent passes away. If you want your mother’s china to go to one child and your father’s tools to go to another, be sure to put this in writing. Better yet, have your children over to talk about what each one may want when you are gone. It’s awkward, yes, but by finding this out and detailing it in your will, you can save a lot of fighting after the funeral. The inheritance you want to avoid leaving is a legacy of creating conflict between your children.

In California we urge our client’s to go beyond having a simple will. Here, wills are only instructions to the Probate Court on how you wish your assets to be distributed after you die. If an individual here in San Diego dies directly owning real estate or more than $150,000 in total assets a probate is almost always required unless action to side step the probate process is taken. Probate is expensive and slow. For most families the best way to side step probate is by having a living trust. A living trust can also protect your family from needing to establish a conservatorship over you if at some time are not able to make decisions for yourself.

Creating a will and if appropriate a trust will lift an enormous burden from your family, reduce or eliminate the headache of going to court and with a small bit of luck, reduce the chances of your surviving family member fighting with each other.

What about an advance directive for healthcare decisions? Creating this document, which has evolved from living wills, is one of the best uses of an estate planning lawyer. You need to have, in writing, what you would like to happen in the event that you are ill. The more you customize this document the more you take the burden of these decisions off of your family. Do you want to be resuscitated? How much intervention do you want? Do you want to be left on life support? Fights over this can divide a family. It did mine. Knowing in advance what you want, and giving your wishes force by setting them down in a legal document, will make things so much easier for your family. It will make it easier for them when you are otherwise unable to tell them what you want – or don’t want.

What about long term care? Some Estate Planning and Trust Attorneys, like those in our office have additional training to help clients protect their assets from long term care expenses. Attorneys with this extra training can help you put in place structures to make certain you can get the care you may need, at home or elsewhere.  It surprises to many families who don't find out until everything is gone that these elder law techniques can at the same time preserve your assets for either your spouse or to help your children be more secure or even live better lives when you are gone.

Part of every estate planning and trust attorney’s job is to make things smoother and easier for our clients, their spouses and children. In order to make this happen, however, you need to be sure that they know what your wishes are for your funeral, for your assets, and for your body in ill health. By writing all of this down ahead of time, you can save everyone grief at a time when they need the space to mourn.

For more information and help in providing for a disabled family member, call the Weissler Law Group at (619) 281-1888 to set a time to speak with an attorney with the answers and advise you need.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Planning for Adult and Minor Special Needs Children

Parenting isn’t always easy, and it’s even less so when your child has a disability. We all have dreams of our children reaching full independence, but sometimes, this just isn’t possible. Our children may have needs that go beyond what others require, special needs that demand specific planning in order to make sure that the child is well looked after once the parents are gone.

In a nutshell, special needs planning in San Diego is the legal and financial plan to take care of a child, often an adult child, whose disabilities require that they have scaffolding in place to live a full, healthy life. These children may have physical, mental, or both types of needs that require additional care. As adults, these children may not be able to live on their own or gain employment, for example, and will need a comprehensive plan in place to assure a secure future.

Special needs planning is something every parent of a child with disabilities must individually consider, as a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not likely to work. Public benefits preservation may or may not be a critical part of the plan for any particular person with disabilities. For others, establishing or preserving access to some of the unique services available only through public programs is essential. For example, a child may be in a wheelchair, but otherwise able to care for him or herself. This child may have great prospects, and as such, the plan may be relatively simple. There will be no need, say, for a conservatorship of this adult child, as he or she is mentally fit to handle his or her own affairs and should be able to find gainful employment.

In other cases, however, the child may not be able to handle all of the details of adult life. Securing safe housing, paying bills, finding employment, and other needs may be beyond the scope of the child’s capabilities. In cases like these, an estate planning attorney with experience planning in special needs planning can help the parents to formally define who will have control over the child’s assets and freedoms once the parents have passed away. A plan can also be put into place to safeguard a trust fund for the child to ensure a high quality of life. These plans utilizing what are know as supplemental needs trusts or special needs trusts can be designed with checks and balances to insure that the disabled child is protected and which reduce the burdens on other family members.
Another important aspect of special needs planning is determining the transition plan once the child reaches adulthood. Some adults with special needs remain with their families; others move into group housing for adults who need extra care, others can live independently with assistance. Any one of these choices may be right for your family, but determining what the future will hold for your child, and who gets to “call the shots” when you are gone, is a critical component of special needs planning.

An experienced estate planning attorney can also help assist you in determining exactly what your child may need in the future to ensure proper quality of care. Likewise, by formalizing the details of who will have responsibility for your child and how their finances will be maintained, you can eliminate a lot of stress after you have passed away. In some families everyone is too busy or scattered to be interested in helping; other families have people lining up to take care of their disabled family member, but either way, having these details determined in advance is your best bet for taking care of your special needs child over the long haul.

We, at the Weissler Law Group, are experienced in working with parents and siblings of individuals with special needs.  We are located in San Diego, California, close to Mission Valley Mall and Qualcomm Stadium.  Our goal is to help you help your family member get the help they needed to live well while minimizing the efforts required of other family members. Every week we work with families to preserve assets so that they can be used to improve family member’s quality of life instead of being dissipated by expense which could otherwise be paid for by public entitlement and benefit programs. For more information and help in providing for a disabled family member, call the Weissler Law Group at (619) 281-1888 to set a time to speak with an attorney with the answers and advise you need.

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The Attorneys of the Weissler Law Group assist clients in San Diego, California as well as in: Coronado, Pacific Beach, Del Mar, Solana Beach, La Jolla, Del Cerro, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Santee, El Cajon, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Escondido, National City, Spring Valley, and Chula Vista.

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